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What hounds should know- International Edition

Reading through the international boards, I often find an American chowhound posting comments and questions that seem out of touch with protocols and practices of the place they are visiting or plan to visit. For example, on the UK board, European hounds are trying to explain to an American hound that coffee after dessert is not a matter of poor service, but custom. On the France board, I'm finding hounds trying to explain that quests for 'cheap authentic street food' may not be the most useful search terms or that expectations for 'simple good food well-prepared, like just some eggs with truffles' to be served after 2.30pm are perhaps misguided.

So, I invite everyone here to post on these matters and provide some international sensibilities here. This is not meant to chastise so much as to help hounds know not only what to look for but how to look for it.

And a note: American hounds, I'd recommend avoiding complaints of European visitors who do not tip adequately. As a predominantly American site, this area has been well-trod and tends to be sent out to the foreigners and ex-pats who are aware of such issues. Not to mention, the tipping discussions tend to go off the rails and get a thread locked, and I'd love to hear from people from all over the world about the misconceptions they find and what they wish people knew when looking for food.

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  1. One thing Americans traveling in Europe need to know is that doggie bagging is by and large not done, and you can get some very strange looks for even asking to take leftover food home with you. In most cases restaurants won't have containers to put leftovers in even if they wanted to. On the other hand, portions are generally more reasonable than in the US, so it's less of an issue anyway.

    Another tip, more country-specific: when in Italy, milky coffee drinks like cappuccino are mainly for breakfast. While you may order one on its own as a pick-me-up in the afternoon without drawing stares, ordering a cappuccino at the finish of a meal is a sure way to label yourself as a clueless tourist - not because of any arbitrary rule, but because an espresso is seen as a digestive aid, while milky coffee is not.

    5 Replies
    1. re: BobB

      I'm a big fan of small portions and appreciate this tendency in Europe.

      I would add that one should always seek out local joints, instead of the tourist traps. Follow Anthony Bourdain's advice and avoid asking your Maitre'D... they always tell you where they THINK you want to go.

      While I'm not travelling right now, per se, I am cooking my way around the world, one country at the time and blogging about it. Once in a while I post cultural information regarding specific countries in this vein. http://GlobalTableAdventure.com

      :) I've attached a photo of our recent Colombian poached egg soup to show you an example of a recipe I've tried. This is breakfast food in Colombia

       
      1. re: GlobalTable

        don't ask the concierge....ask the guy who works at the dry cleaner's across the street....the lady at the post office...ask real people where to find real food...and you'll very rarely be disappointed.

        1. re: sunshine842

          I'm afraid your advice only holds good if the lady at the post office, or the guy at the cleaners, knows about good food. Certainly, I would never dream of relying on the staff at our village dry cleaners or post office tell me the best restaurant food - even in the village. How could I have any confidence that they had the slightest idea of what good chow means?

          1. re: Harters

            A point about the 'wisdom' of random locals elaborated on further down below.

            1. re: Harters

              how could you have any confidence that someone at the hotel has any idea? Or doesn't have his/her recommendations driven by a given restaurant's contributions to his bottom line?

      2. I second BobB on the coffee issue in Italy. Cappucino past about 10 AM is going to get you a funny look or eye-rolling.

        However, one place in Europe where the breakfast rules don't apply is in Scandinavia. They value a big breakfast, and they are usually included in the hotel price. And believe me, it's worth it. I have travelled a long way, and have never seen restaurant prices quite like Scandinavia (esp. Norway).

        If your hotel includes breakfast, take it (and stuff your pockets on the way out).

        4 Replies
        1. re: chowbunny

          "and stuff your pockets on the way out", oh god, please don't don't do this. I've lived in Italy for the past 30 years and travel regularly in Europe for my job. Loading up and taking extra food from breakfast buffets is so rude...it's a a buffet meant to be eaten there, not a grocery store. I hate when I see this and yes I have some colleagues do it, and yes they are chastised for being cheap by my other Italian colleagues.

          1. re: alidrum

            Was visiting Vienna a few years ago, stayed at the Intercity Hotel, which included a fantastic breakfast buffet (now, they charge extra for it).

            Since we were in a hurry to catch the train to Saltzberg, we asked the hostess in charge if we could take some with us; she said it was not allowed but to go ahead. Later, she added that when the Italian tour groups come in, they are the worst about trying to make off with the food.

            She knew I was American, but, I guess she couldn't see I was half Italian.

            1. re: alidrum

              Granted, that's rude anywhere, even in the US.

              1. re: alidrum

                Funny enough, our hotel in Hawaii actually encouraged us to take things away from the buffet. They even provided cooler bags for such a purpose, called it Breakfast On the Beach "BOB".

            2. I suspect the reason doggie bagging is a little alien in Europe, certainly in the UK, is that food portions are much more modest over here than perhaps they are in the US. Certainly in mid to high level places I can't recall ever being daunted by the amount of food on the plate.

              1 Reply
              1. re: Al Toon

                I still have a hard time with this claim UK-wise. I just came home from a dinner where I left 1/3 of the dinner on my plate, and that was sans starter. But maybe that's me. Or that's Scotland.
                And frankly, I've only cleaned my plate in other nations (although never Czech Republic) through sheer gluttony and not through sensible eating. The US may have ridiculous amounts (that can lead to lunch and maybe even two lunches) but a lot of European nations are hardly petit fleurs when it comes to portion size.

                ETA: All that said, things like the 8oz burger are pretty common in the US whereas that's larger than most srvings here-- except for one pub that may enjoy going overboard.

              2. If you can't drink the country's water, stay away from the ice!

                30 Replies
                1. re: Gatogrande

                  Good one Gatogrande. My mom and I took a lovely ramble around England and France when I was a teenager and for some reason I listened to the warnings but she brushed her teeth using tap water in Paris. Big mistake.

                  1. re: givemecarbs

                    this is complete and utter hogwash, unless you were doing your visiting during the postwar years when France was forced to rebuild its infrastructure.

                    Tapwater is as safe in Paris as it is in any city of its size, and safer than an awful lot of them.

                    Not perpetuating out-of-date, incorrect stereotypes would be the first thing that international chowhounds should learn.

                    1. re: sunshine842

                      Indeed - tap water pretty much anywhere in Western Europe is perfectly safe to drink. You only need to be careful in second or third world countries.

                      1. re: BobB

                        The only time you have to be careful is on farmland where maybe the water is not coming from a sanitary system. But in restaurants in France I always order "de l'eau en carafe." It's free and fine.

                        1. re: BobB

                          My mom's relatives in Greece (Athens and Corinth) won't drink the tap water. They have bought jugs of water from a delivery service and fill smaller bottles from them for drinking for as long as I can remember. Funny enough this doesn't apply in my dad's village up in the mountains (Nemea).

                          At restaurants/tavernas etc. you generally buy large bottles of water for the table; I don't recall any that offer tap water but that may just be me.

                          1. re: Jasz

                            When I was in Germany, most Germans told me they don't drink tap water because it's "dirty", but I drank it all the time and thought it was fine...it tastes better to me than water in the US.

                            1. re: Fromageball

                              Why you ain't never drunk our well water. I was of the WC Fields ilk, but this water lead to a conversion!

                              1. re: Fromageball

                                Most of the "white" people in Rio I've met drink only bottled water whereas the "brown" and "black" people always drink the tap water. We drink the tap water.

                                1. re: c oliver

                                  Brazil is a large country where water quality varies not just with location, but from property to property. Due to water shortages or cost, in many places where city water is available individuals and establishments may drill their own wells (cesspool style septic systems are common outside cities and well water testing thoroughness varies). In addition, very common are per-building water tanks for storage which are sometimes cleaned at very irregular intervals and even when they are fed by city water, some people can add their own chemicals. This can include condos and hotels in fairly large cities. Plus city waters tend to be more heavily treated than people in the US are used to. Like you I also ingest much of the water (coffee, blender juices, teeth brushing) in cases where it definitely has not been boiled fully, but its more pleasant to either have a filter or to buy the large gallons overall for drinking. (BTW I do know Brazilians who won't even cook beans or anything with tap water.)

