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Funny Mistakes US and Euro Travelers Make in Restaurants

Updated on February 25, 2015
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Starlight is an evil genius whose neither evil nor dominating the world. But he's a good Dad who supports his family working from home.

Water is water. Easy enough, right? Nope. Apparently it is not that easy for the uninitiated international traveller's first visit to the continent.

That's Doctor Pepper to you, Pibb, - I didn't spend years in graduate school to bust caps being called "Mister", thank you very much.

Compared to Mr. Pibb, this "American Champagne" tastes about the same. It costs more, because somebody has to pay for Pepper's student loan (P.h.d. in Pop Science).
Compared to Mr. Pibb, this "American Champagne" tastes about the same. It costs more, because somebody has to pay for Pepper's student loan (P.h.d. in Pop Science). | Source

Beverage Leveraging Like a Boss

If you hail from the old-country, that continent without drinking fountains, where everything gets recycled, and proficiency in the Queen's English is paramount, you probably have little about which to worry. Perhaps you may come across a bit pedantic and proper, but your accent will be like a special power you can use for seduction and even escape from trouble. First timers in the USA may have trouble ordering favorites such as half water / fruit juice (without ubiquitous ice) in a real glass made of, well glass (that would get used 1000 times before it, too, would be recycled). No, we don't do it like that. You'll get a wax paper cup with ice and some sugary, caffeinated, artificially colored and flavored, carbonated drink. Or beer. American beer might be the same sans ice. So you'll order lots of Heinecken and Pinot Noir. No wonder everyone thinks you always drink beer and wine with meals. It's what you'll order after giving up trying to describe what you really want. Or you could do it like this:

Do you have apple juice? (yes or no but we have blah blah blah) Ok, sounds great, I'll have that with no ice. Also, could you blend the juice with water fifty / fifty, do you guys do that here? Awesome.

Just be sure there isn't a customer-accessible fountain, you'll look like an idiot asking them to do what you are expected to do yourself- all they would do is stare at you and give you an empty cup after all.

If you are instead like me, a red-blooded "Ahmurican" accustomed to ice-cold fountains, you shan't expect to be given disposable cups, lids, and straws even if you would choose a fast self-service vendor. In Europe, you'll find it hard to blend in, hard to use their language when they're accustomed already to English, and even harder to snag an ice-cold cup of water without slinging a few Euros. You may give up trying and just grab a Soda Pop from a familiar vending machine that isn't condescending. No wonder they think all you ever drink is Dr. Pepper. Or you could master the art of ordering water without paying too much:

Exercise the patience required to sit at a cafe, waiting for servers to show up with drinking glasses, and asking in their language what you want. Unless you are near-native fluency, you might as well respond in their language initially, and expect them to switch to English. Don't be offended, most Americans suck at foreign languages. Let them take the menu away and bring an English one, and if you want a glass of ice water, ask for plain water or "flat water" and be sure to mention you want ice, if they have it. They'll want to sell you bottled water but you don't have to get it unless it is an upscale place, where they'll look around the table for the thirsty dog you brought with you. (Yes, they sometimes bring dogs into upscale street cafes).


Woo-tah? Wadder?

Europeans stumble as thirst-quenching quest finally quells.

