What differentiates Europeans from Americans (Europe and USA)

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Europe & USA

The cultural gap across the Atlantic

The Western world (i.e. Europe, the Americas, Australia and New Zealand) could be considered as a single “Western civilisation”. ‘Westernness’ could be defined by people who are ethnically or culturally European, in other words people of European descent or speaking a European language as their mother-tongue.

Europe and USA Culture

Europe itself has the greatest linguistic and cultural diversity of the Western world. However, the common history, geography and socio-political evolution of the European continent, as well as the cultural divergences that have occured in former colonies, have resulted in the creation of a common basis for European culture that contrast (sometimes sharply) with the USA or the rest of the Western world.

Here is a summary of my observations on the differences between Europeans and Americans (USA). These are of course the major trends, and exception exit everywhere. Irish and Polish people, for instance, tend to be closer to the American mainstream than to some of their fellow Europeans. Canadians are somewhere in between, sometimes more European, but often closer to their southern neighbors.

Europe and USA Culture 1

Feeling of time & distances

Perception is shaped by our environment. A 100-year old house or church is considered new by Europeans, but old by Americans. I have even heard Americans think that 200 years was “ancient”. For a European “ancient” refers to something that is typically 2,000 to 5,000 years old (related to the Antiquity, not antiques !).

Things are reversed when it comes to distances. Europeans would tend to think that driving 100 km is quite a long way, while for Americans that would be rather near. This is due to the much higher density of population in Europe, and the smaller size of Europe (believe it or not the EU is over twice smaller than the USA). Yet, Europeans travel much more than Americans, inside or outside their own continent. This might be because Europeans are used to go “abroad” since their childhood, European countries being so small, and do not feel the whole experience to be so exceptional. Supposedly Seatlle residents feel the same about going to Canada, a stone’s throw away.

Cars

Almost all Europeans have cars with manual gears, while Americans have a marked preference for automatic ones.

European cars are also very different in style than their American counterparts. American cars tend to be more massive and squarer, because size matters in the States. Americans have a fondness for (very) long limousines as well as pick-up trucks (in the country). Both are virtually unseen in Europe. Europeans like rounder designs of cars. Smaller cars are much more common in Europe, probably because Europe has a more urbanised population and small cars are easier to park in cities (especially on pavements of historical cities where big parking lots are rarer than in the USA).

american and european car

Washing machines

European washing machines normally have only a cold water inlet (the water brought to adequate temperature inside the machine) as opposed to a hot and cold water inlet in the USA. European washing machines are almost always loaded from the front, as opposed to the top in the USA. Interestingly, Japan decided to follow the American system.

Measure System

All Europeans use the metric system (metres, grammes, litres, Celsius, etc.). Although Americans do learn it at school, the vast majority of them still use the old English Imperial system (yards, miles, pounds, Fahrenheit, etc.) for everyday life.

Date and time system

Europeans write the date in the format “Day Month Year”, whereas Americans use “Month Day, Year”. Americans usually consider that the week starts on Sunday and ends on Saturday, while in Europe it always starts on Monday and finishes on Sunday.

Most non-English-speaking Europeans use the 24h system, as opposed to the 12h system used in English-speaking countries.

Public holidays

Labor Day (1st May) is a national holiday in (most) European countries, but not in the USA. EU countries also celebrate Europe Day (5th or 9th May), although it is not an official holiday (yet).

Social customs

Europeans think of “traditions” like baby showers and bachelor(ette)’s night with strip-teasers as typically American (which they are). This is something most Europeans only see in US series and movies. The same is true of Thanksgiving and, until the late 1990′s, of Halloween (but this last one exported itself well to Europe and East Asia).

Schooling

Schools and universities are free in most European countries. Europeans see university as granted, while American families often have to save for years for their children to attend one. What is more, universities in most countries around the world have entry exams, while only a few European countries do (like the UK).

North Americans have prom night at the end of the last academic year of high school (and sometimes also middle school), while Europeans have no such tradition.

Europe and USA schooling

Languages

Foreign-language learning in Europe is now compulsory in every country since primary (elementary) school. Most Europeans learn 2 to 4 foreign languages, for obvious reasons. Americans usually only speak English (+ their mother tongue for immigrants) because they do not need more in their huge country.

Politics

Europeans tend to be more liberal regarding soft drugs, prostitution, alcohol, abortion, or cloning (but interestingly not so for GM food). Americans on the contrary grant greater freedoms when it comes to gun possession, as well as driving a car from a relatively young age (the norm is 18 years old in Europe).

Government system

Americans have a “Congress”, while Europeans all have “Parliaments”.

