18 Quirky European Habits Americans Just Don’t Get

Countries across Europe are known for their varying social norms, lifestyle choices, and day-to-day habits. Stemming from different traditions and societal values, these habits are rarely seen in America, and visitors are often surprised by the differences they face compared to life in the U.S. Here are the 18 quirkiest European habits Americans just don’t understand.

Siesta Time in Spain

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Although most modern Spaniards no longer take a lunchtime snooze, according to CNN, “many shops in Spain close for a two or three-hour afternoon break, lengthening the day for employees.” This is generally to rest and avoid the hottest part of the day. 

Kissing Cheeks in France

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Cheek kissing, known as “la bise,” is a common greeting among friends and family in France. Depending on the region, the greeting varies between one and four kisses, which can be confusing to visitors or locals traveling within the country. It is a polite gesture and should be a light touch of the cheeks, making a kissing sound rather than actual lip-to-cheek contact.

Open Windows in Germany

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German people like to regularly “lüften” or air out their homes and offices, regardless of the weather outside. This is done to improve air quality and reduce the spread of germs in shared spaces. The emphasis on airing out is linked to the German value of “Frischluft” (fresh air) as essential to good health.

Dutch Birthday Calendars in the Bathroom

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A quirky yet common practice in the Netherlands, the Dutch keep a birthday calendar in the bathroom, allowing residents and guests to keep track of important dates. According to Dutch News, “the mass production of birthday calendars probably started as a marketing tool. Insurance companies and grocery stores printed birthday calendars to send out as promotional materials.”

The Italian Passeggiata

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A daily ritual for many Italian towns, the passeggiata is where locals walk through the main streets to socialize and relax after dinner. The tradition reflects the Italian emphasis on community engagement and the importance of public life, contrasting with the more private or car-centric leisure activities common in the U.S.

Paying for Public Restrooms in Europe

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Sometimes surprising for Americans, it is common across European countries to pay a small fee to use public restrooms. These fees are used to maintain cleanliness and security, providing a level of upkeep not always found in free restrooms, especially in towns where there is a lot of tourism.

The Spanish Sobremesa

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After meals, particularly at lunchtime, Spaniards often engage in “sobremesa,” a period of leisurely conversation at the table, which can extend the meal by an hour or more. According to the BBC, “Sobremesa is about prolonging the lunch because you’ve had such a good time that you don’t want it to end; if you leave the table, the spell is broken.”

Outdoor Life in Scandinavia

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Scandinavians are known for their love of outdoor life and will get active outside regardless of the weather. This strong connection to the outdoors is instilled from a young age and is seen as essential for physical and mental well-being, in contrast to the more indoor-oriented lifestyle common in the U.S.

Pub Culture in the UK

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Serving as social hubs, pubs in the UK are far beyond just a place to drink. They are usually woven into the local community, serving as venues for gatherings and celebrations and a place to unwind. ‘Local pubs’ are usually found in smaller towns or villages, and regular customers will be known by name.

Finnish Sauna Culture

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Somewhat of a national institution, there is a sauna for every three people in Finland. According to UNESCO, “In a sauna, people cleanse their bodies and minds and embrace a sense of inner peace. Traditionally, the sauna has been considered as a sacred space—a ‘church of nature.’”

Greek Name Days Celebration

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In Greece, a name day is considered a more important celebration than a birthday. There are specific days dedicated to saints and the individuals named after them, and celebrations include open houses, where friends and family visit without formal invitations, bringing gifts and well-wishes.

The British Queueing Etiquette

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In the UK, queuing is taken very seriously, and cutting in line is seen as a significant social faux pas. Orderly queuing reflects broader British values of politeness and respect for others, contrasting with more relaxed attitudes toward line etiquette in some parts of the U.S.

The Importance of Fika in Sweden

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A Swedish tradition, ‘Fika’ involves taking a break during the day to enjoy coffee and pastries with friends or colleagues. Forbes says, “It does typically involve coffee and a sweet pastry, but just as important is the decision to take a deliberate break from your day with others. It’s a chance to relax and enjoy social connection with family, friends or colleagues.”

Swedish Silence Norms

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In Sweden, silence is valued in public spaces, and people often keep to themselves, reflecting a broader cultural preference for privacy and personal space. In general, the Swedish culture values listening over speaking, a stark contrast to the American emphasis on extraversion and assertiveness.

Italian Meal Structure

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Formal meals in Italy follow a structure, with multiple courses served in a specific order. This can confuse Americans who are used to a more simplified meal structure. Meals in Italy, particularly dinner, can extend for several hours and are a time for leisurely enjoyment and connection, unlike the faster-paced American dining habits.

German Recycling Systems

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Sustainability and conservation are highly valued in Germany, and as a result, they have created a highly organized and complex recycling system with multiple bins for different types of waste. They also have a Pfand system, where a deposit is paid on bottles and cans that is refunded once the packaging is returned for recycling.

Danish Hygge Concept

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‘Hygge,’ a Danish concept often translated as coziness or comfort, is a fundamental part of Danish culture, emphasizing a warm, friendly, and relaxed atmosphere. Hygge is about creating a sense of well-being through enjoying life’s simple pleasures, which contrasts with the American pursuit of achievements or possessions for happiness.

Spanish Dinner Timing

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In Spain, it is common to eat your evening meal as late as 9 p.m. or 10 p.m. due to the siesta culture, which creates longer working days. This contrasts with the early evening routines common across the U.S. and is more about social connectivity and enjoying the process of eating compared to American dinner time.

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