When traveling abroad, a good traveler expects to run into cultural differences. With a little planning, we can prepare for the big ones, like the language or local customs. But it is often the little things we take for granted and couldn’t fathom doing differently, that trip us up. So, to help you prepare, here is a guide to the little quirks of dining abroad, from ordering drinks to interacting with your waiter and everything you need to know about refills, ice, water, and tipping.
Free refills on sodas, coffee, tea, or any other beverage are an American thing. In Europe, you purchase your beverages by the glass. In most places, there are no fountain drinks, so if you order a soda, you’ll get a can. And hopefully, it was refrigerated, which brings me to the next item…
How to request water:
GERMAN – wasser no gas (no gas); wasser mit gas (with gas)
SPANISH – agua sin gas (no gas); agua con gas (with gas)
FRENCH – de l’eau plate (no gas); de l’eau gazeuse (with gas)
Interacting with your Waiter
Rule #1: Be kind to your waiter.
This one may seem obvious, but the pressure of interacting with a language barrier tends to make people forget their manners. No one expects tourists to be fluent in a language before they travel, but learning the basics will go a long way. I can’t tell you how many times a simple Buongiorno has prompted Italians to shower me with compliments on my “beautiful Italian.” At the very least, learn how to say hello, please, and thank you, and you will find a lot of friendly people willing to help you struggle through the rest of the conversation.
Rule #2: Be aware of local dining customs.
We Americans are always in a rush. So much so that we eat a lot of our meals on the go. In Europe, eating is a social event. And a 30-minute lunch is unheard of. Don’t expect your waiter to come by every five minutes to see if you are done. In Europe, this would be considered extremely rude. If you want something, chances are you’ll have to flag your waiter down. He isn’t being lazy or bad at his job; he’s giving you privacy to enjoy your meal in peace. This is great if you want to spend three hours catching up with your friends but can be frustrating when you are pressed for time.