By Isabel Hamburger |

While preparing for my study abroad trip a few weeks ago, I knew there would be some differences from America to Europe I would have to adapt to. However, I had no idea how many there would be.  Though I have adapted to them now, these are the differences that shocked me when I arrived. 


When you order water at a restaurant, it is NOT free. It comes in a glass bottle with a cup and  will not include ice. We learned very quickly you must clarify  you want still water, or you’ll be surprised with sparkling water when you take your first sip.  


While some people occasionally wear sandals or heels, almost everyone wears sneakers with their outfits – whether they’re in a nice dress, skinny jeans, or a  T-shirt. The cobblestone streets make it hard to walk in certain shoes, so most people play it safe. Our first night in Prague, we went to a nice restaurant and saw several women in nice, expensive-looking dresses paired with worn sneakers. I thought they were crazy then, but after two weeks of walking around Europe, I can now confirm sneakers are always the right choice for any outfit. 


Many  restrooms  share the same sink area between men and women, and some share the actual  restrooms between both genders.  They also charge a fee for use.  While this came as a surprise,  paying for restrooms is  the standard throughout Europe, so always carry coins in the proper currency because you never know when they might come in handy.   


While smoking isn’t exactly uncommon in America, it seems  non-existent  after coming to Hungary. People smoke on every corner, and the smell constantly wafts around the streets.  

 Public Transportation 

The best way to get somewhere in Europe is by bus, metro or walking. The traffic makes taking a car difficult, and if you manage to get there on time, good luck finding a parking spot. The buses and metros are conveniently located to get anywhere in the city quickly, and they will  be what I miss most from Europe.  

 No Racial Diversity 

Almost everyone in Hungary is Hungarian. Their parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents all lived and grew up in Hungary, so there’s not a lot of racial diversity. People of color or different ethnicities can often experience  uncomfortable  stares, because many Hungarians are not used to seeing people unlike them. A local Hungarian stopped our student, Sion, an Ethiopian from Houston, in the street and asked to take a picture of her. 

 Air Conditioning 

Air conditioning isn’t a basic expectation everywhere like it is in America – it’s a luxury. While many public places do have air conditioning, it’s much weaker than the air we’re used to. In our apartments, a remote to turn on the air conditioning costs $5 a day. Tired of the endless heat and eternal sweatiness, some students on our trip  even  purchased their own fans. 


Walking through Hungary, it’s normal to see clothes hung on the balconies above  because dryers don’t exist here. After a cycle through the washer, clothes are hung or laid out to dry.  Figuring out how long to hang our clothes to dry was an experiment. I’ve  often  had to use the hair dryer in our bathroom to speed dry an outfit in the morning.  Now I always wash my clothes at least two days  in advance. 


While Hungarians are always in a rush, seldom smile and don’t make small talk, they’re surprisingly strict about formalities and manners. It’s essential to take your hat off to eat, wait to eat until everyone is served and most importantly, keep your feet off everything.  

 Grocery Shopping 

They don’t have H-E-B or Walmart in Europe, but  you can find  small grocery stores scattered around every street corner. Groceries, medicine, and beauty products each have their own specific store. These stores typically sell fresh produce and less frozen, processed foods. You must bring your own bags for groceries  and bag them yourself. 


While there is a stereotype about European boys being polite and gentlemanly, that’s rarely the reality here in Eastern Europe. Catcalling is more prevalent here than anywhere in America.  Young women can rarely walk down the street without being yelled at, whistled at or even touched. 

 Paying at Restaurants 

If you want to eat at a restaurant in Europe, don’t plan on making it a quick trip. Waiters are slower here, and often take longer to bring the check when you’re finished. The check won’t be split, and you’ll have to all pay together. It sometimes takes us  30  minutes to an hour to figure out if everyone chipped in, if the amount everyone chipped in is correct, and if we left enough to also cover the tax and service amount.  

 Multiple Languages 

While the main language in Hungary is Hungarian, almost everyone also speaks English.  People  speak multiple languages because they’re taught them in school from a young age.  Restaurant menus here often include two, and sometimes three, languages.  

 Our tour guide at the House of Terror museum, who spoke both Hungarian and English,  was so concerned about using proper grammar, she even asked, “Is this the right preposition for this sentence?” when she was  explaining one of the exhibits.  

While these differences all shocked me at first, I’ve adapted to them and embraced them. I’ve learned to like sparkling water and have found  that  air drying my clothes isn’t so bad. All in all,  it’s been fun living like the Europeans, but I can’t wait to get back to the air conditioning at home!