Win a Eurail Select Pass by Telling us about your European “Culture Shock”

Share your Cultural Shock for a Chance to Win Big!  (Gros, grande, you get the point.)

Culture Shock Contest

Where will you visit with a 3-country Eurail Select Pass?

After a few days of traveling aboard, we get that “Dorothy” sense: We’re not in Kansas, anymore. (Or wherever you’re from.) But that’s part of why we travel. To experience letting go – of our routines and our comforts. To be confronted with the unexpected.

To bring home stories that you’ll remember forever. And now, to post here on Facebook for all to read, laugh and learn.

Europe is certainly westernized, but there are still…differences. Need an example?

Let’s talk siesta. In many countries, especially Spain, you’ll find stores close for a few hours after a long, leisurely lunch. Locals go home to take a nap, or enjoy quality time with family. This is certainly a difference we’d probably all like to embrace in America.

Now we want you to share with Rail Europe and all our Facebook fans your most interesting, disgusting, revealing or inspiring European experience in our Cultural Tip Exchange contest.

Fans will vote for their favorites, and all winners will receive a 3-country Eurail Select Pass!

Rail Europe employees have experienced plenty of confusion and culture shock while overseas. Let them be your storytelling inspiration.


“If you want to grab a quick bite and don’t have the time to sit at a restaurant, nor want to eat fast food, make sure to pay a visit to one of the many Franprix grocery stores you’ll encounter all across Paris. It’s kind of like Walgreens or Duane Reade, only with better food, and a myriad of fascinating French edible products you wouldn’t find in America. They have shelves of fresh food you can buy for take-out, including delicious, plastic-wrapped steak tartare, accompanied with its ready to mix seasoning. Purchase it as you make your way to the train station, hop on the TGV and savor your steak tartare in the comfort of your seat, with a fresh piece of baguette.  An authentic French experience.”


“Unlike in America where fast food and fast eating is de rigueur, Europeans take time to eat.  When going out with friends for a meal, be prepared to sit and enjoy the experience. Restaurants will not be in a hurry to rush you out in order to accommodate other guests. In many cases, you will need to chase your server to bring you the bill.  Also keep in mind that tipping is not how a server is compensated in Europe.  Rounding up your final bill by a few Euros is sufficient.”

Rachel M. B.

“The United Kingdom and Europe use paper notes as well as coins like us, however their lowest paper note is the 5 dollar equivalent.  Unlike the 1 dollar paper bill of the United States, the 1 Pound or 1 Euro denomination in the United Kingdom and Europe is in coin form.  There is even a 2 Pound and 2 Euro coin.  Make sure to bring a coin pouch or a great belt…those coins can get quite heavy.”


Now it’s your turn. Be sure to Like Us on Facebook to see everyone’s entries and post your own.

The contest entry should be the account of an experience that you had in Europe which exemplifies cultural differences between the European and American lifestyle or civilization.  For example, you ordered steak tartare in France and you thought that you were going to receive regular steak; instead you received a plate of raw meat.

Winners of the “Culture Shock Us” contest on Facebook must redeem their Eurail Select Pass within six months of winning the contest. Eurail Select Pass must be validated within six months of issuance. All passes are subject to the rules and conditions set forth by the European Railroads as indicated on the pass cover. Contest Official Rules.

Crave culture? Then shake your head back and forth, as if in Bulgaria, where this means “yes” and a nod means “no.” See, there’s plenty to learn.


  1. Johanna

    Be ready to be stared down with much attitude if you request ice with any drink ordered anywhere in Europe.  You’ll be pegged as an American no matter how fluently and nicely you ask.
    Also, bring plenty of cash when traveling outside a larger city in Austria.  We were 20 minutes outside of Salzburg and no one accepted credit cards of any type, hotels, restaurants and stores.

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    • Phaedra

      Hi Johanna,

      That’s a great culture experience. Please enter the contest via our Facebook tab:
      Also, be sure to send it to your Facebook friends to vote for your entry. The entry with the highest amount of likes wins.

      Look forward to your entry!

      | Reply
  2. Rossdog1024

    My wife and I were walking up Gretheweg toward our hotel, am Berg. We had just arrived in Frankfurt am Main. I turned around to see a gentleman walking his bicycle up Gretheweg. I asked my Vietnamese wife to turn around. She did. I heard her exclaim in Vietnamese, Oh my God! The man was nude. He reached my wife. They exchanged greetings. He hopped on his bike. As he pedalled up Grethewg, my wife got a picture of his backside to show our neighbors here in Marysville,WA USA our introduction to Germany!

