Life Lesson: How to Eat in Europe

A few months ago I embarked on a wonderful three-week adventure in Europe. I think it goes without saying, but Europe is very different from the United States. Even with that obvious fact, many people travel to Europe expecting things to be exactly the same. I have news for you. Things are not the same. And that is what makes traveling to Europe so wonderful.

Americans often get a bad name for not wanting to try new foods, complaining about portion sizes and demanding to have a diet Coke wherever they are. But with a little education, you can shed the negative stereotypes, especially when it comes to eating in Europe.

If you are traveling to Europe and plan on eating while enjoying it, embrace the differences and follow these tips for a seamless trip.

Americans tend to rush through a meal, racing on to the next thing on their to-do list. In many European countries, eating (especially dinner) is something to be savored. Spending less than an hour at a restaurant is unheard of. Unless you are grabbing a quick sandwich, expect to spend a little more time eating. And with incredible food, it is hard not to.

If you want everyone to know that you are a tourist, show up to dinner at 6 p.m. Many restaurants do not even open until 7 and do not expect to see many locals until about 8 p.m. While you might be hungry earlier, try and stave off the hunger pangs for a chance to dine with the locals. Their presence is half of the experience. Try and fit in by going a bit later.

A little research before a big trip will serve you well when dining out. You will not only learn about delicacies in the region, you will be advised on what to expect when ordering certain items. For example, French restaurants like to cook their beef less than Americans typically do. So a medium burger will come out medium- rare in American standards. And the French have an appetizer that is a delicacy: raw beef. Don’t be shocked with your meat comes out redder than expected.

Portions can often be a sore spot for American travelers. I personally LOVE the regular portions. It is enough to satisfy but not enough to over-stuff. Many European foods tend to have more flavor so you will not need to overeat to be satisfied.

Water drinkers beware: it is not as common place. Waiters are not expected to fill your water regularly at a restaurant and you will warrant strange looks when asking for ice cubes. At most European restaurants water is served sparkling and in a glass bottle.

Food can be a serious money drain while you are traveling, but it is actually part of the experience. Worried about spending too much with three meals a day? My suggestion is something light at a bakery for breakfast, a sandwich for lunch and splurge for dinner. One incredible meal is worth more than two mediocre ones.

Happy eating and happy travels!

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