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Goin' to Europe?


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I've been a European traveler since I was twenty, when I spent four months wandering Europe from Ireland and Denmark to Spain and Italy and back. I was incredibly ill-prepared, knowing no language but English and a little German, knowing almost nothing of history, geography, nor cultural differences. But I was happy to leave my culture behind and to seek out and enjoy all the differences I could find. I lived hand to mouth on less than Frommer's famous "$5 a day."

 

Subsequent trips were mainly with my wife and by car--long summers of learning about wine, food, history. We sought out fairs and fiestas, piloted canal boats, climbed mountains, hiked forests and hills, explored caves and castles. Mainly we met people and learned about how they lived. We had enough money to live comfortably, but not lavishly, with the occasional blowout (Taillevent, Troisgros, Paul Bocuse, the Auberge de l'Ill, and so on).

 

Divorce, retirement, and a long subsequent depression interrupted my travels for a while until, in 1999, as a kind of therapy, I started to go to Paris, eventually spending about half the year there. It was a reversion to the time when I had very little money and had to find every possible way to make about $5000 last for three months.

 

This rather long preface leads to the question at the root of this thread. What do people who are going to spend a week to a month in Europe need to know to make their trip comfortable and rewarding. How should people prepare themselves intellectually for a trip (and I'm not talking about what to take and how to pack, except very peripherally). It might also help readers to hear about your daily budgets, to establish a frame of reference for your advice.

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If your American sew a Canadian flag on your backpack and wear an "I'm Canadian" t-shirt.

Please don't. Anyway, nobody falls for this, you know. Americans can never get into saying "eh!" and they continue to order Budweiser no matter where they go. They also don't automatically apologize when someone steps on their foot. :rolleyes:

 

Fly

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If your American sew a Canadian flag on your backpack and wear an "I'm Canadian" t-shirt.

Please don't. Anyway, nobody falls for this, you know. Americans can never get into saying "eh!" and they continue to order Budweiser no matter where they go. They also don't automatically apologize when someone steps on their foot. :rolleyes:

 

Fly

BUDWEISER?!?!??! Good God, man, are you MAD?

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Let me provide a partial answer to my own question. Anyone going to France should know that the French, from infancy, are indoctrinated in a rigid etiquette. Failing to honor it marks you as rude.

 

When you enter a shop or restaurant, for example, you always say, "Bonjour, Monsieur (or Madame)," and when you leave you always say, "Au revoir , Monsieur (or Madame)." You never omit the honorific Monsieur or Madame. This practice marks you as polite, and greases the gears of commerce.

 

(If you anticipate coming back, you can substitute à bientot for au revoir.)

 

Politeness returns politeness, and those who practice this simple courtesy rarely return home with tales of how rude the French are.

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When you enter a shop or restaurant, for example, you always say, "Bonjour, Monsieur (or Madame)," and when you leave you always say, "Au revoir , Monsieur (or Madame)."

I always say “bonne journée” on departing. And I always address a shopkeep or resturateur as Monsieur or Madame. And I've never been treated rudely when in France (except by an idiot I traveled with).

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When you enter a shop or restaurant, for example, you always say, "Bonjour, Monsieur (or Madame)," and when you leave you always say, "Au revoir , Monsieur (or Madame)."  You never omit the honorific Monsieur or Madame.  This practice marks you as polite, and greases the gears of commerce.

 

Politeness returns politeness, and those who practice this simple courtesy rarely return home with tales of how rude the French are.

You beat me to it, Maurice. I can't agree with you more.

 

In France, it also helps to try to dress a little better or more formally than you might at home. Tastefully applied makeup for women is considered part of being well-dressed. The French value chic in addition to politesse. This is especially true if you are middle-aged or older. It may not matter so much for the young.

 

Try not to be offended if someone corrects your grammar or pronunciation. They tend to assume that you actually would like to know the proper way to say something. The correction is meant to be helpful, not insulting.

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A few tips for London.

 

When riding the tube, it's customary to shake hands with your fellow passengers upon embarkation and again as you get off.

 

It's a requirement that you are shown a printed wine list in pubs before you order, but some publicans will try to get round this requirement if they sense you are a tourist. If this happens, walk out, making clear your reasons for doing so.

 

Taxi drivers tend to own their own vehicles; therefore, like with hairdressers who own the salon, it's rude to tip.

 

Jaywalking is illegal, which improves traffic flows and reduces accidents, but a few selfish people insist on spoiling things for the rest of us. If you see anybody doing this, always report them to the nearest policeman.

 

Nude sunbathing is expressly forbidden in all Royal Parks except St James's.

 

Finally, Londoners like to ask people of non-Anglo-Saxon appearance where they come from. It's normal to do so and can often lead to fascinating conversations and lasting friendships.

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