                                  Restaurants, though, like much of the world if you ask for water will sell you bottled water. They may serve it with tap water ice (although packaged ice is largely purified) but actually serving tap water is pretty foreign. Airports, bus stations, hospitals government buildings often have water fountains (usually with filters) but you are expected to fill a cup rather than put your mouth over the drinking fountain like many in the US.

                                  1. re: itaunas

                                    I was too simplistic in my reply :) I've never asked for tap water and have never seen it served. It's actually a little splurge for me. "Agua com gas" is a nice accompaniment to my caipirinha.

                                2. re: Fromageball

                                  the water in the US tastes radically different from place to place.

                              2. re: BobB

                                There may be taste thing going on here. It's a few years since I've visited America but I have recollections that the tap water is much more heavily chlorinated than we have in Europe. Now, I'd have to say, that causes me not to enjoy American tap water but I guess the same could well be true in reverse - we tend to like what we're used to.

                                1. re: Harters

                                  Harters, we have that situation when we visit Rio. The water is totally safe but heavily chlorinated. Many locals don't drink it. We usually start out making coffee and cocktails with it and gradually go to "straight." But I find it not so good at room temp. So I fill my water bottle with bottled water.

                                  1. re: Harters

                                    Harters, that reminds me of when I moved from the the CA foothills to the valley. In the area I lived and grew up, our water was heavily mineralized with many things including naturally occurring fluoride. To boot, the owner of the well we were on very heavily chlorinated the water (your eyes would get red an irritated as though you were just swimming in a pool after a shower, and you could smell it a bit).

                                    Well, when we moved down here to the valley, I all but stopped drinking straight water. The tap water tasted (and still does to me) weird, and bottled water to this day has a slight bitter taste to me. My tastebuds are so used to heavily chlorinated and mineralized water that "good, clean" water tastes really off to me. Oddly though, I can drink water straight from the creeks up in the area with no problems, and really the taste of pool water is not unpleasant at all. There is something in the water up there that lends a slight sweet taste, and I wonder if that has something to do with how a lot of water has the slightest bitter flavour to my tastebuds. Heavily chlorinated water also has a similar "sweet" quality for some reason.

                                    1. re: Harters

                                      Hartes,

                                      The taste of water varies wildly across the US, so it depends on the city and the source of the water. Some cities are pumping water from the MIssissippi river. Enough said. The area with the absolute worst water in the US, IMO, is San Diego. I lived there for half a year and was forced to buy bottled water. The stuff from the tap tastes like what I would imagine to be the taste of stagnent pond scum. The smell was gag-inducing to me.

                                      1. re: Harters

                                        I was born & raised in Philadelphia and the tap water was very good. Went to grad school in rural southeast Ohio. The first time I poured a glass of tap water there, I was horrified--slightly brownish, very off-putting smell. I was amazed--rural area in the heartland, I expected really good water. As a test, I put the glass in the fridge, and the next day, all of the sediment, etc had sunk to the bottom.

                                      2. re: BobB

                                        I have travelled in places where tapwater wasn't safe for brushing your teeth.

                                        If you can't brush your teeth, you also have to avoid fresh fruit juices and pretty much any non-boiled, unbottled cold drink, ice, uncooked vegetables, period, and any fresh fruit that you can't peel. Because they will be washing the vegetables with the same stuff that comes from the tap.

                                        1. re: tastesgoodwhatisit

                                          nobody was arguing that there are places in the world where tapwater isn't safe to drink (sad as that is)

                                          The backlash came from the assertion that Paris is one of them.

                                          I was, by the way, pretty surprised to be advised to avoid tap water (by hotel and restaurant staff) in Moscow.

                                          1. re: sunshine842

                                            It always depends, I think. I can distinctly recall when tap water in parts of Western Europe (Spain, France, and Belgium) was not to be drunk, although I can't ever remember not brushing my teeth with it.

                                            I do question Harters's claim to knowing the water tastes of all America. Goodness, water tastes different depending on where one is staying in the UK.

                                            So Harters's declaration is Impressive, but questionable. I remember staying in one state where water in one city was delicious while the other so nasty as to be practically unpotable (my brother and I would dare each other to finish the glass placed before us). I also recall a period in DC in the 1990s where water warnings were common and any immune-compromised citizens were advised against drinking. And New York's water, of course, contributes to the deliciousness of the pizzas and the bagels.

                                            I put this up as a reminder that things differ from region to region. These grand pronouncements are not really productive and can, in some circumstances (although not these), border on the offensive.

                                            1. re: sunshine842

                                              Same thing happened to me in 2005. In fact, I have ALWAYS been advised against using/consuming tap water in former Soviet countries - even in the cities, the water is often full of heavy metals and lovely things like giardia, which will take you out if your GI tract isn't used to it.

                                              1. re: kathleen440

                                                the advice to avoid tap water, by the way, was offered this summer in a brand-spanking new hotel....so it's recent advice, too.

                                              2. re: sunshine842

                                                Yeah, that's what I mean. If brushing your teeth is dangerous, so is eating salads and drinking fruit juice, and I've never seen advice for travelling in Paris telling you to avoid uncooked foods and ice.

                                        2. re: givemecarbs

                                          That couldn't be further from the truth

                                          1. re: givemecarbs

                                            This is like the scene from the first Sex and the City movie, where one of the characters is paranoid about the fresh fruit and produce at the upscale Mexican resort and only eats some kind of packaged food product made in Poughkeepsie or some such.

                                            She forgets on the last day, opens her mouth in the shower, and uh oh! Terrible time ensures.

                                            The other characters who were much more rational and ate and drank whatever there was, did fine.

                                            OK, this was fiction, but I've seen it played out several times in real life in all sorts of locations - there is something to the "too much hygiene" hypothesis - people who are overcautious end up with "events" - I guess their immune system was never exercised.

                                            The people who were a little less paranoid developed a better sense of what was more or less appropriate to risk, and fell ill much less.

                                            1. re: Rasam

                                              And some people, their bodies are just more sensitive, period. Take my husband, for instance. We go on a trip to interior BC, Kootenays to be specific. We both drink the tap water. Whatever, no big deal. It's Canada. Well a day later he's running to the toilet and his tummy hurtin' pretty bad. The rest of our trip there, he just felt off. I get home and tell my Mom all about this. Saying we couldn't figure out what was going on. It was until she told me my father had problem with water in many cities/towns they'd visit. We realized that's what it was because after that town we moved on to Penticton and happened to drink bottle water the rest of the time, no problems

                                              1. re: livetocook

                                                Yogurt will help your body adjust to new chemistry (and help to fight off anything that might be in the water, should you be in a place with questionable sanitation)

                                                Yep - I've known people who can't drink tap water in new places, either. Makes it hard for them to enjoy traveling at times, which is a pity.

                                                1. re: sunshine842

                                                  Yep, me too. When my brother-in-law came to live in the UK, it took many weeks for him to get used to our water.

                                                2. re: livetocook

                                                  Thank you! The one-size-fits-all prescription for food hygiene is so frustrating for those of us who struggle with food sensitivities! I know how people who don't struggle wouldn't understand it, and that's fine, but please don't judge me for it. My immune system has been 'exercised' plenty over the years, having lived in Costa Rica and Mexico, and I still get 'caught' sometimes when I go back. Yakult is my friend.

                                            2. re: Gatogrande

                                              Gatogrande does not specify Europe. In Mexico in the 70's, I wouldn't drink the water or have ice. My first wife ridiculed me for rinsing my mouth, after brushing my teeth, w/ beer. She used tap water. A day or 2 later we were at the bottom of Carlsbad Caverns, w/ no facilities, and Montezuma's revenge hit her. Don't go off the trail and peek behind the stalagmites. My fondest memory of that woman.