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    • Rossdog1024

      great entry!

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  3. Bob Norwicke

    I saw a lot of beautiful things in Paris, but when I saw from the street that beer was being served in McDonald’s, I realized I must be in at the apex of western civilization.

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    • Phaedra

      Hi Bob,

      That’s funny and I didn’t know that they served beer at fast food restaurants. It wouldn’t surprise me if they served wine, but beer is surprising. Also, good for you, for not going to fast food restaurants while in Paris! You should experience the full French dinning experience.

      I encourage you to enter the contest and then share your entry with your friends for votes. Here is the contest link:

      Good luck!

      | Reply
  4. Lawrence Cotnam

     My wife and I traveled to St. Petersburg on our own in 2009. One of sights we wanted to see was Catherine’s summer palace. The desk lady at our hotel recommended not taking an expensive tour, instead taking a minibus from the Moskovskya metro station. Not knowing which minibus to take, we got on the nearest one and asked – in English.  Not many people speak English in Russia. So I had the name of the palace written on a piece of paper. I showed this to the driver. He took it and conferred with another man on the bus. He then wrote the name of the palace in Cyrillic. He then pointed to another minibus.  We started to leave and he motioned that he would drive us to the minibus. I offered some money which was refused. We thanked the driver.  We showed the driver of the next minibus the name in Cyrillic and sat down. He proceeded to make a cell phone call and then indicated we needed to be on another minibus. This driver also drove us to the other bus and also refused any money. The third driver looked at the paper and nodded that this bus was correct. When we arrived in Puskin train station he signaled to stay seated. He then made a phone call while looking at the paper I gave him. Soon we left the station and drove further through town. After a while we stopped and came back and indicated this was our stop. He then pointed in the direction of the palace.
    All these people were so very helpful and although we didn’t speak their language nor they ours, were able to understand our needs and went out of their way to help us find our destination.  

    | Reply
    • Phaedra

      Hi Lawrence,

      That is a wonderful experience! I saw that you entered the contest. Good luck!

      Please remember to encourage your friends to vote for you because the entry with the most votes wins the Eurail Select Pass!

      | Reply
  5. Ivy611

    1.  There is no dust, trash and little or no roadkill on the roads.  But watch out for Badgers in Wales.
    2.  You “go” on yellow.  The traffic lights go green, yellow red… then yellow, then green.
    3.  They have cameras EVERYWHERE.
    You WILL be charged a congestion charge in London.  All traffic tickets
    will be charged to the credit card you used to rent your car.  Then the
    car rental company will pass that on to you, adding their own hefty fee
    onto that, and finally mail a copy of your tickets to your home.
    5.  Quaint rock walls along the side of the road are not quaint when the lane is narrow and there are on-coming cars.
    6.  Use the small parking areas every mile or so, to let the other cars pass you.
    7.  Tesco is their idea of a Wal-Mart.
    8.  Costa is their version of a Starbucks.
    9.  Their macchiato’s are not the same as what I get at Starbucks.
    10.  They don’t have many “rubbish bins”… something about terrorists hiding explosives in them.
    11.  GPS does not understand the streets in Galashiels, Scotland.
    12.  People do not talk to you on the “tube” aka the “underground” aka the rail or subway.
    13.  The ICE trains are excellent.  Fast and quiet with friendly people.
    The overnight trains, especially the 6 passenger couchettes, are
    terrible.  They will hook trains together waking you up and your
    room-mate may get motion sickness.  Also, there is no where to sit
    outside the sleeping compartment.
    15.  You will meet people from EVERYWHERE.
    16.  You may get charged for each condiment on the Continent… I did.  Mustard for my brat and butter for my croissant.
    17.  It usually costs a Pound ($1.65) for every bottle of water.  Mineral, still or sparkling.
    18.  Bangers or sausages to us, taste like Vienna Sausages just with a good casing.
    19.  They eat brown sauce… this is wrapped individually like ketchup.  It’s basically Worchester sauce.
    20.  Their rashers, our bacon, is not strips but thicker, meatier, less salty, less smoked and more like Canadian bacon.
    21.  They love their soccer.. aka Premier League Football.
    22.  They do not have dented, broken cars on the road.  I don’t know where they hide them.
    Use the lockers at the train stations to explore the continent,
    backpack-free.  As long as you’re coming back!  It’s well worth the Euro
    or two.
    24.  They don’t have a lot of air conditioning or swimming pools.
    25.  The windows on the Continent usually tilt out at the top with no screens.
    26.  One of the cheaper hotels to stay at is the Travelodge. 
    The people of Great Britain do not like surprises on their bill.  There
    is a VAT, value added tax, but it’s included in the total, not after.
    28.  You do not need to tip anywhere, except maybe round up to the nearest Pound or Euro for a taxi driver.
    29.  “Family rooms”, aka rooms for more than 2 people, are hard to find.
    30.  You do not wait to be served at a Pub… YOU go to the bar and order.  You will be served when the meal is ready.
    31.  It is extremely hard to find a self-serve laundromat.
    32.  Pret A Manger is a chain sandwich shop; Sainsbury’s is a chain grocery store.
    33.  If you don’t speak, the Germans will think you’re German. (Tip: this only works for Caucasians.)
    34.  There is a lot of grafitti around the train tracks in Belgium and North-to-Mid Germany.
    35.  They paint different colored marks on sheep for brands in Great Britain.
    36.  They grow fields and fields full of hops in Germany.
    37.  Take an umbrella, even if you don’t think you’ll need it, you’ll need it.
    38.  You won’t get ice usually in anything unless you ask for it.  Ice is rare.
    39.  Hardly anyone wears a hat…especially ball caps.
    40.  No one wears shorts except hard-core bicyclist.
    41.  You will have
    to explain that Justin Bieber and the “Real Housewives” are not popular
    to anyone in America over 9, or at least with an IQ over 9.
    42.  I
    didn’t notice any bugs in Brussels, Germany, England, Paris, lower
    Scotland or Wales–though a Welshwoman did say there were a lot of
    “mozzies” in the Scottish highlands, but there weren’t any in the
    “Scottish Borders” that I noticed.

