Biggest Culture Shocks for American Tourists in 13 Popular European Countries

Wherever you travel, you encounter new customs and ways of life that seem totally alien. Here are some specific culture shocks you’ll likely experience in 13 popular European countries.

Experiencing new cultures is one of the greatest joys of traveling. From the exotic foods they eat to the traditions they maintain, it’s fascinating to see how people in other countries live – and humbling to realize your way of life isn’t necessarily the right one.

However, some of these differences are more unusual and disorientating than others! Wherever you go, there’ll be a cultural practice or two that makes you realize you’re an awfully long way from home.

Today, I’m going to highlight the most significant culture shocks tourists will likely experience in 13 of Europe’s most famous travel destinations.  

1. Italy

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Bel Paese delights visitors with stunning historical ruins, gorgeous coastlines, and fantastic food. But did you know most places you’ll stay won’t have air conditioning? Despite summer temperatures regularly hitting triple digits, many Italians think A/C is bad for you. As a result, it’s noticeably uncommon around the country.

2. England

The Lake District, England
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England has countless incredible historical sites and cities, rolling hills, and an unbeatable pub culture. However, whether you’re coming here from the US or mainland Europe, the biggest culture shock is that we drive on the left. If you’re accustomed to being on the right, it takes some getting used to – especially with so many narrow roads here.

3. France

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France is a wonderful, diverse country with a rich history, beautiful medieval towns, and epic landscapes. There are a few culture shocks here, though, with food culture being one of the biggest.

Food in France is no joke – it’s a huge part of daily life. Yet breakfast isn’t really a thing, many restaurants shut in the afternoon, and dinner is served late (8pm would be early for many French people).

4. Spain

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Among many other things, people who visit Spain enjoy outstanding weather, historic towns and cities, and gorgeous sandy beaches. Yet don’t be surprised when everything shuts down for a few hours in the afternoon. The reason? Siesta time. Everyone’s literally asleep.

5. Norway

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Norway’s natural beauty is second to none. From the fjords and waterfalls to the mountains and lakes, the entire country is spectacular.

But don’t expect to strike up an easy conversation with a local. Norwegians have a reputation for being reserved. It can come across as rude, but that’s not the case. They’re lovely, warm-hearted people. It’s just much less common to stop and talk to anyone you don’t know there.

6. Greece

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Greece needs no introduction. Its ancient cities and sun-kissed islands are bucket-list destinations for people everywhere. But did you know you don’t flush toilet paper down the loo there? The plumbing infrastructure isn’t built for it, so you put toilet paper in a bin instead.

7. Germany

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Germany is a big country with amazing history, architecture, lively cities, and beautiful landscapes. But you can expect a very direct style of communication from locals, which can seem a bit rude at first. Then, of course, there are the autobahns. With no speed limit for long sections, vehicles rocket along at an insane pace.

8. Turkey

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Turkey’s ancient cities, incredibly diverse landscapes, architecture, and food are all to die for. This transcontinental country has numerous culture shocks in store for visitors, though.

One of the biggest might be the squat toilets! Yet things like the Islamic call to prayer, which happens five times a day, will stand out, too.

9. Poland

Wroclaw, Poland
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Poland has mountains down south, beaches in the north, vibrant cities, budget-friendly prices, and so much more. In terms of culture shock, the locals you pass may seem less open, smiley, and companionable than people back home. Then there are the sandwiches. Known as Kanapki, they’re served open-faced (i.e., there isn’t a piece of bread on top).

10. Switzerland

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Switzerland is a stunning European country with incredible mountain scenery, atmospheric Alpine towns, and a reputation for unbeatable chocolate. But did you know it’s the most expensive country in Europe? That means the biggest culture shock will probably be the prices.  

11. Czech Republic

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Among many other attributes, this landlocked country in Central Europe has unforgettable cities (don’t miss Prague), wonderful national parks, and famously cheap beer. Yet, unlike many other European destinations, people don’t speak much English – especially outside the big cities. The locals may also seem cold and reserved until you get to know them.

12. Iceland

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Iceland is renowned for its epic landscapes, untouched nature, enormous waterfalls, and the Northern Lights. The biggest culture shock? Probably the nudity. Unlike us prudes from the UK and North America, being naked in public in Iceland is no issue at all. People are incredibly casual about it.

13. Netherlands

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The Netherlands is famous for its windmills, tulip fields, canal networks, and vibrant cities full of culture and unique attractions, like Amsterdam.

In terms of culture shocks, one thing you’ll instantly notice is the number of bicycles. Cycling is a way of life here, and bike paths seem to crisscross the entire country. You’ll also notice that Dutch people are much more direct in conversation.


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Author: Danny Newman

Title: Writer and Content Creator

Expertise: Travel, Digital Nomadry, Outdoors, Blogging

Danny Newman is a writer, content creator, and digital nomad from the UK. He founded the travel and lifestyle blog What’s Danny Doing, a popular resource for people seeking more adventure, self-discovery, and purpose. A nationally syndicated writer, Danny’s work features in dozens of online publications, including and news sites across the US.