American politcs is chiefly curtailed to two parties, which would be center-right and right, but lack influential left-wing or green parties. It is rare for a European country to have less than 3 main parties. It is often 4 or 5, which makes politics less bipolar (but often also more complicated to reach agreements).

The American police (FBI) is much more “aggressive” than the police in Europe (car chases, break into houses with guns shouting “police, don’t move, hands on your head !” or such scenes almost non-existent in Europe). Suspects in the US are detained more easily and interrogated more harshly. Americans also go to court much more promptly than in Europe.

The legality of guns in the States also makes daily life and one’s sense of safety completely different from Europe.

Patriotism

Americans put much more emphasis on patriotism than Europeans. Being a patriot is a way of life in the USA. The term is rarely used in Europe.

Few Europeans would mind rational critics of their country’s government, while a good deal of Americans find them offensive or disrespectful (especially from non-Americans). Some Americans go as far as regarding criticism of their government as a personal attack. Europeans are only too happy to hear other people criticizing their own politicians or their country’s problems.

Religion

Americans are much more religious than Europeans. Church going is very popular in the US, where it is seen as an indispensable way of socializing. In Europe the practice has almost entirely disappeared and is mostly limited to the elderly, or special events like weddings or Christmas.

God is often mentioned by American politicians, but almost never in Europe. Mixing religion and politics is taboo in many European countries (notably France), due to the stricter separation of state and religion. There are exceptions, such as Poland or Spain, but even these countries do not appear very religious compared to the USA.

More extremely, a majority of Americans would find offensive for someone to openly claim not to believe in god, whereas the opposite is often true in Europe.

Circumcision

Circumcision is almost unheard of in Europe, as in most of the non-Muslim and non-Jewish world. The practice became very popular in the USA after WWII, and over 90% of baby boys born during the Cold War era (until the 1980′s) were automatically circumcised, with or without their parents’ consent. It is becoming less common nowadays. Nevertheless, a 2002 survey revealed that 79% of American men were circumcised. The prevalence was lower among Hispanic men, and lowest of all in men born outside the US.

Political correctness

Due to their great ethnic and religious diversity, Americans have developed a more acute sense of political correctness, in an attempt to attenuate frictions between the various groups. Europeans still associate very much with their place of birth with their ethnicity, language and culture. In fact, until recently, adjectives for language, ethnic group and nationality would often match (with notable exceptions, like Belgium and Switzerland). In the US (almost) everybody has the same nationality and language, and it is ethnicities and religions that differentiate people first, hence the greater importance for respect toward other ethnicities and religions in the USA.

In Europe the emphasis of respect is put on cultures and languages. Making aggressive jokes about a particular linguistic or cultural group (e.g. calling the French “cheese-eating monkies) because of the importance of cheese in French culture), for instance, is the equivalent of attacking a particular ethnic or religious group in the US. It’s a big no-no. However, making fun of religions is usually quite acceptable in Europe.

Food

Europeans all have a lot of traditional dishes from their region or city. Specialties tend to be very local, so that some pastries can be seen in one town, but not 100 km away.

Europeans eat more varied and balanced meals (especially in southern cultures) and less fast food than Americans (except maybe the Brits). Europeans eat more cheese (not just the French !), more yoghurts, and on average drink more wine and stronger beers than Americans.

Americans consume sweeter food and much more soft drinks than Europeans. US alcohol laws are much tougher than anywhere in Europe (see map of legal age to drink alcohol in Europe below).

Legal age to drink in Europe

Europe and USA Food

Sports

It is interesting how the popularity of sports can be so different between Europe and North America. The most popular sports in ALL Europe is football (soccer), probably followed by tennis, cycling, and Formula 1 (as well as other motor races). In the US, soccer and F1 are far away in the popularity ranking. It is baseball, basketball, ice hockey and American football that attract the crowds and make money. And as much as European sports lack popularity in the US, the reverse is true (except for basketball).

Europe & USA sports

Dating & Marriage

While marriage is increasingly seen as a completely optional “folkloric tradition” in Europe, it is still quite important in the USA (probably because religion is also more important there). Statistically Americans marry much more than Europeans, but also divorce more. Gay marriage, now legal in several EU countries and hardly an issue for debate in Europe (because of the little importance of marriage in Europe nowadays), is still vehemently opposed by a big part of the US population.

Wedding ceremonies are also much more important and formal in the USA. In most of Europe it is limited to an informal family gathering (usually at the bride or groom’s parental home). Marriage traditions do vary considerably between European countries, and even more between families. But in average it is certainly less important than in the States (or in Asian countries for that matter).

