In an iconic scene from Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, John Travolta’s character (Vincent) says to Samuel L. Jackson’s character (Jules) “you know what the funniest thing about Europe is?… It’s the little differences. A lotta the same shit we got here, they got there, but there they’re a little different.” Many of the Europeans I have met know the exchange by heart.
VINCENT Well, in Amsterdam, you can buy beer in a movie theatre. And I don’t mean in a paper cup either. They give you a glass of beer, like in a bar. In Paris, you can buy beer at MacDonald’s. Also, you know what they call a Quarter Pounder with Cheese in Paris?
JULES They don’t call it a Quarter Pounder with Cheese?
VINCENT No, they got the metric system there, they wouldn’t know what the fuck a Quarter Pounder is.
JULES What’d they call it?
VINCENT Royale with Cheese (…) you know what they put on french fries in Holland instead of ketchup?
After a few months of traveling in Europe, I can corroborate many of these observations, including the one about the strange Dutch impulse to bury fries beneath a splatter of mayonnaise. I submit here some other little differences.
- The number order is reversed in German; where we would say “twenty-five” Germans say “five-and-twenty.”
- There are streets in the middle of cities designated as bicycle streets, wherein cars can drive, but cannot attempt to pass cyclists or honk at them.
- It is legal to drink alcohol in public, and to leave one’s glass bottle lying in the street afterward is normal– almost encouraged– because people in need of money quickly collect the bottles and return them for a decent deposit.
- In German, objects are assigned a grammatical gender, like in Spanish. They can be masculine, “der Löffel” (the spoon), feminine, “die Gabel” (the fork), or neutral, “das Messer” (the knife). Interestingly, the gender of Nutella is unknown and somewhat disputed. Northern Germany tends to use das nutella (neutral), while Southern Germany tends to employ die nutella (female). The Nutella company appears reluctant to settle the dispute, potentially disgracing part of its consumer base for years of mispronunciation, and opts to simply avoid pronouns in advertisements.
- Brits says “anti-clockwise” instead of “counterclockwise”
- Brits says “touch wood” instead of “knock on wood”
- With few exceptions, the word “scone” is pronounced sc-awn (as in yawning) not sc-own (as in owning). The fluffy, crumbly biscuit is generally served with jam and “clotted cream” on top, and tea on the side, and the whole ordeal is called “cream tea.” Importantly, in Devon the cream comes first then the jam, but in Cornwall it goes jam and then cream.
- Brits give their weight in stones, as in “I weight eleven and a half stones.” (1 stone = 14 pounds.)
- Hard cider is served flat and room temperature, not chilled and carbonated (at least in Norfolk.)
- In Scotland, I saw bars that prohibit people from wearing “football colours” inside, so as to prevent fighting.
- Swedish binders have four rings, clumped into two pairs, instead of three, equidistant rings, like we use in the US.
- ‘Caviar’ (roe/ fish eggs) is not considered a luxury food item. It can be purchased affordably as a spreadable paste that comes in a tube.
- A comma is used to separate the integer part of number from decimal part, instead of a period. And a period is used in the integer section to form groups of three. For example, 3,000.00 becomes 3.000,00.
- Manual transmission cars remain far more popular automatic in most European countries.
- The notification globe on Facebook is rotated to highlight Europe and Africa rather than the Americas, as my FB globe usually does.
- Dates are written day then month instead of the other way around (eg. this was published 6/11 rather than 11/6).
- Time is written in 24-hour format, rather than using AM / PM.
- In England, saying the time is “half six” means 6:30 (half past six), but in Sweden, “half six” means 5:30 (half to six).
Did I get something wrong? What did I miss? Feel free to comment below.
2 thoughts on “Little Differences: Some Observations from Europe”
I loved this! Keen observations 🙂