    | Reply
  6. Ctamburrino

    When I rode my first double decker bus in Berlin we rode under an overpass and I ducked!  I thought we were going to hit.  I love riding on the top now and seeing everything from a new perspective!

    | Reply
  7. Judy Dixon Gabaldon

    I don’t know if this qualifies, since I lived in Europe and traveled by train years and years ago (1959-1963).  I wonder if this situation even still exists.  But I remember the ladies’ bathrooms were often nothing more than holes in the floor, that you had to squat over.  Also, at the time, if you stayed in a pension, the bathroom was down the hall, but they did have a large bowl and a pitcher to use to wash your face, etc.

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    • Beavis

      yeh this has changed obviously!

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      • Phaedra

        The funny part is that we still hear a lot about the hole in the floor (Turkish) toilets. However, luckily tourists are coming across them less frequently.
        Happy Travels (hopefully with proper toilets :-))

        | Reply
  8. Dbe741

     Traveling in Munich we were struggling with the language while ordering in a restaurant.  I decided to try a meat platter thinking it would be similar to American cuisine. In the middle of my platter was a spread I assumed was butter.  I spread it on my bread only to discover it was lard.  Still remember feeling that on my teeth after I took a big bite.

    | Reply
  9. ColoradoKat

    Words alone will not be able to properly communicate the Parisian experience that my best friend and I had, but here goes…  On the first trip to Europe for either of us, we flew into London.  We had booked a 2-night fully accompanied tour from London to Paris, and after that we would be going on to Wales and Scotland.  The tour company made the unfortunate decision to cancel our group tour on the very night before we were leaving for Europe.  We now had a two day gap in our plans, as well as two nights of paid hotel in Paris.  Being a couple of pure idiots, we decided we would jump on the Eurostar and rent a car in Paris, all by ourselves.  It sounds so easy, right?  We’ve done stuff like this when we went to LA together, for example – changed plans without encountering any disaster.  So we called Eurostar from our London hotel room, booked our two night trip to Paris, and away we went.  Upon arriving at Gare du Nord, we rented a car.  Since our hotel was in close proximity to the Eiffel Tower, we expected nothing less than to be momentarily sipping wine while gazing at that lovely, pointed structure.  We signed all the necessary paperwork to rent the vehicle and headed to the rental car lot.  We were assigned a vehicle number, and doggone, we found every number between one and a thousand in that parking lot except the number we were assigned.  We weaved our way through all of the vehicles several times, and decided we were going to drag our considerable collection of luggage back into the station to ask for help with finding the vehicle when two young studs pulled up in a black car with dark windows.  This was an underground garage, mind you, so not well lit.  These leather clad fellows, approximately the ages of Bonnie and my youngest sons, struck up a benign conversation with us.  My friend and I were somewhat agitated by being stumped in the earliest stages of our trip, and explained to these mysterious boys that we could not find our rental car.  Oddly, they offered to help us look.  We wondered what could possibly be up with these two!?  We all traced the same steps Bonnie and I had already taken numerous times, with the same results – duh!  We could not find the car.  So these young chaps offered to take Bonnie and me on a sightseeing tour of Paris – would we like to see the Moulin Rouge?  They did not understand the urgency we were now feeling to find our vehicle, and we did not understand their interest in us.  Finally we decided that I would sit on the luggage while Bonnie went in to fetch a rental car worker.  After what seemed like days the two emerged, and within about three hundred seconds, the worker had located our car.  We bid our first Parisian acquaintances farewell, tossed our bags in the car, and peeled out.  We came to a screeching halt in approximately 100 yards when we encountered an orange and white striped arm-like device, which prohibited us from leaving the garage.  We looked for all of the familiar gadgets to lift the arm, like a box we could pull a parking ticket from – things like that.  The garage exit was on a sharp incline, and Bonnie was driving a stick shift for the first time in over two decades.  