30+ Quirky Facts About Life in European Countries That Can Leave Foreign Tourists Dumbfounded

year ago

It might seem that since European countries are part of Western culture, travelers are unlikely to encounter anything surprising there. However, some moments of their everyday lives or certain customs can be quite astonishing. We found stories from people who visited some of these countries or moved there permanently, compared them with our own experience, and came to the conclusion that this part of the world can be even more puzzling than an exotic country.


  • In France, you can buy coffee at a much cheaper price in some cafes if you just say, “Hello, a coffee please.”
  • Free refills at fast food restaurants have actually been banned here.
  • France was the first country in the world to ban supermarkets from throwing away or destroying unsold food.
  • It’s illegal to contact employees outside working hours or during weekends. Also, most companies don’t have a cafeteria inside the office. That’s why many people have lunch in the parks or cafes nearby. The company usually pays half of an employee’s daily lunch allowance.
  • There are dozens of types of lettuce sold in supermarkets.
  • Supermarkets in rural areas close for lunch. So, if you are walking along the shelves and suddenly see that the lights go out and employees are heading for the exit, this means that you should hurry up and proceed to the cashier.
  • It’s not a myth that French people buy a lot of baguettes at once. But this doesn’t mean that they eat them all immediately. Usually, people freeze them, so they always have them on hand in case the shops are closed.
  • I happened to be at a train station in Paris on a Sunday evening. It was very quiet and empty there. Then I saw a homeless man with a dog sitting on a bench.
    I had seen him a couple of times before, sitting in the same place with people giving money to him. I decided to pass him some euros too. But he returned me the money and said, “Thanks a lot, but I don’t work on the weekends!” © Sam Qwato / Quora


  • In Germany, if a person has 2 PhD degrees, they are addressed as “Herr/Frau Doctor Doctor.”
  • Everyone knows that Germans take their garbage sorting system very seriously. If garbage hasn’t been sorted properly, the bag will be returned with a corresponding sticker on it.
  • Germans love XXXL sized 30″ x 30″ pillows that take up almost half of the bed. These pillows have absolutely no filling. It’s amazing that Germans can manage to sleep on them.

“The cash register is tired. It should get some sleep.”

  • Traffic rules are strictly followed here. You can’t cross the road if the light is red. Even if there are no cars in sight in either direction, don’t dare cross against a red light, especially if children can see you. You will be yelled at, whacked with an umbrella by an old lady, or fined by the police if you do. If somehow the light never changes, walk to the next intersection and try your luck there.
  • If you make eye contact with a stranger for more than 3 seconds, you should say “Hello” or smile at least.
  • Tourists are sometimes unaware of the fact that local people can fully undress, not only at the beach or in the baths, but also in city parks.
  • We booked a budget room in a hotel in Germany. Their website said that some bathroom facilities were shared. I assumed that this was about a shower. I was wrong!
    It turned out that the toilet was actually shared, while the shower and the sink were inside the room. I must admit, it wasn’t really convenient.


  • In Finnish schools, snow fights, snowballs, or any flying snow is a big no-no. The reason for this is that there might be tiny rocks, pieces of glass, or sticks, that can injure kids’ eyes.
  • Only here, you can get salty liquorice-flavored ice cream as a dessert.
  • There are shops in Finnish villages where local craftsmen sell their crafts. You can find authentic jewelry, interior design items, and other interesting things there.
  • There are small shelters in Finnish wooded areas where you can have a picnic, hide from the rain, or stay for a night. They usually have a toilet, a wood stack, an axe, and a lean-to.
  • In Finland, most cottages for rent don’t have bed linen. You are also supposed to pay cleaning fees, which are quite high. Bed linen plus towels will cost you at least €15, and you’ll have to pay more than €100 for cleaning when checking out.
  • A fishing license is only needed for spin fishing. Fishing with an ordinary rod is allowed without any restrictions. Mushrooms and berries can be picked freely, you just need to ask permission from the owners of the land.
  • Farms often have self-service kiosks where you can buy fruit, vegetables, and berries. You just need to choose what you need, weigh it on scales, and put the money into the box.
  • Once, we stayed in a small guesthouse during a weekend, and there were no employees. So, they sent an SMS with the door code to all their arriving guests. When we were checking out, we just put the money into an envelope and pushed it under the manager’s office door.


  • You might accidentally buy vegan cheese in a Norwegian store, which is made from vegetable fats and potato starch.
  • Cafeterias are rare in both schools and office buildings. Everyone has sandwiches for lunch, which they bring from home.
  • The iconic Norwegian cheese, brunost, is technically not cheese at all. It is made by boiling down goat’s milk whey. As a result, the cheese acquires a rich caramel flavor that is sweet and tangy at the same time.
  • Newspapers are delivered quite early, at around 4:30 a.m., while letters are brought only in the afternoon at about 1 pm.
  • In Norway, it is required by law that you sit on a bus. So, after you get on the bus, you may find each row of seats occupied by a single passenger who tries not to meet your gaze because if they do, they’ll have to offer you a neighboring seat and travel sitting next to a stranger. © Severine Riise / Quora


  • Dankort is Denmark’s own national payment card, and for many years it had a monopoly in shops and restaurants, to the great annoyance of all tourists. Now it is starting to loosen up a bit and in most places you can actually pay with both Dankort and Visa or Mastercard.
  • The local hot dogs are probably the best in the world. At least they are a higher quality than those that are sold in New York City.
  • The Copenhagen harbor is so clean that you can swim in it.
  • There is an unspoken rule in Denmark which implies that no one is better than the other. Therefore, when one of its citizens achieves success, it’s not only their achievement but the achievement of all the people of Denmark.
  • English is very popular in Denmark. Young people have even come up with Danglish, which is a combination of the Danish and English languages.


