10 Moments of Culture Shock in Europe as a Filipino

Traveling to an unfamiliar place is always full of surprises. Traveling takes you out of your comfort zone and urges you to leap unto the unknown. That’s why traveling can be so liberating and beautiful. Seeing the world gives you a whole change of perspective. The customs and beliefs you’ve learned since you were young suddenly get challenged when in a strange and new place.

Europe has always been a place of wonder and romance for me–a place from dreams of a little child. I thought I’ve read enough books seen enough Downton Abbey to prepare myself on what Europe is like. But, just like marriage, you can never be fully prepared for what’s to come.

Here are 10 moments of culture shock you’ll likely experience as a Filipino traveler!

1.  Sparkling Water

The first culture shock I experienced was in Venice after a long-haul flight & three stopovers from the Philippines. Thirsty and famished, my family and I found the first restaurant we could find in Venice. I ordered one bottle of water, and when it arrived I drank it up immediately, only to spit it out in shock because it tasted like gas.

People, why do you drink this.

In Europe, they serve two types of water but Filipinos are only used to drinking the still water kind.In some other areas, they serve two types of iced tea too–the still and carbonated kind. So be specific if you want your drinks without the bubbles.

2. You have to do a lot of walking.

You’ll get to do a lot of walking. A lot. One time, I was told we were going to visit a friend’s place and not to worry because it’s ‘just a five-minute walk away’. To me, a ‘five-minute walk’ meant walking to the next block. To them, it means a 1-km walk. I wasn’t prepared with layers so was not happy freezing to death.

Lovely view, but it’s been a long day!

The Philippines does not have the ideal setting to nurture the pedestrian culture. Blame it on a combination of climate, politics, urban planningand discipline (or lack thereof), but we grew up in a car-priority society. To get from point A to point B, we mostly ride the jeepney or taxi, we drive our cars (and get our licenses without taking any driver’s test). The option to walk is very limited in the Philippines, mainly because our cities are built to discourage walking. There are no safe place for pedestrians on the road, and walkers have to run for their lives even when walking on pedestrian lanes. Doctors say that walking is good for the heart, but how can we eliminate the risk of dying every time– either by getting run over or developing a pollution-causing terminal illness?

3. Sorry, we’re closing.

While in Europe, I’ve been refused by shops a number of times because they were going to close in a few minutes. I was appalled at first (the entrepreneur in me wanted to scream: but don’t you want my money?!?!). 

We are so used to the 24-hour convenience of Asia that the idea early closing times is distressing. What if I crave for 7-Eleven ice cream or Korean instant noodles in the middle of the night? What if I suddenly want to work out at Citigym Waterfront because I feel fat at 3am? In Cebu, many shops, restaurants and even gyms are open 24/7. In Europe, shops close early at around 5pm-7pm.

Many shops close on Sundays and holidays (museums close on Mondays, by the way). On some occasions, you will find your favorite store suddenly closed for the whole summer because the storekeeper is on vacation. Or closed for winter because no one really wants to work on winter. Did I mention that they don’t have 24 hour drive-thru? Nor a pizza delivery service? Tsk.

4. Don’t they feel just a little bit claustrophobic?

For such tall people, the Europeans seem to like everything tiny and cramped. All over Europe everything feels like it’s specifically Asian-tailored–their hotel rooms, wardrobes, toilets, cars… While I don’t mind, being Asian and all. But I wonder, If I’m a six-foot-tall European, I would probably feel just a little claustrophobic.

I wish Europeans would better take care of their cars though. Drivers would bump on to other people’s cars just to squeeze in a tiny parking space. But just as one Italian friend put it: ‘what’s the use of the bumper but to bump on it?’

5. Thinking about Clothes.

Dressing in the Philippines is relatively easy. You put on a shirt, shorts or jeans, snickers (slippers if you’re feeling more casual), and you’re good to go. Some people choose to suffer for fashion and put on boots and suits in this sweltering 30-degree weather. Dressing up in a place with four seasons is fun at first. Later on, it gets tedious. Dressing up takes at least 30 minutes for me on winter. I hate the fact that I have to wear five layers of clothing–and make sure all the clothes match together. I hate the fact that it adds 5kg to my weight. I hate that I couldn’t look cute if I wanted to. Nor the fact that clothes and shoes I got for UK would be impossible for me to use when I’m back in the Philippines.

