America is its own world, that’s for sure. When I lived in the states, there were lots of things I never thought about — I just assumed they were the way things are done, period. However, when I moved overseas, I discovered that there were many things that are simply different abroad. This list is by no means exhaustive — there are endless differences when you take time to sit down and think about it — but these are little things that my family has experienced as we have adjusted to living in Eastern Europe.
Take off my shoes
In America, we wear our shoes everywhere. When I was growing up, some people associated going barefoot or sock-footed with laziness, similar to spending the day in your pajamas. Taking your shoes off was more appropriate if you had clearly just spent a long time doing some sort of strenuous activity — not as a regular state of being. And, in addition to that, your feet smell! Nobody wants to smell your socks or feet, especially after they’ve been cooped up in your dirty shoes.
However, in most places throughout Eastern Europe, taking your shoes off is a requirement upon entering someone’s home. Many homeowners will even provide generic houseshoes for you to wear while in their home. It’s a way to keep the house clean and free of dust and dirt that comes in from outside. Wearing your shoes inside is often considered impolite, as well.
Don’t leave a tip
In the states, you leave a tip when you eat at any full-service restaurant. It’s understood — waiters and waitresses earn $2 or $3 per hour, and the rest is made from tips that people leave. Don’t leave without leaving a tip, or you’ll get some choice words from the restaurant’s personnel.
Where we live now, tips are simply not customary, unless you are at a very nice restaurant. Nearly all foodservice establishments offer table service, and waiters and waitresses don’t usually expect tips.
Drink things without ice
Eastern Europeans have some very entrenched views about cold things, like the belief that drinking too many iced drinks will give you a cold or strep throat. So, they won’t offer you ice, and in many cases, they won’t have it, unless it’s the middle of summer.
Pay with cash
We pay with credit cards everywhere in the United States, and we don’t think twice, usually. Sure, there are those who tout the virtues of cash and the envelope system, but the convenience and track-ability of using credit cards or online payment for everything just makes it the desired method for all transactions.
But that’s just not how it is everywhere. Come to Europe, and there are plenty of places where you must pay with cash, especially if you want to get some of those nice little souvenirs at the Old Bridge. Count your money and keep track of it — it’s not as hard as you think.
In America, a car is a necessity; in Eastern Europe, it’s a luxury. In fact, for American families, the norm is two cars — no question. Here, people don’t think twice about walking places, and cars are simply not for everyone.
Americans think about cars differently, as well. While an American will view a car as important, people in Eastern Europe treat their cars with much more reverence. While most Americans might never even think of buying a brand new car, people here view buying “new” as a viable solution. It’s a way to get peace of mind and ensure that you don’t have to deal with a former owner’s problems. Cars are kept in tip-top condition until they are sold, at which time the owner will use the income from the sale to “upgrade” to a higher class of vehicle.
As I said, this list is just the tip of the iceberg. I hope it just wets your appetite for more new perspectives. These are simple things, but when you begin to put them all together, it certainly changes how you view the world, little by little.