Travelling in Europe: What to eat, social taboos and safety precautions
Pen it down
"Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world" - Gustav Flaubert
No truer words have been spoken. Europe is a dream continent for many and there is little wonder why. With 44 different countries under its belt (each embodying distinct characteristics), there's so much to offer to every individual. From waking up to the smell of fresh croissants baking in France to soaking up the sun on pristine beaches in Malta, Europe is rich in a plethora of unique and beautiful cultures waiting to be discovered. But before you jump right into booking your next holiday, here's what you need to know before exploring the vast region.
Social etiquette in Europe is a greater extent of our typical “be nice to everyone” rule. A common sight on the streets of many European countries is the natural and enthusiastic exchanges of greetings said not just to family and friends, but to the unsung heroes of our everyday lives such as bus drivers, shopkeepers and servers – a sight not commonly seen in Singapore. Habitual acts such as raising of hands in hopes of getting a server’s attention is frowned upon while maintaining eye contact with a smile is a decent indication that you require their assistance. The next time you step foot into Europe, don’t forget to say hello to the person next to you.
Being culturally aware goes a long way. With English not being the first language for many Europrean countries, it should be not be assumed that everyone speaks English. Europeans are appreciative when travellers exchange basic phrases in their local language. In smaller, more rural and less tech savvy cities, debit/credit card machines or contactless methods of payment are not possible. Add to that, withdrawal services from ATM are not readily available. Cash and small change on hand will definitely come in handy during these times.
There are specific taboos in each country but considering Europe as a whole, the biggest no-no would be anything related to the swastika or using the term “hail Hitler”. This can be understood for obvious reasons; in Germany, the use or showing of such images or terms is a criminal offence.
Europe is adorned with many beautiful churches that Europeans take pride in. As a form of respect, it is usually advised that travellers entering churches should be properly dressed (no shorts, no slippers, etc.). In Italy, be sure to cover your arms, knees and midriff when entering a church’s premises. It is considered a taboo if you are dressed otherwise.
What to eat
You can only say you've visited the place when you have tasted the food. When in Poland, be sure to try pierogi, which is essentially sweet or savoury filled dumplings. Usually served boiled, generously drizzled with pork fat and topped with fried onions, these dumplings are pockets bursting with flavours.
In Germany, you cannot miss the currywurst; sink your teeth into juicy sliced pork sausage, pefectly complemented with curry ketchup and curry powder. If you are more adventurous, head to Scotland to try the infamous haggis or in layman terms – a savoury pudding. The twist? These puddings consist of unconventional ingredients such as the liver, heart and lungs of the sheep. While it is considered to be a delicacy to the Scottish, this sentiment isn't shared by those outside of Scotland.
What not to eat (or drink)
Your body's not born and raised in Europe, so perhaps lay off drinking the tap water here. The filtration system probably works differently from what we're used to in Singapore — that is clean drinking water that's safe to drink. Having said that, individual immunity also plays a part in whether your body can stomach it.
What to take home
For those who love their booze, Scotland and Portugal is for you. Famed for their whisky, Scotland has over a hundred distilleries so you'll be in good hands there. If you fancy buying a smaller 50ml bottle for a single serving as compared to the full sized 750ml bottle, retail shops of distilleries offer this option too. For something sweeter, look no further than Portugal which is known for their port wine – perfect as a dessert wine. Another favourite is Portugal’s intricately designed cork products such as wallets, bags and accessories.
If you are not a fan of alcohol, no worries – we’ve got you covered. Head over to Netherlands where you can find the quintessential stroopwafels freshly pressed in waffle makers before generously slathered with caramel. For that special someone back at home, you can have your stroopwafels packed in a metal tin decorated with beautiful dutch inspired designs.
According to Murphy’s law, whatever can go wrong, will go wrong. Pickpockets, i.e. gypsies are prevalent in Europe; especially in city areas or bigger towns that are swamped with tourists. A valuable but not so fashionable item to have when travelling is a money pouch. Invest in a fanny pack, just so you don't lose sight of your dough. It can also keep other valuables such as passports and IDs close to you at all times.