Europe is opening to US travelers this Summer. I thought I'd share some common fears I hear from clients who haven't been there before. If I had a dollar for every time a client has asked me if people in Paris really hate Americans, or stated that they might be interested in seeing Europe, but they are afraid they won’t be able to get around since they only speak English, or are afraid of the Euro, or think too many people smoke, or worry that they won’t be able to find any food that they like, etc…I would be long retired in an oceanfront villa on Maui by now, sipping Mai Tais and perfecting my tan.
My goal is to train my clients to travel to Europe with the intention of discovering how the Europeans live and work and love and eat…and not trying to force their own American ways and comforts into a culture where they don’t belong. You just might find that you really enjoy lingering for hours over dinner with wine and friends and not scarfing down a burger and rushing off to the movies. Or become very impressed by the intricate and on-time subway and train infrastructure in most large European cities. Or find yourself joining in the evening “passagiata” or stroll through the streets of an Italian village before bedtime to visit with your neighbors, catch up on the gossip and maybe share a gelato. So RELAX and let yourself celebrate the differences….you might just learn something about yourself in the process!
Here are some of the most common fears about travel to Europe:
1. I’m afraid I won’t be able to communicate with anyone because I only speak English. In all except for the most remote villages in Europe, most everyone speaks at least enough English to be able to communicate with you, maybe with a few charade gestures thrown in for good measure. In fact, I find it embarrassing that most European citizens speak at least 3 or 4 languages very fluently and I struggle with English most days. Most restaurants have menus with English translations and the transportation maps and signs are usually printed in both the local language and in English. This, however, should NOT stop you from learning at least a few words of the local language to make an effort to fit in. “Please”, “Thank You”, “Hello”, “Good Bye”, “how much does it cost?” and “where is the bathroom? “are always helpful. And remember…you are in their country. Walking into a shop and yelling “DO YOU SPEAK ENGLISH?” at the store owner will not get you great service….I’m just sayin’. Why not try “I’m sorry, but my French (or Spanish or Italian) is poor. Do you speak English?” delivered with an apologetic smile.
2. I’m worried I won’t be able to find anything to eat that I like. This is, by far, the worst possible excuse for staying home. Even the pickiest eaters can find plenty to fill them up in Europe…and I bet it will have fewer preservatives, more flavor and be prepared by someone who actually cares about the food. I tend to picnic a lot in Europe…picking up sandwiches or cheese, fruit, bread and wine and sit outside near some amazing view to enjoy my meal. Strawberries actually taste like strawberries are supposed to taste. There are fresh fruit and vegetable stands on every corner and even the local food trucks usually offer some incredible bites. DO NOT waste your time and money at McDonald’s! I will haunt you! Eat locally and try some new things. You will thank me later!
3. I’ve heard that service in Europe is slow and rude. This one really annoys me. In Europe, a meal is a time for enjoying great food and wine and each other’s company. Dinner is the entertainment for the evening. You won’t see many Parisians eating quickly so they can run go make their movie on time. They settle in for the night. European waiters are paid well and not anxious to “turn” their tables like here in the states. When you sit at a table in a café or restaurant, it is yours for the night. There is no hurry. If water and bread do not appear on your table within 30 seconds of sitting down, relax! They will come. In Europe, slow service is GOOD service and the servers will not rush you. And please remember…when you are ready to leave, you must politely ask for the check. It is considered very rude for a waiter to present you with your check before you ask for it…because they don’t want to look like they are rushing you. Get the picture?
4. I’ve heard that things are super expensive over there…. Some hotels, restaurants and tourist-trap souvenir stores can certainly seem overpriced. In many ways, spending more money at these places only builds a thicker wall between you and what you traveled so far to see. A tight budget might force you to simply enjoy the local-style alternatives to the expensive 5-star hotels and restaurants. My favorite places to stay are locally-owned, centrally located, clean and well-run – usually by local families. Sure, there are Holiday Inns and Hiltons in Europe, but don’t you think you will get more charm and local culture (plus save some serious Euros) by passing them over? Stay away from obvious tourist traps…Connect with the local people and you will have tons more fun. Picnic or eat where the locals are lined up….not in a restaurant that has a neon sign flashing “WE SPEAK ENGLISH” outside.
So RELAX and just GO! Thoughtful travel engages us with the world. In these tough political and economic times, it can actually remind us what is truly important. By broadening perspectives, travel can teach us new ways to measure the quality of our life. Among your most prized souvenirs from your trip will be the memories of that amazing chocolate crepe, or the old gentleman who challenged you to a game of chess in the town square, that incredible wine bar that you stumbled upon complete with hundreds of bras hanging from the ceiling, or watching the local children play happily in the piazza while their parents enjoy dinner with wine and great adult conversation in the outdoor café. Join In!