                                              1. re: Passadumkeg

                                                No, but givemecarbs does. Paris, no less! A classic example of mistaking correlation for causation.

                                            3. I think it's important not to make people feel like there's a bunch of things they shouldn't do. If you want to take your left overs, ask. The worst that can happen is they'll say no or be put out because you want to take there delicious food,that you paid for, home. The cappucino thing is also way overblown. No one in Italy drinks them in the afternoon, but no one cares if you do.

                                              Go, relax, have fun and don't worry.

                                              jb

                                              3 Replies
                                              1. re: JuniorBalloon

                                                Good points all. I think the key thing here is to note that if they refuse to offer a leftover bag, it's not so much bad service as that it's just not done so no one is prepared.

                                                1. re: JuniorBalloon

                                                  It may be overblown but it can lead to funny situations. Like my SO stepping confidently to the counter in a tiny caffe in Sicily at about 2 pm and asking in his bestest Italian for "uno cappuccino per favore." Without missing a beat the matriarch behind the counter says "Coca Cola?" and the SO returns dejectedly to the table, soft drink in hand :-).

                                                  1. re: grayelf

                                                    In Paris? My gosh. It wasn't the water that got her, my dear.

                                                2. salad in the US is an appetizer - in Europe it's a side salad. You will not get it first unless you ask for it.

                                                  Over to the doggie bag issue - unless a restaurant does take out (take-away) they will not necessarily have a container for your leftovers so they won't be able to accommodate you in that situation.

                                                  Tipping - in the UK a service charge is generally but not always added to the bill somewhere around 10-12.5% so keep an eye on that and you don't need to tip again. Brits always ask their server if service has already been added.

                                                  8 Replies
                                                  1. re: smartie

                                                    "salad in the US is an appetizer - in Europe it's a side salad. You will not get it first unless you ask for it."

                                                    Not necessarily true. I've ordered a salad as an appetizer in Germany (they usually are listed under appetizers, too) - even tho I actually like my salad *with* my meal, so I often leave some to have for when the main shows up.

                                                    No need to tip more than 10% anywhere in Germany, including high end restos. The waitstaff usually consists of professionally trained servers who receive good pay.

                                                    1. re: linguafood

                                                      Was just about to come here and say that in Germany you will get the salad first(at least, everywhere I went the salad came first).

                                                    2. re: smartie

                                                      I don't know what you're talking about. In the south of France, summertime menus often start you off with a tomato salad. You could eat tomato salad as a starter at every meal for weeks on end.

                                                      Of course, sometimes it's just a bowl of tomatoes with lardon in the Auvergne or with chunks of tuna on the Cote d'Azur, or sometimes a bit more elaborate.......

                                                       
                                                      1. re: Steve

                                                        I agree. Salad (even just a green leaf salad) is often offered as a starter, particularly in Mediterranean countries but also up here in on our small island off the coast of northern Europe.

                                                        By the by, I've often seen Chowhound posts asking whether, in Europe, the salad is offered as a separate course before or after the main course. The answer is "neither". It will either be a starter, possibly fairly elaborate (and, depending on how elaborate, might also be offered as a main course). Or it will be a side salad, served with the main course, instead of vegetables.

                                                        1. re: Steve

                                                          I'm talking more of the mixed greens type of salad not a tomato salad or a tricolore (avocado, tomato and mozzarella).

                                                          1. re: smartie

                                                            If it is indicated as a side salad, it will come with the main dish, true. But it is absolutely possible to get a salad (mixed greens or other) as an appetizer.

                                                            1. re: smartie

                                                              Starter salads (entrees) in France tend to have some extra component to them, like frisee aux lardons, au chevre, or aux noix. A frisee salad is the most common found on menus in France.

                                                              A mixed green salad is harder to find in French restaurants.

                                                            2. re: Steve

                                                              Everything you describe sounds wonderful. Great photo too. Here are on the West Coast, waiting for dinner and this is making me very hungry.

                                                          2. I think really my main bit of advice for all travellers is to open their eyes. I've gotten through many a dining minefield just by looking around -- both at what's posted and what other diners are doing. :)

                                                            1 Reply
                                                            1. A few common and unexpected differences I can think of are the amount of time people spend over a meal, the doggie bag issue, and shared (aka family style) vs individual meals. Plus the etiquette of who pays for group meals.

                                                              I've had friends from France be totally appalled at how quickly people eat and leave in a restaurant in the US - they were used to hour+ lunches, and lingering for hours over a nice meal. Try that in most restaurants in the US, and you'll have some really irritated servers trying to shove you out the door. In other areas restaurant meals tend to be fairly quick, and you'd go other places, like pubs or coffee shops or tea houses, to linger for hours and talk.

                                                              In Chinese countries family style meals are very common and expected. To go with a group to a restaurant and order your own dish of X, not to be shared, would be generally seen as eccentric and antisocial. Typically a variety of dishes are ordered for the table and are shared. Doggie bags are common in this situation though - I've had the staff offer to package up the food that wasn't eaten. However, you are likely to end up with an actual *bag* - getting a plastic bag of leftover soup with the top knotted is normal, but a bit disconcerting the first time you see it.

                                                              In some countries there is a very strong tradition of the most senior member of the party paying. I've seen this most strongly in Japan and Korea. More junior members can make a token protest, but you are expected to give in to the senior.

                                                              2 Replies
                                                              1. re: tastesgoodwhatisit

                                                                The last two paragraphs are also absolutely true in Thailand.

                                                                1. re: tastesgoodwhatisit

                                                                  Yup. I've definitely seen that in Korea too. Heck I've seen about 6 or 7 people stand around a 1L container of ice cream and dig in with those tiny pick spoons you get at baskin robbins. Kind of throw me off. I mean, yeah, the food is pretty communal. It's just that, well, ice cream? gahhh

                                                                2. Interesting thread idea!

                                                                  I'll add for countries I've spent time in- France, Spain and Italy: Dining at "American time", aka 7:00ish is quite early. Eat later, take longer.

                                                                  Also- cheese is for after meals. I usually don't have dessert anyway, but if offered, have the cheese course last. It does help with the digestion, but maybe I'm biased!

                                                                  18 Replies
                                                                  1. re: cheesemonger

                                                                    Except in France where, without exception, cheese will be served between the main course and the dessert.

                                                                    1. re: Harters

                                                                      yes, my point is that I stop at cheese! You are correct about the order of the offerings.

                                                                      1. re: cheesemonger

                                                                        Understood now. Certainly in the UK, cheese will usually be offered on a dessert menu as an alternative not an extra course.

                                                                    2. re: cheesemonger

                                                                      "7:00ish is quite early"

                                                                      True, though not a problem for me, my wife and I usually have dinner between 8 and 9 even at home. Interestingly, it gets later further south, especially in Spain, And in Barcelona, no one but a tourist would expect to sit down to dinner before 10 - 10:30PM (I kid you not!). Many restaurants there don't even open until 10.

                                                                      1. re: BobB

                                                                        yes I found this to be true in Santander (Northern Spain), everything closed between about 2.30 and 10pm, we were starving on the day we thought we would have a late lunch!! We missed getting any lunch and had to wait till 10p to eat dinner.

                                                                        1. re: smartie

                                                                          Ditto in Greece although some restos in tourist area will open earlier in the evening and offer early-bird specials.

                                                                          1. re: Jasz

                                                                            In the US I've had the opposite problem - finding somewhere to eat after about 8:30 at night. Usually the only options were fast food or pubs.

                                                                        2. re: BobB

                                                                          I've often been the first person in a restaurant in Spain or Italy—we tried to wait it out at bars, but we couldn't help it! We were hungry. Luckily, though eating later is a custom, it's not actually rude to show up earlier so long as they're actually open. I'm sure they open at 7/8 precisely for American dorks like us.

                                                                          1. re: tatamagouche

                                                                            Like many north Europeans, I visit Spain regularly. Certainly in the regions I tend to visit, restaurants tend to know of our earlier eating habits and cater for it. It's good business for them, particulary in regions like Andalucia where the late eating is particularly common - means they can get a sitting of northerners around 8, who will just be moving on around 10 when the locals come in.