  • Water is pronounced woo-tah in the English classrooms of every quaint villiage school in the old country, but not so here in Uh-merr-ika. It's WADDER.
  • "Wadder" comes in a paper cup with ice unless you ask for "no ice".
  • Asking for a "cup-uh-wadder" is usually complimentary (free!) or super cheap just to pay for the cup (25 or 50 cents).
  • A "bottle-uh-wadder" is going to cost "a couple-uh bucks" and not come with a cup nor any ice. It may or may not be cold. It never has carbonation.
  • Oh yeah, if you want carbonated plain water, nowadays you may be in luck depending where you go. If it's self-service, ask for "just a cup-uh-wadder, please". Take the cup to the soda fountain, and there's always an extra little tab to dispense plain water beside the ubiquitous non-carbonated sugary-sweet-artificially colored and flavored drink. Sometimes there will be another one that dispenses plain carbonated water used to mix with the sickly-sweet syrups to make the "pop" (midwestern dialect) or "soda" (coastal and southern dialects).
  • If you want ice, get the ice FIRST. If you've got liquid in the cup, IT'S TOO LATE, DON'T GET ICE, IT COMES OUT FAST AND FURIOUS. I've seen grown-ups laughed at by children as they splash their drink all over themselves by an avalanch from the ice machine. You push the cup in, and it rumbles, they look confused, and suddenly FWOOSH! I know I've seen these machines in Europe, they work about the same, but for some reason this keeps happening and it's about the funniest thing
  • The paper cup has a life expectancy of about two hours before it starts to leak all over next to your laptop or whatever. The best cups can survive 48 hours, but the water tastes of wax, glue, and whatever else absorbed into it. I know, I've drank it many times in desperate situations (now I keep bottled water in my car).
  • You are expected to return your tray and dump everything - cup, straws, wrappers, uneaten food and even unfinished huge paper cups full of ice and liquid. Yes, heavy, liquid and ice is commonly dumped in the same plastic bag-lined trash bin as everything else.
  • Unless you take your drink with you out the door. In Europe it would be stealing, but in America it's OK to top it off at the soda fountain just before you leave the restaurant.
  • If you don't take it with you because you don't want Pepsi leaking all over your colleague's car in two hours, and you don't want to dump it in the trash because that's stupid, then do what I do. I take the cup outside, and dump it in the grass where nobody walks. Then I pitch the empty cup in the trash. You get weird looks but I do it anyway to change the culture. You can't always dump it in the bottom of the fountain machine, they don't always have drains, some have pans that have to be emptied out by an angry worker who may think you're being a jerk!

The Ultimate "Water Table" for the Hydrologically Curious

Type of Water
Source
Ingredients (besides just H2O)
How used in USA
How used in EU
Distilled water.
Absolute Purity from evaporation or other methods
Zero - has no minerals or salts (sodium)
Used for solutions and dilution
Similar purposes.
Filtered, bottled
City Water with added filtration
Trace minerals
Drinking, watering plants.
Primary drinking water.
Spring Water
Bottled from source
Natural minerals
Drinking water
Similar.
Hard Water
resevoir, deep well "ground water
Natural or added minerals (hard water)
Drinking, watering plants.
Drinking water for pet dogs.
Soft Water
Water softener
Natural or added minerals (hard water)
Cleaning, hot water
Similar
City Water
Tap / Faucet, Drinking Fountain (Pipes). From
Fluoride (city water only), trace chemicals and medicines,
Primary drinking water served cold / with ice
For pets even though safe for people.
Carbonated fountain
Artificially carbonated tap water.
CO2 and trace minerals (filtered, carbonated water)
For Soda Pop
Drinking water (pervasive)
Carbonated water
Artificially carbonated bottled water.
CO2 and trace minerals after filtration
Drinking (very rarely)
Drinking water (pervasive)
Selzer Water
Inexpensive version of mineral water
CO2 with added minerals but not salts (low sodium)
By bartenders for mixing. For Drinking (rarely)
Drinking water (pervasive)
Mineral water
Naturally carbonated spring water
Natural CO2, salts, minerals (spring source)
Drinking (very rarely)
Drinking water (pervasive)
Sparkling water
Mineral, spring, or vitamin water with carbonation.
CO2, possibly some added minerals, artificial or natural flavoring, and sweeteners (stevia, splenda, or aspartame)
Healthy alternative to soda pop or to lose weight
By Adults (instead of soda pop)
Soda Water
Selzer water with sport-drink electrolytes
CO2, added minerals and "electrolytes" (mineral salts)
Mixed drinks mainly, becoming pervasive for drinking.
By bartenders for mixing. For Drinking (rarely)
Club Soda
Low-acid version of soda water
CO2, potassium bicarbonate and/or potassium sulfate
Certain mixed drinks, becoming pervasive for drinking
Mostly just for mixing drinks
Tonic Water
Bitter version of club soda for mixed drinks
CO2 from artificial carbonation, quinine, added minerals.
Certain mixed drinks (gin)
Similar
Vitamin (fortified) Water
Flat bottled water with additives
added minerals, vitamins, tea, artificial or natural flavoring, and sweeteners (stevia, splenda, or aspartame)
Drinking water (pervasive)
Rarely for drinking.
Arranged generally from top (pure H2O) down by increased ingredients and/or processes.

Ponce-de-Leon's Dream Fountain... of Sweet Caffeine (Not Youth)

In the US, you get unlimited refills, and refilling just before leaving with your full cup is not considered thievery!
In the US, you get unlimited refills, and refilling just before leaving with your full cup is not considered thievery!