5.1 …or the lack thereof.

I’ve seen a lot foreigners in Philippine beaches and it’s easy to tell which one’s American and which one’s European–their swimwear. Americans settle for the long swim shorts that Filipinos wear too. Again, Europeans seem to like everything teeny-weeny. (If I were male, I’d probably feel claustrophobic inside those Speedos too)

Nude beaches are all the range in Europe. They are laissez-faire when it comes to public display of personal goods. However,  if you’re a little squeamish about nudity, do research on which beaches are ‘family-friendly’. All other beaches that aren’t family-friendly will most probably give you some degrees of a good boob show. I’ve been to a cruise ship in the Mediterranean Sea and have seen women go topless by the pool or on beaches in Greece. I have no problem with that but… based on my experience, most women who don’t go topless, should. Most women who go topless–really shouldn’t. I’m talking about you, Grandma.

6. Feels like you’re back in the past

It still amazes me how people in Europe still prefer to read a book in the subway, or sketch outdoors in the park, or actually talk to people and make actual eye contact. In cafes you’re forced to talk to your acquaintances because wi-fi is mostly not available (or horrible).

Sketching new ideas

I remember coming back to Hong Kong from London and the moment I stepped out of the airport– each face is glued to their respective screens–and I’m suddenly reminded that I’m back in Asia. Technology hasn’t escaped Europe though, and you’ll find some people in their mobile phones. They aren’t as selfie-crazed. The kids still prefer to play in parks rather than stare down at tablets all the time.

I’m trying to take a selfie as subtle as possible because I don’t want to embarrass myself

7. Nothing ever costs like peanuts.

I remember exchanging my months’ worth of savings to euros–a thick wad of peso bills changed into five notes in the euro currency. Five notes–all my months’ salary worth and my confidence down the drain. Coming from a third world country, I can’t help but convert everything to local currency. Shopping in Europe means I would mentally convert it in peso and think really hard if I really need it. Who wouldn’t feel bad if a cup of nuts in the UK would be able to be feed you lunch and dinner in the Philippines?

Smile and pretend you didn’t regret buying this, Rachel…

8. PDA

Everywhere in Europe, especially Paris, I am forced to watch soft core porn–whether it’s on the romantic lock bridge by the river Seine or while queuing up for a crepe.

Even during the Je Suis Charlie rally.

Yes, even during the Je Suis Charlie rally.

9. European smiles take a bit of effort.

Filipinos are generally cheerful– we love to laugh and smile. We give it openly and freely. We laugh when we’re happy, excited, embarrassed or even when we’re a little annoyed. In fact, even when I’m chatting with friends, if I don’t put a ‘hahaha’ at the end of every sentence they would think something’s wrong with me. That’s how we take our jovial attitude seriously.

Europeans look more stern and very serious. They keep a straight face when telling a joke. I thought at first that it probably hurts for them to move their zygomaticus major muscle. Or,maybe they have poor dental care. hehe. Kidding aside, Europeans aren’t really aloof or miserable, as is the common misconception– but they just don’t like to smile without reason. They are generally more reserved and somber compared to Americans or Filipinos.

10. The churches are empty.

I come from a country where it’s dominantly Catholic, people are very religious, and the church is still relatively powerful when it came to people’s and government’s decisions. Most Filipinos from middle to upper class studied in a Catholic institution where we were taught to memorize our prayers and observe religious practices strictly. Going to church every Sunday is part of every Filipino’s lives. So to get to Europe and to see all these beautiful churches and cathedrals–and to find their Sunday service almost empty–feels a bit weird. Most of Europe’s churches now work as museums for tourists to gawk at. While some churches still hold Sunday mass, attendees are sparse and few. Even the shoddiest chapel in a Philippine barangay get more attendees–and observers are willing to pack in like sardines just to observe mass.

Beautiful Florence Cathedral
Sunday Mass in Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris

What are your personal moments of culture shock in Europe, or Asia, or other parts of the world? Share your own experiences in the comment box and let me know!