                                                                            1. re: Harters

                                                                              Perhaps it's changed, but 20ish years ago, Bob was in Barcelona on business for several weeks. His team was working regular American business hours. Most of the restaurants didn't open til 10. Sometimes they waited and other times they just picked up sandwiches and the like and went back to their hotel.

                                                                              We visited Costa del Sol not too many years ago and it was similar but not that late. We just adjusted our meal times since we were on holiday. We'd have lunch around 2 and then head to dinner 830 or 9.

                                                                              1. re: c oliver

                                                                                Twenty years back, the Costa del Sol was pretty much as important a tourist destination for north Euros as it is now and I can't recall there being any particular issue (although we tend to eat late on holiday in any event).

                                                                                Barcelona has only really opened up as a tourist destination for us in recent years with the increase in discount airlines making it a practical proposition for long weekends, so I wouldnt be surprised that restaurant hours reflect the change in customer base. In any event, I'd suggest that Catalans tend to keep nearer to the hours kept in northern countries than other parts of Spain (weekends excepted)

                                                                        3. re: cheesemonger

                                                                          In Portuguese places, cheese is often offered at the start of the meal.

                                                                          1. re: limster

                                                                            I've seen that, but only the ripe soft cheese that you dip bread into - I think it's called queijo de Serra Amanteigado. Have you seen a real cheese plate offered to start?

                                                                            1. re: BobB

                                                                              Yes, but usually one or two whole cheeses rather than a whole selection, in several places in Lisbon.

                                                                            2. re: limster

                                                                              Ditto in Spain (all sorts of cheese) - much more often to be offered as a tapa than a stand-alone course later in the meal.

                                                                              1. re: limster

                                                                                limster that is a common part of the restaurant tradition of a 'couvert' which started as a way to offer something to tide diners (Portuguese "carinho") over while meals were prepared to order, but has lost its soul along the way between two extremes. That of restaurateurs finding a good way to snook tourists out of 7 euro and the government legislating the heck out of it.

                                                                                1. re: itaunas

                                                                                  Yep, I remember my Portuguese pals telling me to pick and choose; that it was ok to refuse if the stuff didn't look good. And that was in the pre-euro days.

                                                                              2. re: cheesemonger

                                                                                <I'll add for countries I've spent time in- France, Spain and Italy: Dining at "American time", aka 7:00ish is quite early. Eat later, take longer.>

                                                                                Which is perfect if you don't have reservations or are traveling with small children. When we were younger we were always able to get a table early. The restaurants knew that as American we probably wouldn't linger so they didn't have to worry about disrupting their first seating.

                                                                              3. Pubs and cheaper places in the UK may serve big portions but in more upmarket restaurants that's not usually the case. Typically, I would expect to occupy the table for two or three hours, except in a cheap place.

                                                                                1. Whilst I understand why the OP might want to avoid discussions about the tipping practices of Europeans visiting America, it is related to the wider issue that cultural norms about tipping do indeed vary from country to country.

                                                                                  I can only afford to holiday in America about every five years but, being British, can more easily afford to visit other European countries much more often. It's important for me to realise that tipping at around 10%, as we have here, is fairly commonplace in other Euro countries. But not in France or Cyprus where service is included in the menu price, so no tip is expected. Or Spain, where it's perfectly fine to just leave a few coins.

                                                                                  4 Replies
                                                                                  1. re: Harters

                                                                                    This is useful Harters. My caveat re: tipping had to do with the North American complaint of Europeans. I think Americans could benefit from being aware of other tipping custom.

                                                                                    1. re: Lizard

                                                                                      If there's a chart or article that says how mych and/or whether to tip in various countries, I'd love to see it.
                                                                                      That includes cruise ships, although it appears that they're more than happy to tell you on cruise ships who and how much to tip.

                                                                                      1. re: EWSflash

                                                                                        Google will find you several tipping guides. The Trip Advisor "country page" is also quite useful.

                                                                                        By the by, the country which I struggle with over tipping is Belgium. I never know if it has a countrywide custom or if customs depend on the language area - i.e. tip at 10% in the Dutch speaking area following custom in the Netherlands and no tip in the French speaking area. It's a country I visit most years (usually to the Dutch speaking area of Flanders) so any advice from other travellers would be welcomed.

                                                                                        1. re: Harters

                                                                                          Tipping in Germany can be difficult to figure out, too. I know my man can still get confused by my tipping sometimes. I call it 'intuitive tipping'. No across the board rules, really.

                                                                                  2. One thing that can be hard to get used to in Europe is that most food places do not serve all day. Unless you are going to a fast-food or street vendor type of situation, there is a vast desert between, say, 2 p.m. and 7 or so. Just because a place that serves drinks is open in the afternoon doesn't mean there's anyone in the kitchen.

                                                                                    This used to drive me crazy when traveling with my night-owl boyfriend; by the time he got up we had missed breakfast, and having scrounged something up for that, we were late for lunch as well. :-(

                                                                                    1 Reply
                                                                                    1. re: kleine mocha

                                                                                      Being a fellow night owl, I've run into this as well

                                                                                    2. When traveling to Europe on business, you usually just want to get to work quickly, work, grab a dinner meal, and sleep. On the weekend (by the time you're getting over the jet lag) you can jaunt about looking for food.

                                                                                      Meals can cost more than in the US. The exchange rate for Euros can be a bit deceptive, because you see an entre priced at E$20 and you say, that's about right, but if you compute the cost from Euros to Dollars, you might hesitate. Also because you are staying at the Hilton and it is easier to just eat at the hotel.

                                                                                      If the client isn't going to reimburse according to GSA rates for Meals and Incidental Expenses (M&IE) then you will pay quite a bit of money out of pocket. Where breakfast, lunch, and dinner at US Headquarters may be reimbursed at a US$45/day rate, visiting their operation in Dublin may cost you three times more (GSA rate is US$165). If visiting a remote factory in the countryside, see if you can get the client to agree to an American Plan (breakfast included) or even better a Modified American plan ("Half Board") at a nice country inn.

                                                                                      5 Replies
                                                                                      1. re: GraydonCarter

                                                                                        Which is why I always pick up the tab when I find myself at a business dinner with people traveling on per diems. A private sector expense account is a GOOD thing!

                                                                                          1. re: BobB

                                                                                            Thanks, Bob. I've turned down contracts in Cambridge because the potential client wasn't willing to accept an adjusted rate even though M&IE are $10/day more and rooms are $75/night more than here in Central NJ.

                                                                                            I kinda assume ChowHounds are also frequent travelers. I wonder if that is generally true?

                                                                                            1. re: GraydonCarter

                                                                                              Certainly there are exceptions, but I think in general we're more well-traveled than most. It's probably a chicken-and-egg thing whether our adventurous tastes in food lead to more adventurous life choices or vice versa - or whether both are due to an inherent abundance of curiosity about the world.

                                                                                              1. re: GraydonCarter

                                                                                                I wouldn't say all Chowhounds are frequent travelers, but my guess is the largest barriers to travel among 'hounds are budget and time constraints, not lack of interest. Personally, I can only afford one small leisure trip every 2-3 years and travel for work is generally to the same 2 cities every 6 months (domestic travel only). I make the most of it though...

                                                                                          2. Doggy bags - not common in Europe, in my experience and certianly not in the UK.

                                                                                            You will come across it (one of my local Sichuan places often seems to - but I've not really seen it anywhere else). Of course, if you ask for one, it's unlikely a place will refuse but it will be an unusual request for them and may raise a query from staff (although probably most of us will know Americans appear to do this often, so won't necessarily be surprised).

                                                                                            Sharing a plate is also not common (although you see folk sharing a dessert from time to time).

                                                                                            Oh, and again generally speaking, pizza is eaten with a knife and fork in most places except, perhaps, the most casual places, like Pizza Hut, or if you're a child.

