Europe is a continent filled with cities, monuments, and natural marvels that feature on every traveler’s bucket list. When traveling to any foreign destination, it’s always a good idea to learn about the cultural traits and norms of the locals, to avoid rubbing anyone the wrong way. Europe is rich in cultural diversity, with the various nations and regions having their own norms and traditions. Here are 10 cultural traits that you should be aware of, before you visit Europe.
Work and all physical activity for that matter seems to come to a halt during the mid-afternoons in Spain. Almost everyone takes a break for an afternoon snooze! The people of Spain indulge in siestas mostly in the summer months to escape the intense heat. These naps are included in their lunch breaks. However, this practice is waning in the bigger cities, but it is still largely prevalent in the countryside. If you find yourself with a flat tyre, or need to contact a government agency, chances are you won’t get very far in the afternoons. It’s good to take this into account if you’re on vacation in Spain; accept the culture and be patient.
The French love compliments. They like it when you appreciate even the most mundane things. Say something nice about their shirt, lipstick, food, eyeliner or even the weather – and you’re going to be a hit with them. Don’t go for overkill with obviously deliberate flattery; instead, always maintain the fine balance between sensitive subtlety and crass over-complimenting.
This is not surprising from a country that produces some of the best engineering products in the world. The Germans love doing everything in an orderly fashion. They do not appreciate chaos and confusion at all. Before anything is to be done, there is always a clear-cut system of going about it, even if it’s an everyday activity like buying groceries. They rate high on avoiding uncertainty so the last thing you want to do is anger a German officer at the airport by not submitting your official documents in an orderly manner.
Blowing your own trumpet is a strict no-no in Britain. The British do not appreciate people who can’t stop patting themselves on the back. It is something that is severely looked down upon. So the next time you’re in London, wait for your host to compliment you rather than bringing up your own achievements.
The three-kisses-rule operates here. It’s customary for hellos and goodbyes. Follow the right-cheek, left-cheek, right-cheek rule and you should avoid any mishaps. Do note that these are essentially air kisses so one doesn’t need to go all out and plant a kiss on the other person’s cheek. The Dutch don’t greet just about anyone like this; it is only done with friends and family, so if someone has extended such a greeting to you, rest assured that you’ve entered their inner circle.
This is something one must learn before visiting Poland – last names change with gender. These are essentially suffixes to the surnames: -ski/-cki/-dzkiismasculine and -ska/-cka/-dzkais feminine. For example, if you were visiting a male friend whose last name is Zawadzki, his sister’s last name would be Zawadzka. His wife and him would be referred to as ‘Mr. and Mrs. Zawadzcy’. This particular rule also comes in handy when you are addressing someone on email and can’t make out their gender from their first name.
Years of Communism in Hungary taught locals to walk through ‘The Little Gate’. Similar to what we call jugaad. A communist environment isn’t the most conducive to get what you want, when you want. Options were limited during those times. This made the Hungarians learn the art of adjusting or ‘working around’ problems. So the next time you’re in the country of goulash, don’t make a hue and cry about things not going as you’d like them to. Just walk through the little gate and enter middle ground. Otherwise, you may land up offending your hosts.
The Norwegians do not appreciate unnecessary touching; in fact, they would rather avoid it completely. In Norway, even handshakes are used only if absolutely necessary. The country’s people are high on privacy and have high regard for personal space. It’s good to maintain an arm’s length during interpersonal communication. Even at the grocer’s, there will be a ‘change bowl’ where you put money and pick up change, because Norwegians do not like brushing palms with their customers unnecessarily.
The Swiss are sticklers for punctuality. They think of time as a valuable resource and do not waste it for anyone. Even if they’re meeting for play dates, women are considered to be absolutely punctual (yes, even if they have babies who cry relentlessly!). If you have issues with being on time, set your clock to half-an-hour ahead of time to avoid irking your Swiss friends.
First and foremost, the Portuguese consider it customary to open gifts as soon as they are received. This makes it absolutely necessary to give a good gift. Flowers, high-quality chocolates and candy are considered good gifts. Avoid giving your hosts a bouquet containing 13 flowers and they should certainly not be roses (unless you’re taking a Portuguese girl on a date). They also consider it appropriate to give gifts at the end of successful business projects. Just make sure that you don’t gift your hosts or friends anything too expensive, as this will also make them feel awkward.
Being aware of the cultural traditions of people always helps you adapt and adjust. This puts not only you, but also your hosts and other associates at ease. It shows that you have gone out of your way to fit into their environment and that works towards greater understanding between people of differing cultures.