The Untold Story of Living as Americans in Europe

We have lived in Ireland for over two and a half years. When we left Houston, Texas, our goal was to return home in two years. Well, two years will quickly turned into four as the husband renewed our stay. So, we’re here to stay a bit longer. Living as Americans in Europe, we have definitely paid attention to the interesting differences. We often say that we live in two worlds and we are blessed to have lived on at least two continents but it can also make it very difficult at times. Despite it all, we have learned to embrace the challenges and complain to each other later.

VISITING beautiful countries and LIVING in beautiful foreign countries are two completely different experiences. As Americans living in Europe, I can safely say (MAJOR CLICHE ALERT) that the grass is not always greener on the other side. Within our first week of living in Dublin, we noticed some major differences, some were subtle, some were very obvious but regardless, they make for an interesting experience.

CONVENIENCE

 

Shopping

America is built on the foundation of convenience. I could fill a book with the conveniences that we take for granted in America that just don’t exist in Europe. For example, convenience stores exist but that is a different experience all together. IF you find one, don’t expect much of a selection and don’t expect to pop in and pop out. Whenever we take a road trip, I make sure to go to the grocery store the night before because I don’t even remember the number of times I have walked into the convenience store looking for a drink or a snack and I am forced to choose between two drink flavors (and I don’t drink either flavor) and one or two snacks that both contain peanuts and the Glitter Princess has a severe nut allergy. So, preparation is key. Did I mention that there is not an option to pump and swipe? You pump your gas (holding the pump the entire time in freezing weather because stoppers for the pumps don’t exist on this side of the world I suppose) and then you walk inside the inconvenient convenience store and pay for your petrol (gas). Yep. It’s 1985 in this piece.

 

Customer Service

I know Americans pride themselves on customer service. I know there are people that have dedicated their lives and careers to providing superb customer service. Well, let me tell you, I can guarantee that customer service rep was not trained in America. Customer service does not happen in Europe. It is not their strong suit. Europeans have several strengths but customer service is not one of them. Some of my Irish friends tend to think the waiters or store clerks in America are annoying but after living and traveling on this side of the world, for a couple of years, I totally beg to differ. I have story on top of story of poor customer service experiences. For example, we dropped our car off at the car dealership for an oil change at opening (the time we reserved), we reminded the service center that we had a plane to catch in the afternoon. We were told, “No worries.” Needless to say, when WE called to pick up the car, no work had been done. It was in parts. It was an oil change. It should not take over five hours for an oil change. Needless to say, no work was done and a simple apology was given and we had to reschedule a time to bring the car back. And who did this inconvenience? Or how about the time I had a friend in town and we ordered a pizza for takeaway, we go to pick it up within 20 minutes as promised and an hour and 20 minutes later, it’s still not ready and all we got was an apology for not putting in the order. I kid you not, these are daily events in our life out and about in Ireland.

Driving

There is no such thing as a quick trip anywhere. Parking is atrocious. Parking is free at very few places. We pay for parking everywhere..the malls, the shopping centers, the street, the park.  In other words, parking lots are not common. And don’t think the parking stalls are larger or plentiful because you are paying. That is not the case and don’t ever think it is. So many times I choose to cook or go without because of parking.

Oh, and in addition to UK, Malta and Cyprus, Ireland drives on the left side of the road, and in Ireland, there is no right turn on red. Now you know, you’ll thank me later.

CASH IS KING

In the states, I hardly ever have cash. I use my debit card faithfully. Well, that is certainly not the case in Europe. I keep cash in my wallet. Now, don’t get me wrong, debit cards are accepted at most places but unless it’s a major establishment, I always ask if debit cards are accepted. And don’t forget about the parking situation, it’s easier for me to pay with cash but a cashless option is usually available. The euro system consists of €.01, €.02, €.05, €.10, €.20, €.50, €1, and €2. So, our wallets are overflowing with coins. I now pride myself on the jiggle in my purse.

I can’t count the number of times I have been at an establishment at the most random of times and have had absolutely no cash which then becomes more of a hassle…because remember convenience is not a strong asset of the Europeans.

Cash is so crucial that we are even charged a few cents per each debit transaction. So, of course every time I swipe my debit card, I’m adding that fee in my head.

The best part about paying for items in Europe is that the taxes are already included. It makes shopping a dream. If you look at the menu board and a cup of hot chocolate costs €4.50 when you get to the register, you will pay €4.50 because the taxes are already included in the cost. Wait. What? YES! The taxes are already included no funny business here and I love it. I have become a better shopper because of this convenience.