                                                                                            5 Replies
                                                                                            1. re: Harters

                                                                                              I haven't found doggy bags to be common in Europe. I was surprised at our first meal in Lisbon when the half drunk bottle of wine was returned to me in a carrier bag to take home. That's illegal in the US, at least in the parts of the US that I frequent. And I hadn't asked for it.

                                                                                              I was more impressed because the carrier bag was printed with instructions in several languages about the importance of reusing the bag.

                                                                                              1. re: 512window

                                                                                                Open container laws only apply if the bottle is in the passenger area of the car, AFAIK. If the bottle's in the trunk, it's fine, at least everywhere I've lived in the US. Plus, lots of restaurants in my neck of the woods have special sealable bags so you can keep the bottle inside the car.

                                                                                                  1. re: LauraGrace

                                                                                                    Yes, cork and carry is becoming the norm in the US.

                                                                                                  2. re: 512window

                                                                                                    taking home the rest of a bottle of wine -- pretty common.

                                                                                                    Taking home the rest of your dinner -- absolutely uncommon.

                                                                                                1. I just found out from Dorie Greenspan's "Around My French Table," that one should not slice cheese across the bottom but rather along the side. Basically maintaining the original shape of the wedge. Other than that is considered impolite. I love this kind of minutiae.

                                                                                                  4 Replies
                                                                                                  1. re: c oliver

                                                                                                    yeah, the reason for that is really col too. I'm going off memory of a tv show, so happy for clarification. The exterior is considered the tastiest part of the cheese, so it's a bit greedy to only eat from that part and leave the centre for everyone else.

                                                                                                    1. re: Samuelinthekitchen

                                                                                                      depends on the cheese....it's considered equally rude to take the softest parts of the Brie and leave the rind for everyone else, even if they like the rind.

                                                                                                      1. re: sunshine842

                                                                                                        actually i think you're right and i had it the wrong way around

                                                                                                    2. re: c oliver

                                                                                                      This reminds me of a time in college. Me and a few roommates and one of the roommates' French boyfriend were hanging out in the kitchen (which is were we almost always hung out). One roommate out of hunger (or perhaps an attempt to prevent food theft), pulls a block of her cheddar cheese out of the fridge and starts gnawing on the corner.

                                                                                                      French boyfriend went into a fit, yelling "Oh my god, what are you doing? You're disrespecting the cheese!!! How can you disrespect the cheese like that?!"

                                                                                                    3. At most mid-level to budget American restaurants these days, fountain soft drinks are unlimited refills. (Though if it's a bottle or can out of the refrigerated case, it's pay per bottle/can) It's only typical to see pay per glass of soft drinks or iced tea at fancier restaurants.

                                                                                                      1. In China, not everyone at the table gets a menu. Often it is one per table.

                                                                                                        Also, not everyone gets their own plate. Even with a group, you reach with your chopsticks and eat directly from the serving dish. I think this is the REAL reason they have eschewed the fork. Not long enough.

                                                                                                        1 Reply
                                                                                                        1. re: Steve

                                                                                                          I think nowadays except for the smallest, most basic places, you get a smaller plate to place your food on after taking from the serving dish.

                                                                                                        2. x2 that restaurants in other countries do not serve all day. Went to the south of France with a friend and told her we had to decide where to eat before 2pm (for lunch). At 2:30 she wanted lunch and everything was closed.

                                                                                                          In Japan you don't leave your chopsticks laying on the table or pointing at anyone else - it's considered rude. You also do not tip at all. Green tea is almost always offered for free even in cheap noodle shops. And if you can't understand the menu and the restaurant has wax models of food in the window it is not impolite to bring the waiter/waitress to the window to point at what you want to eat!

                                                                                                          3 Replies
                                                                                                          1. re: rosepoint

                                                                                                            Getting one's check or bill in different countries can be a bit of a conundrum. We traveled a lot in Mexico when I was a kid and Dad used to get really frustrated trying to get el daño. Subtle gestures soon gave way to arm waving, standing, and other unsubtle but useless manoeuvres. Finally he gave in and made that little smoochy sound (like a quick multiple kiss) that the other guys would use, with near-instantaneous positive results. Wait staff could hear this small noise from across a crowded room when shouting netted nothing. He only hesitated to try it for so long because it felt improper to him for a man to be making smooching noises at (mostly female) staff. Is that approach still acceptable/useful in Mexico?

                                                                                                            1. re: rosepoint

                                                                                                              Many restaurants in rural Kansas towns are closed between 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. Sometimes this place still feels like a foreign country. I have had several spur-of-the-moment road trips to go get lunch in some out of the way place turn into overnight ordeals because I was too late for lunch and by the time I finished with dinner, I didn't feel like driving back home.

                                                                                                              1. re: Antithesisofpop

                                                                                                                I feel like this is the case in many places throughout the U.S. in rural, suburban and urban areas alike. I know I don't blink an eye whenever I encounter a restaurant that closes during the hours between lunch and dinner, and it's definitely not a rare occurrence...on the East Coast, at least.

                                                                                                            2. In America all softdrinks are served with ice which pretty uncommon in Europe. So don't expect to get ice with your softdrink without asking.

                                                                                                              34 Replies
                                                                                                              1. re: honkman

                                                                                                                You *do* get ice -- but it might be 2-3 cubes and not a glass full.

                                                                                                                1. re: sunshine842

                                                                                                                  And don't expect to get served those giant American-sized soft drinks when ordering in bars and such. Often the serving will only be 6 oz or so. Even in markets you'll find 33 cl cans (about 12 oz) are standard, not 16 or 20 oz "individual" sizes.

                                                                                                                  1. re: BobB

                                                                                                                    BobB, not for a few years -- 16 oz bottles are the normal size at sandwich shops, and it's easier to find 1,5L or 2L bottles than the smaller cans.

                                                                                                                  2. re: sunshine842

                                                                                                                    Not in Germany, Switzerland, England, Scandinavia etc. You might get a few cubes after you asked but it is a clear sign for servers that you are a tourist

                                                                                                                    1. re: honkman

                                                                                                                      Nothing wrong with being a tourist. Plus no one's going to listen to me butcher their language and not figure that out pretty quickly anyway :)

                                                                                                                      1. re: honkman

                                                                                                                        I'm German and I like ice in my water. I do not like water in my ice, which is the American preference '-)

                                                                                                                        1. re: linguafood

                                                                                                                          As a German I like my drinks without any ice. It's always hard to explain to a waiter here in California that I don't want to have any ice.

                                                                                                                          1. re: honkman

                                                                                                                            There's a pretty funny Kishon short story about that particular issue - he's trying to get iced tea without ice, and the American server is baffled. They simply cannot grasp the concept....

                                                                                                                            1. re: linguafood

                                                                                                                              I've sure seen people order and get drinks (soft and hard) without ice. With no confusion on the part of the server. I'll grant you, tho', that it's not typical.

                                                                                                                              1. re: c oliver

                                                                                                                                Well, Kishon is a satirist whose writing / humor style was through gross exaggeration.

                                                                                                                                One does have to ask for less ice generally, if one doesn't want the whole glass full.

                                                                                                                              2. re: linguafood

                                                                                                                                Turning that on its head - I was once at a business dinner in my favorite French bistro in Amsterdam with a particularly ornery Texan, who insisted on having not just a glass but a pitcher of iced tea with his meal. The staff had never heard such a request before, but after a brief discussion went out back, brewed a whole pot of tea, and brought it to him with LOTS of ice. Now that's service!

                                                                                                                                1. re: BobB

                                                                                                                                  I've found most service in Amsterdam to be incredibly helpful & friendly (more so than in the fatherland, actually).

