Traveling from Western Europe across to the East has taught me way more than anything I've learnt in a book. I studied a Bachelor of Arts at university with a history major for three years, but in a year abroad my world has been filled with a whole different type of knowledge. Part of the experience of traveling is learning new customs and traditions from difference places. As I worked my way from an Irish winter to a Croatian summer, it became rapidly apparent that each country is entirely culturally unique. It can be overwhelming to realize that while it only takes an hour to fly from one country to another, the culture changes so drastically across the border. But I allowed myself to be culturally challenged and fantastically fascinated by these changes as I moved from west to east across the vast continent of Europe. I jotted down some of the quirky and interesting cultural changes I noticed in certain countries through my travels and wanted to share them here.
The weather is always a talking point. You can expect that it is going to rain in Ireland, even in the summer. It is best to always be prepared for the rain even if your phone weather app tells you it is going to be clear that day. However, whether it is raining, sunny, windy, or anything else, the Irish will typically describe the weather outside as ‘mild’. Prepare to hear that word used a lot!
What’s the craic? An odd Irish expression, this is commonly used to describe fun or good times. You can hear the word ‘craic’ used in many different contexts by the Irish, such as ‘did you have some good craic?’ or ‘just for the craic’. No one really knows what it means or how it came about, but everyone uses it. Just always make sure you say that the craic is good!
Get ready to chat, chat, and chat some more. The Irish are known for the enthusiastic conversational abilities. They simply love a good old chat. When you meet an Irish person, probably in a bar over a pint of Guinness, get ready for a simple introduction to turn into a long conversation. Just go with the flow and enjoy listening to that lyrical Irish accent – because they love using it!
Bisoux and Bonne Journée. The French are very into greetings and goodbyes. It is something important to their culture. Upon meeting and greeting someone in France, the bisoux, an exchange of kisses on the cheek, is something to be expected. Upon leaving a shop, the shopkeeper will typically wish you a good day by saying ‘bonne journée’. The appropriate reply is something along the lines of ‘vous aussi’, which means you as well.
Dessert takes a while. This is one of those French food things where every meal will go on for as long as possible. After dinner, a dairy product such as cheese or fromage blanc, or Greek yogurt, will be served. Try not to eat too much, because there will likely be a sweet pastry and fruit to follow!
Make the most of the lunch hour. In France, a lunch break is a lot more than one hour. Most shops and businesses take a lunch break between 12pm-2pm. This means that you won’t be getting much shopping done. So plan accordingly and join in the rest period when it happens!
Enjoy a drink but pay to sit. Perhaps one of the most annoying things about being a tourist in Italy is getting charged to sit when you want a coffee. This is something to keep an eye out for as the price of a gelato will change drastically if you want to sit down and eat it. The key is to pick a really nice café and make the most of the time you sit there to get your moneys’ worth.
Talk with your hands. Italians are famous for being animated and gestural. This can be amusing in conversation and something to try out while you are in Italy. You might be surprised just how much more interesting a conversation can become when you throw in some hand gestures to prove your point.
There is a time and place for a cappuccino. In Italy, the cappuccino, a shot of espresso infused with milk and foam, should only be drunk in the morning. It isn’t drunk after lunch and never after dinner. Rather it is a morning drink because it is considered a meal in itself, served with a brioche of course.
Be welcomed with a shot. If you are invited in to a Croats house, whether by friendship or renting an apartment, you can expect a shot of rakjia to welcome you in. This is a type of liquor that is typically homemade and comes in a variety of flavours, from peach schnaps to blackberry. Whatever is put in that shot glass in front of you; prepare to down it so you don’t offend the host.
Dry the laundry outside. It is very typical for clothes to be drying outside in Croatia. The warm climate makes it easy for clothes to air dry quickly. This is a very Mediterranean cultural thing to do and the fresh and slightly salted air gives the clothes a unique smell.
Respect the war. The recent wars for independence that took place across the Balkans in the 1990s are still very real memories in Croatia. On the streets there are multiple plaques, spray paint graffiti, and other images dedicated to the war. Some of these memorials celebrate those who Croatia perceives as war heroes, but the international community perceive as war criminals. While in Croatia, it is best to respect the dedications for what they are.
Prepare to hear to the call to prayer. Turkey is majority Islamic society which means that there is a call to prayer 5 times a day. This is a loud calling that rings across each city, calling Muslims to the mosque to pray. The call to prayer happens at dawn, noon, afternoon, sunset, and evening.
Get ready to fill your belly. Dining is a huge deal in Turkish culture and the meal portions reflect this. Dinner is always accompanied by alcohol, normally raky, which is a type of homemade liqueur. The main course is always meat or fish based, with bread or salad on the side. Eat it slowly so you don’t fill up straight away!
Coffee time is all the time. Turkey is famous for its tea flavours and delicious coffee for a reason and the culture here wants to make sure you try it at any chance you get. Turkish tea or coffee is always served after a meal, sometimes with pastries. Coffee should be sipped and the tastes should be enjoyed slowly.