You never know a country's true culture until you experience it yourself. I learned this when I traveled around Europe this summer, visiting cities like: London, Paris, Rome, Monte Carlo, Florence, Capri, and Zermatt. Each city brought its own original cuisine, but there were aspects of the countries that had a lot in common.
So, whether you're traveling around Europe or you're just a curious person, here are some things about European dining that I learned.
At restaurants in Italy, the bread they put out on the table is usually pretty bland. Especially in Florence, the bread was most comparable to cardboard. My friends and I made a concoction of olive oil, Balsamic vinegar, and Parmesan cheese to add some flavor to the blandness.
Another downside to Italian bread is that it isn't always free and the more bread they put on the table, the more expensive it will be. However, France has some amazing bread that they will usually bring out for free. Either way, if you ask, they will tell you if it's for free or not—it's not always a scam. But bread lovers, I'd still suggest you head to France for your fix.
An essential in America, and 99.9% of the time given from the tap for free, is costly in Europe. Yes, it is water. Water in Europe is either sparkling or still and for each bottle they give you, it's usually between 4-6€. However, a convenience store can sell a 1.5 liter bottle for 1€, so hop on that deal when you see it.
Try Something New
The blueberry steak from Acqua al 2 sounds almost too strange to taste good. But it has to be the best steak I ever had. It's the perfect mix of savory and sweet and I would've never known that till I experimented a little.
I shared the steak and a bowl of their delicious penne with vodka sauce with a friend, and it's surprisingly an amazing combination of food. This just an example of a very common occurrence in Europe.
A positive about beverages in Europe is the drinking age. In Italy and France, at 16 years old, you can legally drink wine or beer. It's an excellent cultural experience to try the wine the countries right by the vineyards have to offer. Wine-tasting tours are also always a great activity. And what I learned best is if you're traveling in the summer—white wine all the way!
Befriend The Locals
When France played Germany in the Euro cup, we were lucky enough to be in France. The sports bar where we were at were nice enough to give us Americans a chance to root for France with them. We took advantage of this and got all decked out to support France.
Once they won, we celebrated in the streets as if we were the French. There were fireworks, parades of cars, and cheering everywhere. When you're friendly to the locals, they'll more than likely give you a chance. Improve America's reputation and be good to the Europeans.
European food is pricey, but Switzerland takes the cake. The chocolate is amazing, the bread, the cheese, it's all delicious, but it's very costly. Switzerland isn't for you if you're going to have a problem coughing up $6 for hot chocolate—but sometimes it's worth it.
All Over Europe
Sushi in Europe can be the best sushi you ever had. When you get sick of Italian or French food, which I swear you will, every sushi restaurant we tried had offered diverse options of sushi rolls.
All this further solidifies my belief that Europe may have better and possibly even prettier sushi than we do in U.S. Their beautiful shrimp tempura wasn't even comparable to America's sushi restaurants.
Americans Aren't Adored
This may come as a surprise to some readers, but Europeans don't love Americans so much. I've witnessed many fellow Americans actually get ripped off. From certain service charges to beverages, Americans have a reputation of being dumb and restaurants take advantage of that.
So, from my experience, I'd recommend being the intelligent American who does their research and avoids the scams. But also, be respectful of their culture. Americans tend to be less modest while some parts of Europe are not. Don't wear short shorts to Sistine Chapel or you'll end up buying a scarf off the street to cover up like we had to.
Everything Costs Money
One of the most important things I learned about Europe is nothing is free. From the service charge, to the bread charge, to the water charge, to the bathroom charge—it's just part of their culture and we, as Americans, take advantage of all this being free in America.