                                                                                                                                  1. re: BobB

                                                                                                                                    And I have the companion piece to that story: an Asian family traveling in rural NC ~ 20 years ago, asking for hot tea. Much bafflement among the wait staff, but then the penny dropped - oh! you make it just like iced tea, but it's hot! And they produced a passable drink with mugs of boiling water and teabags....
                                                                                                                                    I thought that was very nice of them too :)

                                                                                                                                  2. re: linguafood

                                                                                                                                    I love that story and Kishon in general

                                                                                                                                    1. re: linguafood

                                                                                                                                      Because if a restaurant is doing it right, it's just not going to make it to cool without ice. It's brewed hot on site, and then put into a large holding tank while at warm to lukewarm, and if the restaurant is managing beverage flow properly only briefly makes it to air temperature before the tank is empty. You just aren't going to generally get iced tea temperature below about 85F without a fair amount of ice in the glass proper.

                                                                                                                                      Plus, Southern sweet tea really needs the ice to knock down the sweetness of a drink that's about 30% simple syrup to manageable level.

                                                                                                                                      1. re: beachmouse

                                                                                                                                        As a non-iced tea drinker (30% of simple syrup does not qualify as a thirst-quenching drink for me, somehow), I don't really care how it's kept cool.

                                                                                                                                        But I doubt one needs 10 ice cubes in a glass of soda or water -- 2-3 generally do the job just fine.

                                                                                                                                        1. re: linguafood

                                                                                                                                          I loooove my drinks ice cold with lots of ice. At home, even during the cold months, I put four standard ice cubes into a glass with my water.

                                                                                                                                          Different strokes for different folks. Obviously, at a restaurant, I'd only want that much ice if the refills were free!

                                                                                                                                          But I do agree that sweet tea does need more ice than other drinks, if only that the ice dilutes the drink/sugar a bit when it melts. Sweet tea is usually way too sweet for me, anyway...

                                                                                                                            2. re: honkman

                                                                                                                              When we have been in Europe, we go to a nearby buy pub and buy some ice from them (frequently they just give it to us) so we can have cocktails in our room. And I can still remember the first vodka "on the rocks" I got in England. It had ONE rock :)

                                                                                                                              1. re: c oliver

                                                                                                                                the converse for Brits in America is that drinks come with too much ice!

                                                                                                                                I still ask for just 2 or 3 cubes with my drinks or straight up.

                                                                                                                                1. re: smartie

                                                                                                                                  Absolutely. It's all the differences that, for me, make international travel SO much fun. My late MIL worked as a travel agent for 40 years and travelled the world. But she stayed in American-equivalent hotels and ate in American-equivalent restaurants. It worked for her but I'd be like 'why bother?'

                                                                                                                                  1. re: smartie

                                                                                                                                    Actually, I think the ice and the unlimited refills and huge sizes are linked.

                                                                                                                                    If you get unlimited refills on your drink, or you're getting a litre sized drink, then it doesn't matter all that much if half the glass is filled with ice. If you are getting a single serving of a modest sized drink, then lots of ice means significantly less drink.

                                                                                                                                    As an aside, I love the Slurpee cups in Taiwan. The small is really small, and the largest is about the same size as a small in the US.

                                                                                                                                    1. re: invinotheresverde

                                                                                                                                      Definitely. While I'll have my martini "up" I DO NOT want it "neat."

                                                                                                                                      1. re: invinotheresverde

                                                                                                                                        Thanks, invino! I always thought those two terms were interchangeable, good to know they have different meanings.

                                                                                                                                        1. re: invinotheresverde

                                                                                                                                          follow-up question -- so neat is not chilled at all, then? meh.

                                                                                                                                          1. re: linguafood

                                                                                                                                            Not ever in my experience. invino would know for sure. Think single malt scotch, cognac, etc.

                                                                                                                                            1. re: c oliver

                                                                                                                                              Of course! I had a brain fart (or perhaps it's my personal predilection for martinis....) -- hadn't thought of scotch and cognac.

                                                                                                                                              I couldn't possibly imagine an unchilled martini.

                                                                                                                                              1. re: linguafood

                                                                                                                                                And here is another one to add - in many European countries - France, Switzerland, Belgium, Italy (and probably others) if you order a Martini you get - just vermouth! You have to specify that you want a gin / vodka martini - and even then they don't really get what it is you want (I try to remind them about James Bond movies). And don't even get me started about a drink as complicated as a Manhattan....

                                                                                                                                                That being said, you do start to see much more of a bar / cocktail culture starting in mainland Europe now and in big cities such as Paris, Rome, Brussels and dare I say even Geneva you can order a real cocktail. But this is by far and large not your average place. And a cocktail in these places usually set you back around €18 - €20. Ouch!

                                                                                                                                                1. re: marsprincess

                                                                                                                                                  Berlin's had a pretty vibrant bar culture for at least 10 years now, and most drinks are more in the 10-12 Euro range. I realize, tho, that Berlin has yet to catch up with other big city prices. Let's all hope it'll take a looooooooong time for that to happen!

                                                                                                                                                  1. re: marsprincess

                                                                                                                                                    You can add the UK to your list. Unless you were in a bar that particularly specialised in cocktails, you'd expect to get vermouth if you asked for a Martini. And it'd be a bianco at that. You have to make a point of asking for rosso or the extra dry (and they probably wouldnt have the latter). Best to stick to asking for half of mild.

                                                                                                                                              2. re: linguafood

                                                                                                                                                In Britain, "neat" would generally mean straight from the bottle - no mixer, no ice. Generally how many people here would drink, say, whisky or brandy.

                                                                                                                                                "Straight up" isnt a term in traditional use here.

                                                                                                                                                1. re: Harters

                                                                                                                                                  How would you order a martini not on the rocks? Or is that just not an option?

                                                                                                                                                  1. re: invinotheresverde

                                                                                                                                                    Guess I'll stick to my 'straight up' orders.

                                                                                                                                              3. re: c oliver

                                                                                                                                                Year ago, I spent a month in HK for work, in the middle of the summer. It was 100+ degrees and 100% humidty. I'm a Southern girl (one reason I was chosen for this gig) but it was killing even me! I loved the lemon tea served with a little pitcher of simple syrup. But, I needed ICE! So, I learned to ask for lemon tea and a glass of ice. In the hotel, if you asked for ice, they'd bring a literal Dixie cup of crushed ice. I learned to call and ask for a bottle of water and 4-5 ice! I did this every day for a month. In a sense of fun, I decided to test it one day towards the end. I called and asked for water with ice. Sure 'nuf. I got a bottle of water and one Dixie cup of ice. Even after a month, they never figured out I really wanted the ICE! :-)

                                                                                                                                            2. In Bolivia, saltenas, the wonderful legal Bolivian addictive food, is only served in the morning. Bring your own bowl and utensils, if eating in the open air markets, cunupes are a late afternoon smack, but be aware that the tamales are sweet. Lunch is a great deal and, as in much of the Spanish speaking world, the country shuts down for the afternoon siesta and evening dining is late.
                                                                                                                                              Time has a different meaning as well. When invited somewhere, the specified time and expected time have a 2 hour differential. If invited for dinner at 8, you better show up at 10.
                                                                                                                                              In Scandinavia, on the other hand, 8 o'clock means eight on the dot. I've noticed dinner guests walking up and down the street, in front of our house for 10 minutes, only to ring the door bell at 8, precisely.

                                                                                                                                              1. In France, Switzerland, Italy and Germany (the only places I've visited in Europe), the server will absolutely not bring you your bill until you ask for it. I think that it is considered impolite, as in implying by the action of bringing you your bill, "Hey, we want you out of here!" So they just don't do it. It took me a while to figure this out and, so, when I first went to Europe, I was irritated by the fact that I was waiting interminably for the server to bring me my bill. Now, I get it!

                                                                                                                                                2 Replies
                                                                                                                                                1. re: gfr1111

                                                                                                                                                  on the other hand I still find it odd in the US to get the check/bill before we ask for it in chains and diners - we might have wanted something else but the check is at the table so oh well let's forgo dessert, coffee or another drink.