Europe and USA wedding

Furthermore, there are some strong nationwide American traditions regarding wedding ceremonies, like bringing “something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue”. There is obviously no equivalent thing at a European level, and most often not even at a national or regional level.

In fact, even the way of dating tends to follow so well-defined rules in the USA. For instance, there are widely followed conventions about sleeping on the 3rd date. Men know they shouldn’t expect to see a woman again if she insists to split the bill (“check” in AmE) at the end of their first date. The way of proposing, or buying an expensive ring are more important for Americans too. In Europe, the way of doing things is more informal and spontaneous, and can varies a lot from one region to another, and even on a person to person basis. Sometimes, that makes Europeans envious of how easy and clear things look in the USA in comparison. The drawback is that it seems too stereotypical, especially if you don’t like the conventions.

Nobility

Europe still has a class of noble people (restored in Eastern Europe after the fall of communism), and many countries will mention the title (e.g. Baron) in official documents. About 1% of family names still have a “noble particle” (uncapitalized “de”, “di”, “von”, “van”, etc.) and it does have a meaning for some people. Europe also has hundreds of thousands of castles reminding people on a nearly daily basis of the time where nobility once ruled over everything.

Military politics

It is prohibited in most of Europe for the military people, or anyone with a professional military history to become a politician. This means that they become politically ineligible. In the USA, the reverse is almost true. It is almost required to have a military history to become president, and quite a few Congress people have also served in the army. Maybe this is because the president’s image is still strongly associated with that of the “commander in chief”, and because defense (or offense) is so important in US politics.

Let’s also note the common use of gangsters and criminals in the US military for their “killing talents”, and the way they can pass from notorious criminals to national heroes – something mostly unheard of in Europe. The US government has even used this tactics in post-war Japan to fight communism by forgiving and rehabilitating convicted war criminals and yakuza leaders (some even became Prime Ministers with the support of the US, like Kishi Nobusuke).

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77 Responses for “What differentiates Europeans from Americans (Europe and USA)”

  1. Jesper Blaabjerg Holm says:

    @LDP you obviously did not care to read my other comment before posting as I pointed out before the “drinking map” is pretty actuate. You say that you would like to know where the author got his information from – I would love to know where you got yours from because yours are wrong…!!! You say that “almost all EU countries have a law for 16+ drinking” from what I could gather of information about the EU countries this is not really true, it’s more half’n half. 15 of the EU member states have a legal drinking age of 16 or above while 12 EU member states have a legal drinking age of 15 or below. What information you have to backup that “almost all EU countries have a law for 16+ drinking” I would very much like to see it – and if the case is that you have no information to back in up, I would suggest that next time you feel like pointing out wrong information in an otherwise well written article you just don’t…

  2. fran vander weyst says:

    in america you get tax breaks for being married

  3. Pulkownik says:

    There are some more main differences between USA and Europe:
    – voltage of an electricity. In USA it is equal to 110V and in Europe it is equal to 230V.
    - quality of petrol. In Europe one can buy unleaded fuel called 95 or 98. American unleaded fuel would be described (in European terms) as 85 or even less.

  4. Jean Wilson says:

    I have just spent the last two years living in Australia. Being an American since birth it was an informative experience to live in another country that was also English speaking. One’s perceptions of self, country and one’s place in the world are challenged. Just as my experience in Australia, this writer’s perceptions of all Americans are informative. However, I must add that perceptions by definition are personal and are not necessarily 100% accurate of 100% Americans.
    With kind regards for advancing understanding of humans,
    Jean

  5. Mantas says:

    I liked this article, but it’s not all true. I can’t argue about the American side, but it’s bit different in Europe then it says here ( I live in EU). I would mostly like to disagree about marriages and patriots also about traditions like bachelor(ette)’s night.

  6. Adam Sofineti says:

    A4 vs. Letter size

  7. Elisabeth says:

    This article was not written by an American, so those of you who made rude comments about it based on the author being American obviously can’t read/comprehend English very well.

    Each U.S. state is different. Each has their own laws, just like countries have their own laws. In my state, it IS required that you have 2 years of a foreign language to graduate. We are also all taught the metric system from Grade 1 on, but since it’s rarely used (except in the medical field), most Americans can’t convert from metric to imperial. Just like anyone who knows the metric system can’t covert to imperial. Who’s to say one is right or wrong? Americans might all speak “English” but it is a very different dialect depending upon which part of the country you’re in. Just like Swedes in Stockholm find it difficult to understand Swedes in Skåne – yet you’re all speaking Swedish. Not all Europeans speak English either, that’s just not true. I traveled all over Northern Germany and found very few people who could understand or speak English. I was there with a european friend who could not speak any German – she only speaks Swedish and English, I spoke/understood more German than SHE did, me, the stupid American.