How it Goes Down for the Unprepared

Waitress laughs as an embarrassed and confused foreigner fails his attempt at ordering a water, pondering his inadequate skill after so many expensive language classes.
Waitress laughs as an embarrassed and confused foreigner fails his attempt at ordering a water, pondering his inadequate skill after so many expensive language classes.
The thirsty, jet-lagged traveler gives up and uses the universally understood word BEER to maintain some dignity.
The thirsty, jet-lagged traveler gives up and uses the universally understood word BEER to maintain some dignity.
The server feels sorry for him and asks the local (she can tell) what he really wants, then she leaves to give him time, as he flounders in frustration.
The server feels sorry for him and asks the local (she can tell) what he really wants, then she leaves to give him time, as he flounders in frustration.
Then she goes back with the other servers and laughs at the guy who looks smart but sounds retarded.
Then she goes back with the other servers and laughs at the guy who looks smart but sounds retarded.
Sometimes a more mature server will come by and cheer the guy up by asking him basic questions he can handle, which he does. In the USA she'll LOVE his accent. In the EU she's practicing her American dialect comprehension.
Sometimes a more mature server will come by and cheer the guy up by asking him basic questions he can handle, which he does. In the USA she'll LOVE his accent. In the EU she's practicing her American dialect comprehension.

I love love love this scene for so many reasons.

8 Years of Language Class? LOL, Listen up and Learn.

They don't teach "je'eat?" in English class. I would teach it, though.

When a Louisiana-southern dude asks you if you did or did not place your order, will you understand "ju-or dah?":

  • Yall set? (Sir, if your order has been taken without error, do please step aside, for the gentleman next in line)
  • Ja-still workin' on 'at? (Give me your plate, order more food, or pay up and move along.)
  • Jeet 'nuff? (Order more, or double the tip if you're taking up my table to chat)
  • You wannithing else? (Did you not already consume a satisfactory portion from the meal this evening to leave or are you staying because you desire some dessert?)
  • No matter the answer- expect this if you remain seated or don't ask for the check: Right! Ahbe rat be-yack witta dessert tray (I'm taking your plate and you're still here, so I'll show you a tray of sample cakes to try to upsell you our high-calorie desserts!)


Choose your flavor.

When in doubt just use your own language, even though you may come off as a snobby prick. Of all the outcomes, being cast as a snobby, uppity, rude, narcissist is very much the best option with the most upside potential, so let the condescension flow. The French are very good at this. You don't want to lay bare your linguistic limitations right off the bat. Really, it's better to seem rude while confidently speaking effortlessly using a language you know.

Get a feel for a new language before trying too hard. Stick to short phrases you've heard recently from live broadcasts - or better yet on the this very trip. Avoid long sentences and outdated phrases. Proper grammar, being technically right, may be dead wrong. You'll befuddle the hoi-polloi sounding like a mad scientist using words only robots and textbook translation programs would understand.

I'm warning you, expect to receive confused giggles followed by whispering side conversations from smiling faces whose eyes shift to you with ridicule. Don't be upset, you're soft target since you sound intelligent and stupid at the same time.

I speak Ennnnnglish, I learned it from a boook.

The Coffee Conundrum

When I first traveled abroad in the 90's (exchange student, Germany, one whole year) I was just starting to drink coffee as a teenager. Here in the USA we've come a long way thanks to Starbucks when it comes to coffee sophistication. We're even mastering a fine art of lingo when ordering, not many of us outside of Seattle could lay it down like Niles Crane of the show "Fraiser" when ordering his grande-double shot-half caff.-vanilla-skim-latte. He knew not to mention cinnamon, because you do that yourself at the little table over there to which you move your derriere the moment you pay for your order and clearly state your first name, for which you keep an ear open to retrieve your, um, coffee, when it's ready.

OK, the local diner doesn't do it that way. Many chains still offer your basic coffee - regular or decaff cream, sugar, or just black.

  • Keep in mind, we use the term "cream" loosley- any whitish liquid or powder you get next to your coffee is going to be your "cream".
  • This white liquid or powder could be milk, actual cream "half & half" which is milk with 50% milkfat.
  • decaffinated=no caffeine=hot brown liquid = waste of time

So it's funny at these places when they order coffee and ask for "milk with fat."

If you're not sure, then you sound stupid.

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  • TolovajWordsmith profile image

    Tolovaj Publishing House 2 years ago from Ljubljana

    After so many problems with water it is pretty obvious why so many people prefer beer - good point. I have also noticed how useless are classes of foreign languages for so many people. It seems some are organized just to provide papers, which, on the other hand are the base for better payment even if the language is never really used.

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