Another plan was formed – Bonnie would stay in the driver’s seat and keep the vehicle from rolling backwards into our exuberant would-be tour guides, and I would jump out and look for possible reasons that the arm would not lift and we could not exit the garage.  To this day I have no recollection of how we finally sprung the contraption, but finally the two-toned arm lifted and we were free to roam about the city!  As I stated earlier, we were going up a steep hill to exit the garage so Bonnie was giving it some gas, and just as the nose of the car emerged into daylight – boom – just like that – a totally decked out hooker strolled in front of the car and appeared completely nonplussed that she was almost smooshed by our vehicle.  I shrieked, Bonnie swore.  And viola – we were on the streets of Paris!  We landed immediately smack dab in the middle of a traffic jam, which in itself is a non-event.  Combined with the fact that we had no idea where Avenue Duquesne (hotel) was in relation to Gare Du Nord, no idea what street we were on, had absolutely no idea how to even locate a street sign, and no forewarning that people in Paris have no problem with stepping directly in the path of a moving vehicle, we were becoming a little tense.  I believe I was the most tense of the two as I had offered to be the navigator, a role I have uber-successfully taken on many times.  As Bonnie is asking, now quite loudly, which way to turn, my head is turning and my eyes are darting, trying to figure out even one clue about where we should go.  Fumbling with the map, I look frantically for a street that I can identify.  We can fast forward the story here by about 60 minutes, as the exact same activity continued for roughly that long.  After going through infinite roundabouts, negotiating malevolent Kamikaze pedestrians, driving down slummy looking streets and up sparkling tree-lined avenues, we spotted it – the Eiffel Tower!!  People that have not been to Paris do not believe that you can’t see the Eiffel Tower from every square inch of the city; I did not believe that before I experienced it first hand.  Perhaps we had even gone the opposite way from the Eiffel Tower and completely left the city limits of Paris during that wretched hour – we still have no idea where we had been.  Along the way, we had finally discovered that names of streets were located on actual buildings, although we still couldn’t match any streets we encountered in person with their counterparts on the map.  With the Eiffel Tower in sight, we parked the car.  Frankly we were nervous about approaching Parisians – with us speaking only English – admitting we were lost.  Nonetheless, that is exactly what we did.  We met many helpful and kind people that day, even though as we followed everyone’s directions, we became lost while walking!!!  By nature I am a nervous person so this is approximately when I began to cry.  Bonnie, a lover of adventure, was baffled by my reaction.  We stated to bicker… but we’ve been best friends since the 1970’s so we got back to the business of finding our misplaced, parked vehicle!!  Finally we found the car along with a police officer who drew us a map to Avenue Duquesne.  Both very weary by this time, we walked into the hotel.  I startled our hotel clerk with a fresh batch of hard-earned sobs.  At this point everything instantaneously becomes enchanting.  We had a few drinks and walked to the Eiffel tower, then argued about which way to go to get back to the hotel.  We went left and we went then right, and walked around the beautiful city of lights that night.  I lived every Parisian dream I had ever known.  Our hotel was clean and comfy and the next day we went to Disneyland Paris.  We rode exactly three rides and then got food poisoning from a meal that cost us a small fortune.  Ooh, we were so sick and that permeating nausea just would not leave us.  Finally it was time to head back to London on the Eurostar, and continue to our other appointed locations.  We trekked to Gare du Nord and could not figure out how to get that same dumb orange and white arm to lift so we could this time enter the parking garage.  We are now seasoned pros at dealing with monumental irritation, so merely parked the rental car in a parking place on a surrounding public street.  We returned the keys to the rental car desk and prepared to board the train.  A Eurostar employee then pointed out that our return date on the tickets was for TOMORROW…  Friends, I am going to end this story right here because after the brouhaha over the ticketing issue, the remainder of the trip was fairly serene and completely lovely.  Thank you for sharing my European adventure.