    What IS true is that Americans ARE more ignorant of other countries because ours is SO big that many times people never leave it, instead spending all their time traveling here. It would be the same if Europe were all one country, then you couldn’t say you’ve “gone abroad” when in reality, you haven’t traveled that far.

    It’s all in how you look at it.

  8. Eli says:

    Some said that you have to be 18/20 to consume alcohol in Norway. That is not correct. I was looking it up, and the law says it is not legal to buy alcohol if you are under 18 (20 years if the beverage contains more than 22% alcohol). Furthermore it is not legal to serve or give underaged alcohol to a person under this age.

    In other words, they will legally have a hard time getting hold of the stuff in a legal way, but to consume it is not considered illegal.

  9. Roger says:

    Europe = best.

  10. Lisa says:

    Netherlands does have a minimum drinking age! It’s 16 for everything below 12%, 18 for the rest.

    (Gosh, this is so typically American, not having the facts right and all.)

  11. whitney says:

    I can’t speak for all of Europe but most of this does not apply to spain, or america for that matter. personally i feel this article is a gross over-generalization and if it’s meant to be educational, it’s not.

  12. Mrhaxx1 says:

    The legal age for drinking in Denmark is 16+. Not “no minimum”.

  13. Jesper Blaabjerg Holm says:

    @ Mrhaxx1 There is as stated before no minimum in Denmark, you just can’t buy alcohol until you are 16…

  14. Amanda says:

    Now, I’m not about to criticize the author. He makes some valid points about our two differing cultures, and his errors are scant.

    For instance, while not “celebrated” as in a way of festivities and the like, Labor Day is celebrated in America, however, it’s more rather a work holiday. Secondly, though America is wrought with religion through politics (mainly right wing Republicans), it is becoming less true in Middle America and the North, as we become more secular, new-age, and mainstream. For many, yes, it’s an important value, but the truly overtly religious folk are still more often found down south. Also, America, speaking of politics, has a Left wing, Right wing, and a Green Party, not just right wing…There are also several other parties, but they never attract enough attention.

    Anyways, no man should ever be criticized for their views, and I believe he did a wonderful job. It’s cross-cultural comparisons like these that let us learn more about each other!

  15. Wonka says:

    Many of the drinking ages are wrong, for example, in Finland it’s 18 years and in Denmark it’s 16 years. Other facts about Europe are quite generalized and not to be considered as facts!

  16. linzilou says:

    Just makes americans look even more what we class as pig ignorant, uncultured and blinkered in their opinions of the world. Britains legal drinking age is 18 not 16 to 18 and in a lot of places we have the “think 21″ campaign and even more places ask for id if you look under 25. THere is nowhere in britain that will legally serve alcohol to a 16yr old, they will lose their license.
    “Americans are much more religious than Europeans” ??????????????????
    So americans are more religious than the Italans who have Vatican City as a country in its own right and the bloody pope that lives there and are all devout roman catholics and they are brought up to worship from birth and be indoctrinated into that religious way of life. Ditto the Spanish who are also deeply religious and church going is a way of life, if you had been to either countries you would be aware of this.
    Wedding ceremonies are also much more important and formal in the USA. In most of Europe it is limited to an informal family gathering” WTF?? Where is this “fact” based???? Have you ever been to a wedding in Eurpoe??? Ceremonies can last for hours and celebrations for days with the foundations heavily embedded in tradition and religion centreted around the family. This is pretty much standard and the celebrations are elaborate across europe. In Britain the average cost of a wedding is now around 25k. British weddings tend to be more about the dress and venue and large scale celebration but our european counterparts are highly religious so their weddings are based around this.

    “Europeans all have a lot of traditional dishes from their region or city” Europeans lead the way in the field of cuisine from the fine dining of the french to italian cooking, spanish seafood and tapas to traditional irish and british recipes that are all emulated and enjoyed as we try to replicate them in our homes and by eating in restaurants and even eating the tradiotional fare in the countries we visit…americans mainly eat shite full of fat and fast food dont they?

    I guess you think in britain we all talk like dick van dyke in mary poppins and live in thatched roof cottages and have outside toilets and that ALL germans wear lederhosen and the french wear a string of onions round their necks and say nothing but sacre bleu.

    I think if more americans got off their fat arses and discovered the world they would realise just how ignorant they are to other other cultures but then again you lot are so self centred you dont feel you have to ever leave america as its so big and experience anything outside of such a small minded nation.

