"It's So Civilized" - Little Things That Make Life Nicer
After spending some time in northern Europe (mostly the Netherlands and Germany) over the last few years, we've come to notice a number of commonplace customs or 'way of doing things' that we continue to experience. To us they somehow seem to make life just a bit more enjoyable.
Our catchphrase for their presence is, 'It's So Civilized'. We offer some of them below, .
Cafe and Restaurant Service
Beer is served properly chilled and usually in glasses with the logos of the brand imprinted on the glass and each a distinct shape. Most glasses are very elegant with gold rims. In a few cases, a more stylish glass is served to women while a plainer style is served to the men.
Wine is always served at the correct temperature (chilled, but not ice-cold for white and room temperature for red) and in the properly shaped glass.
When ordering wine by the glass, in most cases the wait person brings you the empty glass and the bottle of wine and pours your glass at the table. In some cases you are even offered a taste before accepting the whole glass (usually .2 liter). If you order a ½ or full liter of 'house' wine, it is brought to the table in pitcher (at the proper temperature) and a small amount poured into your glass at the table; the remainder in the pitcher is left on the table for you to pour as you wish.
Soft drinks are served chilled, but usually without ice.
In virtually all restaurants, service is very gracious. Often there are cloth tablecloths. Utensils are served on a plate with napkins; you are only given the ones you will need for what you ordered (spoons for soup or knife and fork for meat, cooked veggies and salads).
Many restaurants use wireless handheld 'computers' to place orders - very efficient. In some cases, the waitperson even has a small belt carried printer to use when you ask for your bill. Why aren't they used more extensively in the US?
The bill is never left on the table (like in the US); this is considered rude. When you are ready to pay and leave, a simple jesture to any of the waitpeople will bring the bill to your table.
In South Africa, when ordering coffee with milk, you are offered either hot milk (which comes hot in a small pitcher) or cold milk (out of the fridge in a small pitcher). The whole world should adopt this custom.
Restaurants are fairly quiet. People talk at 'inside voice' levels so that you don't overhear conversations from adjacent tables and overall noise levels are fairly low. In addition, any background music is played at a low level. Hence one can comfortably sit across the table from a companion and have a conversation in normal voice level. This is true even in larger places.
Custom When Visiting
Food Market Conditions
Money and Payments
Pedestrian and Bike Safety
Bike paths and pedestrian walkways are present virtually everywhere and are often separate from the vehicle roadways. They often have separate traffic signals. Often the bike path and the pedestrian path are side by side, and walkers must be careful to stay out of the bike lane. Some bike paths even have left turn lanes where left-turners can wait to turn, while allowing those bikers traveling straight to pass. Personal note - For pedestrians from the US all this bike traffic takes some getting used to as one must watch for another 'traffic risk', bikes, in addition to cars.
Bike use is high. Many people will use their bike for an errand, before even considering their car - even for trips of 3-5 km (2-3 miles). Many people have a car 'because they can', but only use it on weekends for trips out of the city, for holidays or special trips (like taking their elderly parents out).
Use of Public Transportation is High
Public transportation is well used; on every trip we found that most seats were occupied and at 'rush hour' we sometimes had to stand. In Berlin, we found the same to be true on the buses and S & U Bahns we used.
Public Rest Rooms
Areas Where We Like the EU Approach over that of the US