 

EATING OUT

Going out to eat can be a major ordeal in Dublin. Let’s start with just deciding you want to eat out instead of cook. There are several factors to consider:

    • The weather. Do you even want to brave the wind, rain and cold.
    • Reservations. Do you have reservations? And I’m not talking reservations for a fancy steakhouse. I’m talking about reservations for your basic family restaurant such as the equivalent of Chili’s.
    • Parking. Will parking be an issue? Most likely there is not a car park on site, so street parking might be an issue depending on the day of the week.
    • Time. How much time do you have because Europeans believe in you enjoying yourself? They will not quickly bring you the check at the end of the meal. You will most likely need to wave your waiter own to get their attention. It will not be a quick meal.

On the flip side, tipping is not customary in Europe. There are exceptions to every situation-if you are receiving a service or eating at a high end restaurant. So, going back to taxes being included in prices, you can pretty much calculate the meal cost in your head. The waiters bring the credit card machine to you to close your bill. This feature is so cool. I love it. To pay, you hand the waiter your card and the receipt and that’s it. No line on the receipt for the tip, no calculations on your phone, just a straight forward bill.

Food and Drinks

When we first arrived in Europe, a couple of things we noticed when eating out that are now the norm to us:

  • Ice is not a thing. Very rarely, will you get ice with your drink, so when you do, be thankful. I read somewhere that it never gets outrageously warm in Europe so drinks don’t need to be super cold, so ice is not a necessity.
  • Paying for water is not outrageous. In some restaurants, unless you specify tap water, you will be brought a bottle of sparkling or regular bottled water and both will cost. We were too through when this happened the first time. It doesn’t happen much anymore because we know the lingo, but in some countries, there’s no way around it. You will pay for a liter of water. Period.
  • The lunch rush starts at about 12:30 as most lunch breaks start at 1:00pm. To accommodate the lunch rush, most restaurants don’t even open until noon. This takes some major getting used to. My body is programed to think that lunch starts at noon. And I can’t shake that feeling.
  • I can count on one hand the number of times, I have taken a container of leftover food home. The portions are simply smaller so completing your entire meal is entirely expected and normal.

 

A TRIP TO THE RESTROOM

One would think that taking a grip to the restroom would be an easy task and would even question my motives for including a trip to the restroom on this post. I’m including it to help the poor lady that drank a bucket of water because she wants to do better and now cannot find a restroom to save her life and is running the risk of seriously wetting her pants as a grown able bodied adult. Or the mom that has the 9 year old that is going to bust wide open on the street and there is nothing anyone can do about it. Yeah. That’s me in both situations. I am her. She is me. We are one. Here are some things to note so you will be all the way prepared:

  • First of all, it’s called the toilet not restroom. When you need to go, you simply ask, “Where are the toilets?” I know. It sounds horrible to us Americans, but it is the norm and I still cringe EVERY time I say it.
  • Please don’t be in a rush to use the restroom for two reasons, restrooms are not readily available and you may need to pay to use them. Yes. You will need to have your money ready and be prepared to pay to simply use the restroom. Here’s a hint: look for a Mc Donald’s or a large department store. But, don’t expect a restroom at a normal coffee shop or store. It ain’t happening.
  • In Europe, the stall doors are to the floor. It’s almost as if you are in a little room, a wash closet as you may see it called in some places instead of toilets. In America, there is a huge gap under the stall door. It’s weird. I know. But, I noticed (especially when my toilet room doesn’t have toilet paper for the third time this freaking week and no one can slide you toilet paper under the stall. OK. TMI. I digress.) and apparently the rest of the world did too.

I have loved the experience of living in Dublin. I would not trade a thing. This experience has made us stronger and even more flexible as we sort through what we know vs reality.

Hugs and love,

Dee Dee

Are you living as Americans in Europe? Do you have any of the same pet peeves? Or are you just living your life and have another pet peeve to share? Please leave a comment below and share. I’d love to hear about it.

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Dee Dee Wheaton

Dee Dee Wheaton is the editor and main contributor of her family’s blog, The Wheaton Takeover. She writes and edits her posts listening to hip hop and r&b while sipping hot tea. Dee Dee and her family have temporarily relocated to Dublin, Ireland from Houston, Texas. They are traveling the world, learning and experiencing new things everyday and loving life one day at a time. Through their blog, they share their worldwide excursions, experiences living as American expats in Ireland, lessons learned along the way and glimpses into their crazy life.

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