  17. Jesper Blaabjerg Holm says:

    @Wonka There is as stated before no minimum in Denmark, you just can’t buy alcohol until you are 16…

  18. Guido says:

    I find Europe more interesting because of its long history.
    The United States is a young country.
    Both Europe and North America are both nice continents.
    There are some places in North America i wouldn’t go though, like Mexico and Honduras.
    Though i think Europe has a better education / health care system, and less gangs / gun violence.
    I think 16/17 year olds should’t be driving.
    But i think it’s nicer to drive a car in the US because there is more space.
    Also i like the US criminal justice system more (harsher sentences), but that’s needed because there’s more offenders.

  19. Glew says:

    Well, I think this little article is an not too well overthought generalization and shallow stereotypes.

  20. Blabla says:

    We also have a prom night where we dance the waltz etc after the end of our high school. And I’m from Europe.

  21. eh says:

    @linzilou

    You realize we’re not all “fat arses” and uncultured right? Sure there’s a vast amount in the US that are that way, and it bugs me too, but it’s not wise to make such a broad generalization. I feel it makes you no better than those specific Americans that you seem to hate so much. Just my two cents, wishing you all the best.

  22. Mariek says:

    Excuse me…. Europe Day? Any celebrations on May 5th or 9th have to do with liberation after WWII and absolutely NOTHING with Europeness or something like that.

    And you honoustly do not believe that Gay Marriage is possible in Europe, because of the fact that marriage in general isn’t as important as it is in the USA, now do you? There is a whole other principle to it: equality. This principle is much more important in Europe than it is in the US (where it is considered a communist thing almost) and thus gay marriage is of hardly any debate. Note also that it is legal in the more non-Catholic and seculiar countries of Europe…

  23. adelaida says:

    in Slovakia + 18 for drinking anything which contains alcohol…only for your information…

  24. American says:

    As an american, I do not feel like the author grasped the american aspects they were contrasting. To begin with, there is no discrepancy between top and front loader washers, they are both used just as much in america. Religion is not looked on as something to be apart from government, it just isn’t a part of it period.(The pledge of allegiance has a symbolic meaning and many Americans do not interpret it as religious ) Many politicians have varying religious beliefs that have nothing to do with the policies they implement. A Mormon is running for president, yet I have not heard him once preach The Church of the Latter Day Saints. (Am not a supporter of him either way) Also, the part the author spoke of patriotism was just completely false. It made all Americans seem like ignorant country folk and all Europeans like empathetic philanthropists. Our patriotism is from our independence as a nation in the late 1700′s, we are proud of our freedoms, not because the color of our flag or race. America is extremely culturally diverse with many nationalities populating the coasts(liberal areas) and established demographics in the central areas (conservative areas). On schooling, the reason why school is free in most European countries is because of the differing systems of government, duh! Taxes are much higher outside of America. We value education here just as much as you do, however, there is a very strong foundation of self reliance built in many people here. Self reliance is to less government is to less taxes is to less social programs. We don’t expect the government to pay for our school, or our kids school, that is why we sacrifice and put the money away. Not only because we don’t want the handout, but because we don’t pay the taxes to pay for the handout. For political correctness, Americans don’t discriminate on your church whatsoever. It just doesn’t happen. Race would be more in line with what is aimed at with political correctness. I don’t even know what to say for the dating part of this article, besides it must have been arbitrarily composed while watching the movie “American Pie”. Just because you watched an american movie/TV show, it doesn’t mean you have an acute understanding of interpersonal relationships among an entire population! Marriage isn’t important because of Religion, its important because its symbolic, that’s it. lets not forget the authors reference to the “Americans common use of gangsters and criminals in the US military for their “killing talents”, and the way they can pass from notorious criminals to national heroes”…….. Really? because The only time i remember this happening was in the movies.. If your going to write an article about two VAST population groups, please reference SOUND material that is OBJECTIVE and please refrain from confusing your subjective to this category. You started off objectively then quickly changed this into your own personal views. Very offensive.

  25. mkrz says:

    Well, there are some facts about europe which are absoloutly false.
    i made my own experience when i were in america and i realized that americans aren’t not nearly that tolerant how they say from theirselfs (politic (against everythink non capitalistic), religion (against islam), ethnicity).
    what’s with the difference in social or medical systems? or employer-rights and one of the biggest difference between eu and us, the worldview.

  26. A round of applause for your article.Much thanks again. Will read on…

  27. joanne says:

    Selling alcohol to people younger than 18 years is banned in Serbia. Also, Europeans are really patriotic, especially those from the Balkan countries. Marriage is important for us. And you can’t compare Eastern Europeans with Western, or Southern with Northern, because we are all different, from different ethnic backgrounds.

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