Almost everyone harbors a desire to travel overseas at some point in his or her life. I was given the opportunity to visit Spain, Portugal and France at the beginning of this summer and it was an offer I couldn’t pass up. It was an experience I can’t even begin to describe, but certain things made it impossible to forget that you were no longer in America.
By Molly Follmer
Almost everyone harbors a desire to travel overseas at some point in his or her life. I was given the opportunity to visit Spain, Portugal and France at the beginning of this summer and it was an offer I couldn’t pass up. It was an experience I can’t even begin to describe, but certain things made it impossible to forget that you were no longer in America. These are the ten most interesting things I learned while I was there.
1. Blinking yellow traffic lights mean that you can start to drive, not begin to slow down.
This was a little weird at first, because it goes against everything I’ve been taught. I still don’t understand the purpose of a light that tells you to start moving, since most people are more than willing to hit the gas pedal.
2. No one thinks twice about animals in restaurants.
It was our very last night in Paris and most of the group had chosen to eat at a restaurant in town. Towards the end of the meal, we noticed a cat lying behind the cash register. According to our waiter, he’s very friendly and will often get up and stroll around the restaurant. Definitely a violation of all America’s health codes, but no one there even seemed to think it was strange.
3. Frankfurters (hot dogs) are a pizza topping.
I discovered this in Madrid while eating dinner at a small restaurant near our hotel. We ordered a “meat lovers” pizza – which came with sausage, bacon and hot dogs. And truthfully, it was really good.
4. There are barely any intersections, just roundabouts.
Instead of weird angles where streets cross one another, most major intersections in Europe are connected by a circle. They are one way, and you drive around the circle until you reach the off- shooting road you want to take. It seems to work – I didn’t see a single accident in the time I was there.
5. Fast food costs more than food in most small restaurants.
Fast food is a huge convenience for Europeans, so chains such as McDonalds and Burger King charge outlandish prices for their food. You can go to almost any small restaurant or bar and purchase a good meal for much less than a Whopper, fries and a drink.
6. There are trees and plants growing naturally all throughout the cities.
Unlike the United States, where cities are made of concrete and steel, the cities I saw in Spain looked like they belonged in nature, with trees and grass growing in patches between the buildings. In one city, there were actually trees that converted an astonishing amount of carbon dioxide to oxygen each day. They were planted all over the city, and their pretty purple blossoms made them decorative as well as functional.
7. Europeans ALWAYS stop for pedestrians.
Their drivers must be conditioned from the start to stop for people crossing the street, because they will stop every time, even if it means slamming on the brakes. I got a lot of weird looks from drivers who watched me wait for them to stop before crossing instead of just walking and assuming that they’d hit the brakes.
8. The European currency system includes a 2 Euro coin.
I still haven’t figured out why, because there is also a one Euro coin. Think of it as having a one and a two dollar bill. Doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense, does it? (And yes, I know there is such a thing as a two dollar bill, but it’s not really a common form of payment in the United States)
9. A period is a comma and a comma is a period.
This was a shock the first time we withdrew money from an ATM and saw 50,00 onthe receipt. Because Americans are conditioned to associate commas with thousands, we thought that we’d withdrawn 5,000 Euros instead of 50.
10. The only English word that every European understands? Beer.
It really doesn’t matter if the person doesn’t speak a word of English. If you say beer, they will always understand.