Magical Tokens and Other Things I Learned in Europe

“You’re not from around here.”  I thought about this statement earlier this morning and smiled. My husband’s niece, Rachael, said this to me the first time I came down to Georgia to meet the Knowles family about 12 years ago.  I think it was my serious lack of Southern accent that gave me away.

While on our recent two-week vacation in Europe, I felt as if many folks were saying the exact same thing to us without even opening their mouths. I’m not certain how they knew this. It might have been the clueless look that was permanently affixed on our faces that gave us away.  It was like a bright neon sign that was constantly flashing, “CLUELESS TOURIST.”

Overall, people showed us a tremendous amount of grace.  I learned pretty quickly Europeans, by and large, have not been inflicted with the same bug folks in Georgia are born with…the “see a stranger you automatically smile or wave” bug.  I know this to be true because I tried it a few times and my flashing neon signed blinked even brighter.  But, I did learn that once you engage Europeans they are kind and helpful…no need to smile and wave beforehand. 😉

Today, I thought I would share a few other random differences I learned along our journey. If you’ve never been to Europe, but dream of going one day, these little bits of knowledge might help to minimize the incessant blinking on the neon sign you will most likely be wearing around your neck too.

The Little Bucket:  When you visit Europe and you go out for breakfast and order the traditional meats, cheeses and breads your nice server might also bring a little white bucket to your table prior to bringing out anything else. You might be perplexed. Why do you need a little white bucket?  After you begin eating and opening up little packages of honey and butter it will begin to dawn on you that it is most likely for trash.  But, you might be afraid to assume this.  What if it’s not for trash and you insult the server by putting trash in it?  Silly American, putting trash in her little white bucket instead of what it’s really for!  But, on the other hand, what if it is for trash and you opt to leave the trash strewn all over the table? Lazy American she doesn’t even have the decency to put her trash in the little white bucket? It is quite the dilemma and you will do the only thing you know to do, ask for clarification…

Yay!  It is for trash!

The Grocery Store: When you visit a grocery store don’t just assume that grocery shopping will be an easy experience because you’ve done it a thousand times before. You know, how hard can it be?  First, you might try to get a shopping cart and realize they are all locked together.  You might stand in front of the carts for several moments trying to figure out how to go about getting one of these fine metal machines. As you stand there, completely baffled, a friendly local man might come along and take pity on you.  He will hand you a magical orange token like this one.


Once he does, you will fill your cart with groceries and think you are in the clueless clear. That is, until it’s time to journey to the check-out line to pay. After the cashier swipes them all and you pay for them, you and the cashier will have a staring contest. You wonder why nothing else is happening.  Why are the all your groceries just sitting there? Does he need your magical orange token? Then you lose the staring contest as you glance at the line of people behind you waiting to pay for their groceries too. You look around for bags and see that there aren’t any bags so you begin piling groceries in your token cart (figuring it must work like Costco) while your husband goes outside to pull the car around.

The Parking Garage: Pulling into a parking garage works pretty much like parking garages in America. You punch a button and take a ticket. It’s the getting out part that will leave you thinking you have entered Hotel California.  “You can check out in anytime you like but you can never leave.” Don’t even THINK about climbing back in your car and driving up to the exit when you are wanting to leave. There will be no person/machine waiting up there to take your money. Instead, you will want to begin by searching around the parking garage for a place to pay.  Hint: Look for either an automated box or a person in a booth who looks like they are there to accept money. THEN, get in your car, drive to the exit, and insert your ticket into the exit machine.  Viola! You are now free to leave.

I hope you enjoyed these tips.  My family and I learned these and many other lessons the harder way.  And, if you ever have the pleasure of traveling to Europe…may you make mistakes too…just not these mistakes.  🙂  Happy Clueless Traveling!


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