                                                                                                                                                  1. re: gfr1111

                                                                                                                                                    Pretty much the same in the UK. There's never usually a pressure to vacate your table. From time to time, when you make a reservation say for 7.30, you might be told that you'll need to vacate by 9.30. In such places, you might expect a gentle "Would you like another coffee, which I'll serve you in the bar" sort of remark as 9.30 approached.

                                                                                                                                                  2. Speaking a few basic words of the local language always helps - not assuming everyone knows english.

                                                                                                                                                    22 Replies
                                                                                                                                                    1. re: AnchovyBourdain

                                                                                                                                                      Absolutely. Hello, goodbye, please and thank you can carry you far in this world.

                                                                                                                                                      1. re: c oliver

                                                                                                                                                        Some cultures more than others appreciate the effort. At least you tried. We start in their language, I'm doing okay for one or two phrases, and then they ask a question... and I'm lost. At that point, a "no hablo espaniol" feels like a tease. I need a phrase that says, "I've reached my limit. That's all I got."

                                                                                                                                                        1. re: GraydonCarter

                                                                                                                                                          In Spanish and Portuguese, I can say that I only speak a very little :)

                                                                                                                                                          1. re: GraydonCarter

                                                                                                                                                            I remember when I first moved to Spain and had very little Spanish. When I hit that limit I would say something like muy poquito espaniol (very little spanish) which I'm sure is incorrect but they got it and then we'd play pantomime :-)

                                                                                                                                                        2. re: AnchovyBourdain

                                                                                                                                                          Buying a drink for the table next to you can help even more depending on the part of the world and type of restaurant. Its not only not uncommon to speak with others in a restaurant, but seating two couples at a four top or communal tables are much more common elsewhere.

                                                                                                                                                          There is a corollary that speaking in another foreign language than the native one will probably hurt your case. If you are going to speak Spanish to a Brazilian because they might understand you, at least learn enough to say you can't speak Portuguese and ask if they understand English or Spanish. They may be more comfortable with you speaking English. And don't speak Spanish to an Italian waiter, I have seen it happen and its not pretty.

                                                                                                                                                          1. re: itaunas

                                                                                                                                                            Don't speak spanish to a portuguese, i think it's even worse

                                                                                                                                                            1. re: itaunas

                                                                                                                                                              When we were in Rio, we were having internet connection problems and got a man to come by. He was from Africa (can't remember where). He spoke French and Portuguese. I speak no French (well, please, thank you, etc.) and my Portuguese sucks. But I ALWAYS have my dictionary handy. Dealing with food is MUCH easier.

                                                                                                                                                              1. re: itaunas

                                                                                                                                                                In similar vein, Belgium is a bi-lingual country. However, don't go to the Dutch speaking area and try to speak French. For cultural reasons, you're likely to find folk happier speaking to you in English, rather than French (and, indeed, you're likely to find they have a better command of English than French).

                                                                                                                                                                I don't travel to the French speaking areas so don't know if the reverse is true there (I suspect not - as Dutch is not an easy language to learn)

                                                                                                                                                                1. re: Harters

                                                                                                                                                                  Well most of the Flemish innkeepers and restauranteurs speak six languages (either because of the tourists or because of centuries being invaded by foreign armies). I never heard English spoken in Brussels, however.

                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: GraydonCarter

                                                                                                                                                                    When we were in Brugge/Bruge ten or fifteen years ago, loads of people spoke English. No problem whatsoever.

                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: GraydonCarter

                                                                                                                                                                      Brussels is a curiosity in terms of language - being a French speaking city in the middle of Dutch speaking Flanders.

                                                                                                                                                                      I find it interesting how quickly and precisely language changes between the two as you travel through the country. It's a matter visitors benefit from being aware of (by the by, the issue is much discussed in the displays at the museum at the Ijzertoren at Diksmuide - a fascinating insight into Flemish culture and the earlier represssion of the community).

                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: Harters

                                                                                                                                                                        I stopped at at Frites stand in Liege to ask for a bottle of water, and couldn't remember the French word ("l'eau"). I tried "agua", sign language, gestures. Left without water. I should have tried "Perrier" or "Evian".

                                                                                                                                                                    2. re: Harters

                                                                                                                                                                      I have friends who are a mixed Belgian couple - he's Flemish, she's Walloon. Over the years they've evolved a very interesting mix of the two that they speak with each other.

                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: BobB

                                                                                                                                                                        Reminds me of my sister-in-law and her husband. When they met, she didnt speak Spanish and he didnt speak English. They communicated in school French - badly.

                                                                                                                                                                        BiL happily now accepts that English has a much richer tradition of the spoken obscenity than either Castilian or Catalan.

                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: Harters

                                                                                                                                                                          Quite true. But neither compares at all to Russian (says my Russian wife).

                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: BobB

                                                                                                                                                                            Ochen horror show! Wifey and I communicate in downeast Maine Yankee. Wicked good, Chummy. Jeezum crow bub, imagine, goin' to Bangah in the cah. Shorah dinner or boiled dinnah? Ayah, morh beerah.

                                                                                                                                                                      2. re: Harters

                                                                                                                                                                        I've never had any problem speaking French in Flanders - but this was mainly along the coast, where there are a lot of local tourists, including those from francophone areas. And if they had any command of French they'd notice that my accent was from Québec (though I speak very "standard" French) not Wallonia or France.

                                                                                                                                                                        I speak a bit of Dutch from stays in Amsterdam, though it is hard to pick up a lot there as most people speak fluent English. A Flemish colleague working there has been insisting on speaking to me at least a bit in Dutch, and I'm very glad of that.

                                                                                                                                                                        Why is Dutch said to be such a difficult language to learn - the sounds? The grammar does not seem as complicated as German grammar, for example.

                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: lagatta

                                                                                                                                                                          > Why is Dutch said to be such a difficult language to learn?
                                                                                                                                                                          I was surprised to see many words that looked like they had the same root as the English equivalent... seeing as how the English language originated from the dialects brought to Britain by invaders from various parts of what is now northwest Germany and the Netherlands.

                                                                                                                                                                          Once you figure out that boom=tree, then boomgarten=orchard makes sense.

                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: GraydonCarter

                                                                                                                                                                            A few years back, I recall a tv programme in the UK, where someone fluent in Old English was able to converse very well with someone fluent in the dialect from Friesland.

                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: Harters

                                                                                                                                                                              same reason dutch and south aftricans can speak to each other. and im sure yiddish isn't far off. all from middle german i believe

                                                                                                                                                                            2. re: GraydonCarter

                                                                                                                                                                              Exactly. I speak German and find that I can easily read things like menus in Dutch, except for local dialect words. It strikes me as maybe 50% similar to German, 15% like English. The pronunciation is rather different but even so, not that hard to get used to.

                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: GraydonCarter

                                                                                                                                                                                Well, I speak a fair bit of German, so I deduced boomgarten from Baumgarten. There are sound linguistic reasons (Germanic sound shifts) that Dutch seems to fall somewhere between German and English - I find words often seem to start as in German and end as in English - but of course Dutch is its own language, not something "in-between".

                                                                                                                                                                      3. When in East Asia or around East Asians - never leave your chopsticks standing straight up in your rice bowl. It resembles incense sticks at a funeral or an ancestor worship ceremony, hence symbolizing death.

                                                                                                                                                                        2 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: uwsister

                                                                                                                                                                          Yes. I remember when I first met my better half - it took me a while to get him out of the habit of sticking his chopsticks into his bowl.

                                                                                                                                                                        2. In France an entrée is the 1st course and plat principal is the main course or what most Americans refer to as an entrée.

                                                                                                                                                                          12 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: marsprincess

                                                                                                                                                                            Ooh! Also, please don't mistake the word "preservatif" for anything food-related in France! (apologies for no accent marks, can't do it on this keyboard).

                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: yfunk3

                                                                                                                                                                              or preservativo in spain, mexico, or other spanish speaking countries.

                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: soupkitten

                                                                                                                                                                                Ah, now I know what to ask for at the drug store, in two languages!