  • Everyone has a sandwich for lunch. Hot food is less common here, but the most amazing thing is that the Dutch eat their sandwiches with a fork and knife. Holding it with bare hands is a big no-no here.
  • Both adults and children drink milk here, but they do it during lunch, not during breakfast. And they add sweet sprinkles to their sandwiches. French fries can be bought everywhere, but instead of ketchup, they use mayonnaise.
  • Every Dutch office has its own coffee machine. But before you go get a cup for yourself, you should first ask your neighbor if they want coffee too.
  • I stayed at my Dutch friends’ place once. They are a charming family who have a very nice house. The only thing that I found quite awkward was that the bathroom had 3 doors, and none of them had a lock. I felt really anxious every time I went to the toilet.
  • Friends of mine booked a newlywed suite in a boutique hotel in Amsterdam. The room design was terrific: brick walls and paintings. But there was a toilet right in the middle of the room without any walls around it. My friends had to cancel their booking because they were not ready to be that intimate with each other.


  • Not all restaurants in Italy have bills. When customers finish their meals, they go up to the desk, tell them what they had, and pay.
  • In some coffee bars, you can pay for your own espresso coffee, and then pay for another one to leave for the next customer that comes in and isn’t lucky enough to be able to afford a coffee.
  • Italians like to pick mushrooms around Mount Etna. They say there are a lot of them growing there.
  • If you want to have a latte, you should ask for a caffè latte in an Italian restaurant because “latte” simply means “milk” in Italian.
  • On one of our first driving vacations in Italy, my LA-born and raised husband was driving on the highway, heading north to Milan. We passed an exit ramp and noticed the car next to us slow down and then brake in the far right lane. My husband gasped as the driver threw the car in reverse and then backed up as the approaching cars scattered to avoid him as he got off on the missed exit. We were incredulous. © Susan Pohl / Quora

Great Britain

  • The paid hotel shuttle from Heathrow Airport is a total rip-off. There are public buses in the airport that provide the service for free.
  • Restaurants are quite expensive here, but you can buy cheap, high-quality food at any supermarket.
  • There is a town named Ashbourne where all of the residents of the town play a soccer match simultaneously. This literally means that there are 2 teams of several hundred people who kick one ball around the same field.
  • I still don’t know why you drive on the left on roads, but you keep right on escalators and let people pass on the left. © Sudhanva Rajashekara / Quora


  • Many Portuguese supermarkets set up a Christmas tree made of cod fish for Christmas.
  • In Portugal, airport TV screens don’t show flight schedules, they show soccer matches.
  • Some apartments on the ocean coast are rented out to tourists. The funny thing is that each owner furnishes the place in their own way, while the rental cost for the same type of an apartment is usually the same.


  • When there is a carnival in Switzerland, all street drainage openings are covered neatly with plastic wrappers so that no confetti will enter the sewer system.
  • It’s okay to leave your car running and with doors wide open here. No one is afraid that it will be stolen. And while traveling by train, passengers can leave their wallets or bags right on the seat and go to the restroom.
  • It takes 3 people to jet wash a bus stop here. 2 clean and polish the rubbish bin and walls, and the third one vacuums the dust.
  • We lived in Bern, as a family, in a flat above ground. We had a cat, but no garden and a tiny balcony, so we usually just let him out in the morning and picked him up whenever one of us came home. I came home from school once and saw my cat on the other side of the road. I really freaked out because he could’ve been hit by a car while trying to cross the road.
    But our cat was smart, and as he saw a car approaching, he stopped right at the crossing and patiently waited for it to pass. And that’s when it happened. The car arrived at the crossing. Slowed down. Then stopped. Right before the crossing. My cat looked at it, then crossed the road, and jumped into my arms, as the vehicle gently started and drove away, leaving me confused for a good 10 seconds. Yup. In Switzerland, cars stop to let cats cross the road. © Emmanuel Gautier / Quora


Containers for different types of garbage in the center of Stockholm

  • In Sweden, it’s considered rude to speak loudly on public transportation or in public places. But even though everyone is annoyed when someone behaves like that, no one will say a thing.
  • Men sometimes know more about childbirth, sewing, and taking care of flowers than women do.
  • If Swedes see someone get into an awkward situation, they’ll do their best to not show that they have noticed it.
  • People don’t usually talk to their neighbors here. However, if someone neglects to sort their garbage, other neighbors can rip through their rubbish, looking for a letter with an address, so they can leave an angry note on their door. But they will never say anything directly.
  • I was sitting in a Hilton breakfast room and in walks a homeless person, they take a sandwich from the buffet and leave. Very respectful and orderly in full view of the staff. “In Scandinavia, our kitchen is always open to anyone who needs food” was the answer to my puzzled look. © Michael Petersen / Quora

Have you ever been to Europe? What was the most curious experience you had there?


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