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39 thoughts on “10 Moments of Culture Shock in Europe as a Filipino”

  1. I am amazed by the fact that you were able to take a photo of yourself with the Mona Lisa….with no other person in sight. Although I think some of your points not only apply in Europe, but to other continents as well. Cool article and great photography though! 🙂

    1. This is a bit coincidental and rare–but I came to Paris on the day of the Je Suis Charlie Shooting! People were mostly scared to go out during that time because of the unrest. That’s why most of my pictures of Paris are empty–we even had the Eiffel Tower all to ourselves!

  2. Typical French breakfast does not include any meat — just bread, croissants, jam, and eggs. Very few hotels serve more than bread and jam. Of the 5 hotels I’ve stayed in France, I think only the Raddison served a variety of breakfast food other than bread and jam. And my French friends who haven’t been to the Philippines are somewhat amused that we eat meat (tocino, longganisa, etc.) for breakfast.

    1. That’s an interesting insight! I had not noticed that, although I am also not fond of meat for breakfast(except bacon). It’s amazing how our trips have our own personal learnings and reflections 🙂

  3. I really enjoyed reading this post, ms rachel.
    I’ve been to Europe (particularly in Netherlands and Belgium) almost three years ago and experienced the same things.
    We walked a lot, too. But compared to our Europeans counterpart, we walked really slow and they complained about it.
    We tried getting used to not having rice for a meal. When we met some Filipinos who served us Filipino food with rice, we literally cried tears of joy. It’s really hard to let go of rice.
    In belgium, there was this custom called apertif wherein they serve us some alcoholic beverage before the meal and my friend who wasn’t used to alcohol got tipsy right before dinner.

    1. It’s nice to reminisce about trips and letting go of those fond memories by immortalizing them through writing :)) thanks lest. Update yours too, I always wanted to do trekking kuyog Nila zev

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  5. So entertaining. I really laughed at the soft core porn. Europeans are way more comfortable in their sexuality. I can’t say I;ve experienced culture shock but when I moved to different states within my country, the people tended to be very different and it took adjustments for sure.

  6. Wow, you have been to Greece! Is that Santorini? My husband is in Mykonos and will be visiting Santorini on the ist of June. I would really love to visit this place someday. No matter how claustrophobic the streets may seem to be. I just love the blue and white hues of the place.

  7. “Soft core porn” XD Man, this is a really funny read.. and yet, when I really think about it, I’m pretty sure I can adapt to everything you had said- especially about the walking part as I walk here in manila for hours on end.. All but one quirk of europe- not eating rice. Yeah, I love pasta and other European food, but I am still a pinoy at heart and I can’t live knowing I’ll have to give up rice for a few days at most. XD

  8. That sparkling water though! And that a cup of nuts could already be your lunch and dinner, I might as well go on a diet if I’ll ever be in Europe! The adventurous gene is really strong with you. 🙂

  9. Ok i find this post thoroughly entertaining. Maybe totally relate. I don’t understand why shops close early in other places too we have malls open until midnight so this a total shocker! And dear lord- the walking! Sensible albeit fugly shoes is definitely the way to go! I cracked up when I saw that portion on PDA’s. I have catholic school manang tendencies so I can’t help but feel uncomortable when I see people going at it in the streets. Hahaha.

  10. “Europe has always been a place of wonder and romance for me–a place from dreams of a little child.” I feel the same way too that’s why I told Lloyd that he should include the Europe tour expense for our wedding budget. Hahaha! Anyway, as I still haven’t been to Europe yet, I find this post helpful. I especially liked the sparkling water. I don’t drink any carbonated drinks so, at least, I know now. The rest I’ve pretty much experienced it in other countries. I’ve also grown accustomed to the “5 minutes walk.” I’ve also been victimized with the statement before. Also, I hate winter clothing. I’m having my bedroom renovated now since my clothes don’t fit anymore. I couldn’t just throw away those winter clothing since it might still be needed in the future. I don’t like the feeling of wearing bulky clothes. I also feel more restrained. Anyway, thanks for sharing.