    | Reply
  10. Trent Sawyer

    I was sitting in a coffeeshop in Amsterdam, doing what you do in a coffeeshop in Amsterdam. I was by myself on a 7 week backpacking adventure (using my Rail Europe pass) through Europe. The coffeeshop was tri level. I was on the top level and it was only me and 2 other guys that were sitting together. I didn’t pay much attention to them at first. I happen to glance over while they were passing one of ‘what you do in a coffeeshop in amsterdam’ to each other……the thing that caught my eye was the one guy had no arms and was passing with his toes. His friend just took it and passed it back to his friends toes. I found the situation quite mesmerizing. But the best thing happened when they went to leave. The one friend put the other friends jacket on him, zipped it up, and put his hood on his head for him. I just found the whole situation to be very humanizing. If everybody had a friend like that I think we would all be better off. That is one of my most memorable moments of my trip. Europe is great….hope to go back soon. 😉 Thanks Rail Europe for making it easy and fun to travel Europe! 😉 

    | Reply
  11. Joel Slaff

    One of my favorite memories in my month abroad in France happened at a simple café. 

    I was in Lille, France, on a month-long study abroad sojourn through my college (Juniata College) and the University Catholique de Lille (where I will be returning Sept. 2012 for an
    entire academic year abroad). 

    At the café, I had just ordered a simple sandwich.

    Ordering the sandwich was not the issue; it’s what happened when I got the
    sandwich. The “garçon” gave me my sandwich, and I said, “Merci beaucoup!”

    Well, at least, I thought I did. 

    I pronounced it “Merci beau-cul,” which, in French, means, “Thank you, nice ass.” The way “Merci beaucoup” is supposed to be pronounced is, “Merci beau-cooo.” Basically, the simple sound of “cul” vs. “coup” changed the meaning from “very much” to “nice ass.” The garçon giggled, knowing I was American and trying my best. He then proceeded to bend over and showed me his butt in front of everyone on the street.

    Now realize, I’ve been taking French for eight years! I should know simple mistakes like this.
    Right then and there, I realized that I had been mispronouncing “merci beaucoup” for two weeks straight. I mean, one of the biggest mistakes I understood was the difference
    between the two verbs for “to take.” And if you mix that up, in French, it is the difference between “taking someone to a store” and “‘TAKING’ someone to a store” (wink wink sign ’em all sign ’em all). 

    Well, after the garçon’s little peep show, all of the awkward memories I had with the “beaucoup” and “beau-cul” phrase suddenly flashed before my eyes. I realized that whenever I would say that phrase to my classmates or the interns and professors, they would always laugh. I thought it was a nice gesture, such as, “Aww, thanks! You’re welcome!” Not, “well, you’re an idiot, but at least you’re trying. It’s still funny, though.”

    I should be thankful to that waiter; he made me realize one of the biggest rookie mistakes I could make, the hard way. I got the point, and have yet to say it like that since.

    He still got no tip.

    | Reply
  12. Malou

    I got a scholarship from the Dutch government in 1984. One of the students was with me and we arrived from the Philippines to Rotterdam, The Netherlands on a Saturday. The following day, Sunday, we planned to eat out for lunch since the hotel only serves continental breakfast. We walked (it was winter, my boots was not for snow) all over Rotterdam and to our suprise all restaurants were closed, not vending machines, no stores, the shopping center was closed. We were so tired, cold and so hungry, we sat in park bench near a lake and saw the pigeons. My friend said, I should catch a pigeon and we could cook it in the kitchen of the hotel. Luckily I brought crackers or biscuits to tide us to the following day. There was no dinner at the hotel, Sunday was their day off.  My Indonesian classmate went by herself to Dusseldorf to shop on a Saturday. She arrived by train from Rotterdam after lunch. She almost cried, all stores were closed.  They were only open half day on Saturdays and the whole day on Sundas.

    | Reply
    • web_feedback

      Fun story! We’ve heard quite a few stories of traveler being surprised by European holidays or unexpected business hours. Feel free to enter your story in our contest for a chance to win a Eurail Select pass. You can enter from our Facebook page:

      | Reply

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