                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: GraydonCarter

                                                                                                                                                                                  We went to a pharmacy in Rio when my husband wanted decongestants for a cold. The pharmacist just handed us an English/Portugues dictionary even though we knew the word. Certainly the safest when it comes to dispensing meds :)

                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: c oliver

                                                                                                                                                                                    sign language works, I have imitated headlice in France on my daughter's head and got the right stuff (yes yuck but she was 5 years old and it was a continuous problem at her kindergarden), and have 'sneezed numerous times' in Italy to get allergy meds in Italy.
                                                                                                                                                                                    Of course sign language gets us the check, salt and pepper, silverware, more drinks in any language!

                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: smartie

                                                                                                                                                                                      In Rio, I've never seen "pepper" as something ground that started out as peppercorns. If you ask for it, you get a pepper oil. Very tasty but....

                                                                                                                                                                                      One MUST know how to order drinks and food even if not the headlice med :)

                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: c oliver

                                                                                                                                                                                        That is a difference in food culture as opposed to language. The food comes pre-seasoned by the chef meaning salt and pepper (and sometimes not black pepper because there are Brazilians who do not like it), but those who want to add 'spicy' pepper ask for such because the chef generally won't add except in small quantities in stew. But as you say, if you explicitly ask for 'pimenta do reino moido' they might bring it (rainha would be white pepper for soup which is less common), but why bother let them spice it and add hot pepper! Since hair nets are required, hopefully you won't have any problems with piolho.

                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: itaunas

                                                                                                                                                                                          I never even think about it any more. However they fix it is almost always good.

                                                                                                                                                                                      2. re: smartie

                                                                                                                                                                                        Ah, sign language. So if I mention preservatif or preservativo and he shows me the big long pepper mill, I'll know we are headed in the right direction?

                                                                                                                                                                                2. re: yfunk3

                                                                                                                                                                                  LOL - along that same line this summer I visited the town of Condom, France in which the river Baïse flows through. (In French, baise is a slang word for, uhmmm, uh well.... what the Brits refer to as a shag).

                                                                                                                                                                              2. One thing I haven't seen mentioned yet: flatware signaling. It is near-universal in Europe to signal that you're done with your meal by placing your knife and fork on the plate side by side, fork tines up. The precise preferred placement varies somewhat by region, but positioning them somewhere between four o'clock and six o'clock always works. It eliminates the need for the "are you still working on that?" type of comment from the server (I hate that phrase, by the way).

                                                                                                                                                                                This is sometimes taught in certain sectors of US society but is not common enough for it to be effective here, except occasionally in high-end places. But in Europe it's the rule. And interestingly, I've never seen it mentioned in any travel book - it's something I learned from locals.

                                                                                                                                                                                19 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: BobB

                                                                                                                                                                                  I was taught to do that growing up but I'm pretty sure I was never in that "certain sector(s) of US society" :)

                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: c oliver

                                                                                                                                                                                    Every night, flat ware placed at 3 o'clock, tines down.

                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: Passadumkeg

                                                                                                                                                                                      Oops, yes, tines down but more about 4+ :)

                                                                                                                                                                                  2. re: BobB

                                                                                                                                                                                    Interesting. Never occured to me that it wouldnt also be what people in America do. Do you do anything to indicate you've finished or do you just put lay down your cutlery randomly and wait for the server to guess?

                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: Harters

                                                                                                                                                                                      Napkin on plate is a pretty good indicator, or utensils crossed on the plate.

                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: LauraGrace

                                                                                                                                                                                        Napkin on the plate sure indicates that someone is done with the meal, though it's pretty awful.

                                                                                                                                                                                        Like others above, I was taught fork and knife on the plate, side by side, though I was taught to put them at about 2 o'clock. I think most waiters in the U.S. know this one, even if not all diners do.

                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: Cachetes

                                                                                                                                                                                          this confuses me - are you saying you put your knife and fork top right facing the middle of the plate?
                                                                                                                                                                                          In the UK you put them side by side at 6.30 on a clock face.

                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: smartie

                                                                                                                                                                                            Yes, top right with handles pointing out, tines/blades facing in. I'm seeing above that my 'time' may be off.

                                                                                                                                                                                            As for napkin on the plate, I just think it looks really messy at a restaurant. And as someone who cleans up plates from my own evening table at home, I sure don't want my napkins (cloth, not paper) gunked up with whatever is on my family's plates.

                                                                                                                                                                                            I'm not a particularly persnickety person in terms of table etiquette, but the napkin thing kind of gets me.

                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: Cachetes

                                                                                                                                                                                              Well, joints with cloth napkins are not in the recession budget for this 'hound! ;)

                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: thew

                                                                                                                                                                                              It may not be "awful" but it's not correct by normal etiquette. And practically speaking, you can stain a napkin by placing it on a used plate. Our little dinner party last night included juicy red meat, beats, mushrooms sauteed in butter and other things. A napkin left on the plate would have been a mess to get clean.

                                                                                                                                                                                            2. re: Cachetes

                                                                                                                                                                                              " I think most waiters in the U.S. know this one, even if not all diners do."

                                                                                                                                                                                              Actually, I think this is largely lost knowledge in the US, among both wait staff and diners.

                                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: Cachetes

                                                                                                                                                                                                  Nope, knife & fork at 2 o'clock, with tines down, the main course is done. If the napkin is on the table (never the plate, just the table) it means no coffee or dessert, please bring the check (Americans are always in a rush.)

                                                                                                                                                                                                  If napkin is still on lap with silverware down, it means time for coffee and maybe dessert.

                                                                                                                                                                                          2. re: Harters

                                                                                                                                                                                            I was taught you should put them down side by side and diagonally, with the tines near 10:00 and the handles near 4:00. I've noticed I'm usually the only one at the table doing this (I guess not everyone had a home ec teacher who taught etiquette in middle school?), and unless it's a fancy restaurant the servers rarely pick up on the cue.

                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: Harters

                                                                                                                                                                                              That's the problem, there is no standard signal. Some people put their napkin on the plate as mentioned (I agree this is nasty if it's a cloth napkin, but I don't find it offensive if it's paper), or napkin beside the plate (except that some people don't put paper napkins on their lap in the first place, especially small ones), or pushing the plate away from oneself.

                                                                                                                                                                                              So usually it just comes down to the server asking you in one way or another if you're finished. Which they will often do even if you've cleaned every morsel of food off your plate!

                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: Harters

                                                                                                                                                                                                I've begun to save my fork at many establishments because there's a 50-50 chance that the waitstaff will remember to bring a dessert fork with dessert. Of course, that doesn't always work, because while the waiter may not be diligent, the bus boy will still clear the table entirely.

                                                                                                                                                                                                Nothing like sitting there with the Tirimusu and espresso, looking for someone to bring me a fork.

                                                                                                                                                                                            2. So I am headed to China in February with my SO and his family. What do I need to know?

                                                                                                                                                                                              1 Reply
                                                                                                                                                                                              1. All this discussion on water and ice and we haven't discussed the one surprise I found in Europe:

                                                                                                                                                                                                If you ask for a bottle of water, specify Flat water, otherwise you'll get Sparkling. Sometimes they will ask, usually they won't. I kept forgetting and learned by repetition.

                                                                                                                                                                                                3 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: GraydonCarter

                                                                                                                                                                                                  I think that may depend on where in Europe you are. In Britain, it would be normal to be asked if you wanted still or sparkling. Similarly in Spain, you'd usually be asked if you wanted con or sin gas.

                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: Harters

                                                                                                                                                                                                    I agree. I've not traveled everywhere (yet) but they've always asked. But still good to go ahead and say up front.

                                                                                                                                                                                                  2. re: GraydonCarter

                                                                                                                                                                                                    I also learned to read labels. You go into a petrol station convenience shop to pick up a bottle of water, they have both types with nearly identical labels.

                                                                                                                                                                                                  3. Folks, just a quick request that you keep your tips food-related, rather than general travel info related to things like rental cars.