Things I’ve learned as an expat in Europe

I remember when I was little I had a huge obsession with London and dreamed of moving there. I guess that was my gateway to “Europe” as over the years I found lots of other things to obsess about over Europe. Including that dream, shared by many others, of living there one day. First there was England (Harry Potter! Spice Girls! James Bond! Prince Harry!), then for a brief period of time – Paris (didn’t all the great American writers live there at some point?), Barcelona (Vicky Cristina Barcelona was a pretty convincing movie) and even Iceland (can’t remember the reasoning for that one).

Somehow I ended up in Germany. It’s been almost 2 years now, and I love expat life! Along the way, I’ve learned many things, some of which, I’ve included in this list called…

Things I’ve learned as an expat in Europe.

  • Europe feels like a collision of different cultures…sometimes it feels like the centre of the world, where everyone wants to be, even if it is just for a brief moment in their life. In Germany, for example, you’ll meet Erasmus students from all parts of Europe, temporary workers from Spain or Eastern Europe, Americans from the military who are based in Germany, Brits working in Germany teaching English, business men from Japan, young people on a holiday working visa from Canada or Australia, au pairs from Brazil and the list goes on. On any given day, it’s totally normally to meet people from at least five different countries and I love it!
  • I’ve never seen anyone take their coffee to go.
  • It’s so easy to travel everywhere that it almost becomes an addiction. Especially with these coach buses, if you’re able to keep your sanity on long bus rides, 9 euros for example, can get you from Munich to Prague or even Paris!
  • Castles don’t stay exciting forever. It’s a sad but true fact. When I first came to Europe, I always wondered why people here didn’t visit castles every weekend! The first time I visited a castle was definitely an exciting moment. So was the second…and the third…and the fourth. After you live in Europe for a while, eventually you’ve seen so many castles they become a bit (dare I say it)…boring.

  • Alcohol is insanely cheap here. Seriously, a bottle of wine costs like 1 euro. Wine you buy for over 5 euros is already considered the good stuff.
  • Barcelona has the highest number of pickpockets in the world. It seems like everyone had something stolen when they went there.
  • Everyone seems to have at least one Ryanair horror story.
  • In Germany, you should always have cash because most places don’t take cards (especially restaurants! not even at some McDonalds!) This is especially frustrating since back home, I would even pay for a cup of tea by card.
  • Europe is a lot more crowded than Canada, that’s for sure. One of the most obvious signs is that during the weekends, you have to reserve for everything to ensure you get a seat. Even at bars!
  • People love electro music here.
  • Online shopping is great here because you can shop on sites from  any EU country, and not worry about customs and duties. I think all Canadians have felt the pain of shopping on US websites, and to be blown away by the extravagant taxes just by shipping the item north of the border.
  • People wear sneakers everywhere. Especially Nike shoes (even those against American consumerism).
  • It’s a green life over here. Every time I’m on a train, I always see so many solar panel and wind mill fields. Also in Germany, everyone’s crazy about bio foods.
  • When you’re walking down a pretty European street and you hear street musicians playing classical music, you all of a sudden feel like you’re in a movie.
  • Because university education is either free or at next to free costs, a lot of people don’t seem to be in a rush to get their degree. It’s pretty common meeting people who are 25 and still working towards their bachelors degree!
  • It feels like everyone can speak at least three languages except for you.
  • People smoke a lot more here than they do back home. Luckily most countries have banned smoking in restaurants and bars, but some places like Austria still allow it. It’s especially annoying in clubs because there’s people stabbing you with their cigarettes in every direction and it becomes hard to breathe from all the smoke. Also, smokers and bums love to hang out by train stations.
  • You don’t really get customer service here. It must be an American invention. In fact, when the boyfriend called an American company about a present he had ordered for me but still hasn’t arrived, they were so nice on the phone, that it really surprised him.
  • The concept of lining up for things (or “queuing” for the Brits) is entirely a commonwealth invention. No one lines up. NO ONE. Especially not for trains.
  • The abundance of bakeries is a wonderful thing! There’s nothing better than freshly baked pastries and pretzels. They’re also very tempting though since there’s one on every street. Same with gelato shops.
  • If you’re Irish and you go abroad, it’s very likely that you’ll randomly bump into people you know from home.
  • Public transit can actually be an enjoyable experience (except during rush hour). Sometimes they’re even more efficient than cars! And public transit isn’t for people who can’t afford cars either…people actually willingly choose to take it! In Paris for example, you always see so many business people in the metro.

Have you lived in Europe? What are some things you’ve learned as an expat?



  1. May 1, 2014 / 2:05 am

    So true! But that number two is something we al should find some time to do. I bet it can improve our quality of life.

    • Michelle
      May 5, 2014 / 11:14 am

      Yes definitely! We’re all just so rushed to get things done back home we miss out on the small simple pleasures in life!

  2. May 6, 2014 / 2:38 am

    Great lessons! I also love the fact you can easily and cheaply travel around different cities across Europe. I could get from Poland to Czech Republic in 4 hours and paid only 6 euros or get from Germany to Holland in less than 3 hours by bus :).

    • Michelle
      May 7, 2014 / 10:56 am

      Yes it’s great! Have to look into that bus to Poland…still one of the countries in Europe I haven’t been to and would love to visit! 🙂

  3. May 7, 2014 / 4:31 pm

    I love this list! I’m not an expat anywhere, but I see this happening even during my travels through Europe. I definitely took my coffee to go and sipped it during my walk to the office this morning, number 2 is totally a European thing and it’s something I want to make a habit for myself here. It’s nice to sit down for a cup of coffee 🙂

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