  11. “Europe has always been a place of wonder and romance for me–a place from dreams of a little child.” I feel the same way too that’s why I told Lloyd that he should include the Europe tour expense for our wedding budget. Hahaha! Anyway, as I still haven’t been to Europe yet, I find this post helpful. I especially liked the sparkling water. I don’t drink any carbonated drinks so, at least, I know now. The rest I’ve pretty much experienced it in other countries. I’ve also grown accustomed to the “5 minutes walk.” I’ve also been victimized with the statement before. Also, I hate winter clothing. I’m having my bedroom renovated now since my clothes don’t fit anymore. I couldn’t just throw away those winter clothing since it might still be needed in the future. I don’t like the feeling of wearing bulky clothes. I also feel more restrained. Anyway, thanks for sharing.

  12. I was reading each of the ten and except for the non-existent swim wear, I was really surprised at all others. It is so different from here… Europe is not only half a world away, so is the culture.

  13. Thanks for sharing some of the differences. I would like more things to be open 24 hours around here. That must be nice. I like that your culture is generally cheerful, too. God bless! 🙂

  14. Seriously, I enjoyed reading this article and now I already have an idea on what to expect in Europe. I can’t wait for the day to come to visit that contentment. I’ll think I’ll enjoy the Beach party hahaha 🙂

  15. what really intrigues me the most are the empty churches.. it’s really surprising considering that some of the most beautiful churches in the world can be found in Europe…
    Visiting Europe has always been on top of my bucketlist… I’m not sure if it’s going to happen but I always imagine myself exploring this beautiful continent… it has so many great wonders to offer

  16. i am shocked to know that chapels look empty. but like i see here, we are just not used to their culture. Filipinos are generally religious. All of those written here are very informative. i would be shocked too if I am in Europe. thanks!

  17. I’ve never been to Europe so I find these informative. I don’t like carbonated drinks so I would be spitting that soda water out too. It’s good that people there are not glued to technology as we are here. It’s doing us more harm than good, I think. I always add haha to my messages too just to be on the lighter side.

  18. I nod in most of the points and laugh on the first one. Gosh, sparkling water still amuse me since my first step here in Europe in 2014. Haha. We, filipinos, should get some good insights from these things, escpecially the walking and maintaining the museum. Though the walking part is hard to achieve as of the moment

  19. Mirriam (Mirriam Dictionary)

    You are absolutely right. traveling can be so liberating and beautiful. I haven’t been to Europe yet but it’s been one of my dreams since childhood. When I travel, I try to acquire the culture as much as I can. These 10 points will surely help me imbibe the Euro culture easier. Thanks, Rachel! <3

  20. Ahhhhh I love this blog post about culture shock in Europe. Being able to just go there and experience everything was such a blessing! I can totally relate when you converted your whole “months of salary” to euros. I, too, was mentally counting. I do love the Churches in Europe too… I could sit all day, reflect and pray. There’s just no way God’s presence can not be felt there with the stunning beauty of the Church and it’s amazing architecture.


  21. Hahaha, what a chuckle !!! A great read for an european ! Sorry , but I can not agree with everything you say about ” the europeans ” . Europe is such a big continent with so many different nations , you really can’t use the term “Europeans” in general ….you’ll be the only one . We do not feel as Europeans , EU is just an expression , nothing united here tho . Not all people in europe are grumpy 🙂 the further up north you go , the longer the faces …LOL . No , I am living as a european german citizen in the european Spain… believe me , 2 different worlds ! A very entertaining post !!!

  22. Great tour, so informative ! yay, as one of a travel blogger I like how you scrutinized every details of your tour. I can’t imagine to be like you. I guess, on some point.I will missed the eco friendly tours we had in Philippines. Indeed, will definitely visit Europe sometime.

  23. Your entry on “sorry we’re closing” confirms what my consultant friends on Sales are saying all along- the Philippines is way ahead in the world in retailing.

    Our urban culture and way of life revolves around consumerism. Thus, we have vendors and sari-sari store to start with, then convenience stores and 24 hours fast food and pharmacies, jrs/ savemore, supermarket, warehouse clubs and malls!

    This post is also entertaining, I laughed at the soft porn stuff and the beach wear.

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