Someone once said, “The best things in life are free.” Now, when they said that, they probably were not referring to food samples in Sam’s Club or breadsticks in Olive Garden. Unlimited refills on the bread basket or tap water are things we take for granted in the United States. You do not always get that luxury outside of the country. One thing that I learned during my travels, as opposed to before my journey, was that what is free in the States might not be in Europe.
Tap water and refills. I have gotten frustrated at times when it came to ordering tap water at a restaurant. Sometimes, when I would order tap water, the waiter or waitress would tell me that they did not have it. Of course they have tap water. If they have a faucet then they have to have tap water (especially if the water is drinkable in the city that you are visiting). Sometimes you will run into a situation where a restaurant just wants your money and will make you pay for bottled water because “that is all they have”. Also, it is not as common to order a fountain drink and get free refills. Every time I have ordered soda, it came in a small bottle. Refills were added to the bill.
Bread. When a restaurant puts bread on your table without you ordering it, do not pick it up and eat it right away. It does not cost a lot of extra money, but you will find that an extra charge was added to your bill. If a bread basket is put on your table and one person grabs one of the rolls but no one else does, you will still get charged. Not all places in Europe do this. I mostly experienced it in Spain. My friends and I learned to ask before diving into the bread. However, in Italy my roommate and I got weird looks from our waitress when we asked if the bread on our table was free. If you want to avoid the extra charge, make sure to ask your server about the bread. This is not Red Lobster or Texas Roadhouse.
Samples. I remember going shopping with my family in Sam’s Club on a given Sunday afternoon after church. In the food section of the store, there would be vendors lined up in front of each aisle with various samples of food, drinks, and snacks. I remember trying the samples as a kid and even getting filled up on them after tasting them all. I did not see much of this in Europe. I actually did not even see a Sam’s Club equivalent over in Spain and France. I think there were about two occasions where I tried samples. One was in a grocery store and the other was in a store that sold touristy merchandise of Nantes.
Whether you are just visiting Europe or staying for a significant length of time, it is important to remember that Europe is not the United States. There may not be a huge culture shock, but you cannot expect everything to be like it is back home.