This weekend marks one month since I was sent home from my semester abroad in Europe (Prague, Czech Republic). Looking back at my time, and currently missing dining out, I noticed tons of things that I do differently in a restaurant at home than when eating in a foreign country. It’s not like I haven’t been to Europe before– I have, multiple times. But I never noticed certain differences that I noticed now that I stayed for a longer time. Every country in Europe does things slightly differently, and since traveling around, I’d picked up on a few. 

Photo by Dmitry Goykolov on Unsplash

Unsplash on unsplash

Have you ever sat down at a table in America, leisurely ate your food, and chatted for a while? No? Yeah, me either. In Europe, though, that’s the norm. Restaurants in America have a tendency to rush customers, often bringing the check before we’ve even finished eating. In Europe, if you don’t flag down your server and ask for the check, it’ll never come. Europeans will NEVER try to rush you through your meal and usher you out the door. You could sit there all damn day if you wanted.

And while we’re talking about things you have to ask for, fair warning, water, while a basic necessity for living, is not free. I will literally never be over the fact that in Europe, not only do you have to order water when you sit down, but you have to pay for it. Every so often you’ll stumble into a restaurant that brings complimentary tap water, as I had come to expect. But for the most part, if you don’t say ‘water’ when the server asks to take your drink order, you’ll sit through the entire meal washing your food down with nothing but saliva. It was shocking to me, that I had to specifically ask for it and then clarify still vs. sparkling, but not as shocking as when the check came and I saw that I was paying the equivalent of $4 USD for a single glass of water. I’d even attempted bringing in my own water bottle, and sometimes I got away with it. There was one time, in what’s supposed to be the happiest country on earth, when my server rudely instructed me to throw it away. So I was stuck paying $4 for a glass of water yet again.

Robyn Deneroff

At home, the aforementioned rude server would get a measly 15% tip and usually I am the one to calculate the 15% or 20% tip when a group of my friends goes out to eat. However, I knew that tipping in Europe is not as widely expected as it is in America. There are some countries in Europe where tipping is simply not a thing. There are some that will include a 10% gratuity in the final price, and there are some that could go either way. So, keeping track of which restaurants to tip in and which to not, as well as what percentage to tip and then calculating that percentage using foreign currency became a headache. I typically tipped at all the places I ate, but there were times when I’d hand the server (no, you can’t just leave it on the table) a few coins and get a funny look in exchange.

While all of these differences made eating in Prague and other countries seem like a hassle, there were similarities as well that remind me of the joys of eating out at home– I mean, talk about options. Mexican, Thai, Italian, Greek, Japanese, American, Vegetarian, Czech, you name it. There are all the classic places that everyone knows and goes to, similar to eating locally in the States. There are also some local chains that can be found throughout Europe. And then, if you’re really missing home, there are some fast food chains that may be familiar– Burger King, McDonalds, KFC, and even Starbucks. The language may be different, but when you just need a McFlurry after a long day, or a hot coffee on your way to class/work you can easily get one.

Robyn Deneroff

Speaking of things that are easy to get, much like you can find a soft pretzel or a hot dog on every street corner of New York, there are trdelnik carts just about everywhere in downtown Prague. A trdelnik, or a chimney cake, is a doughy pastry filled with chocolates, ice creams, and topped with the works. They’re local to Prague– the equivalent of a New York City hot dog. There are also street carts with sausages and fries or coffees and hot chocolates. Street food is pretty common in Europe, and growing up just outside NYC, nothing hits on a cold day of exploring like a good hot dog (or trdelnik) on the side of the road. 

Robyn Deneroff