National Etiquette Differences in Europe/Distinctions
As elsewhere, many people in Europe are proud of their distinct ethnic, national, religious, linguistic or cultural identity and may be insulted by those who fail to make the distinction. For example, a French-speaking Belgian may be offended if referred to as French person.
Although “lumping” people together is the biggest danger, sometimes “splitting” can be a faux pas as well. An example might be trying to discern whether someone is Irish Catholic or Anglo-Irish.
When in doubt, avoid characterizing people according to a cultural identity. Make inquiries regarding identity carefully (if at all).
Europe is very similar in its national structures (institutions, legal and political organizations, even the political inclinations tend to work in waves across the continent) and infrastructures (roads, rails and other mass transportation, police, departments, health and education, waste, water and energy). This is due not only to proximity and historical events from wars to efforts to pacify and homogenates this multi-faced multicultural continental unit.
The efforts to homogenates Europe started even before the Roman Empire, then proceeded under it's surviving Christian religion that put the Pope (literally the Bishop of Rome) as king maker in Western Europe. The rest was divided by the Orthodox and later on the Protestant movement. All leading to a multitude of Kingdoms that to a point came to define the nations that exist today, most even shared rulers due to dynastic intermarriages for peace, power and territory. The Napolionic wars started the downfall of many monarchies and by the time of the industrial revolution a push for normalization, social reforms and rule of law across boarders was generalized. By the end of WWI the collapse of the remaining ultramarine empires was underway and a re-focus on the continent itself was unavoidable, especially after the devastation caused by the conflict and the influenza pandemic. This time is also marked the coming of age of the more Westernized ex-colonies, that filled the void during the time of conflict and started the processed of establishing a proper international law system. After WWII, under the increasing pressure by the United States and the UK, now afraid of the expansion of communism as Russia had just assured the allied victory, worked under the Council of Europe (1949) and later the European Union (EU, 1993), with the auspices of bringing Europe closer together for peace, security, reconstruction and economical prosperity. The EU was itself a descended of the Treaty of Brussels (1948), that also lead later to NATO (1949).
All this coming together was intended to present a common front if not even to prepare for the next conflict, that ultimately originate in the reneging of promisees made (in the Tehran Conference and Yalta Conference, participated by The "Big Three"; Winston Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin) to Stalin (Russia, USSR) and thwart its responsive advances West and in Asia (Japan, Korea), especially now that the "soviets" also had the atom bomb. These actions later culminated in the creation of North Korea (1946-1948) the Greek Civil War (1946 to 1949) and a myriad of other conflicts that simmered to the public awareness with the rise of the Berlin wall as the de facto evidence of a Cold war.
- It is important not to "lump" a nationality, ethnicity, province/region and linguistic group together. I.e. to talk about the "Dutch" to cover both the Netherlands and Belgians, as well never to "split" peoples like one to discuss "Flemings" apart from "Walloons" in Belgium and that from the "Nederlanders". This is an insensitive practice associated with inflammable nationalist rhetoric. They also carry a weight of bigotry, prejudice and cultural intolerance against brethren who are proud of their culture and/or rather identify with their country.
- Europeans do not like the idea of dictatorships: many Europeans experienced single party Communist regimes (i.e. East Germany, Albania, Poland and Romania) and Fascism, prevalently in most the southern half (i.e. Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Portugal and Greece) in the 20th century. Also countries with royalty as heads of state (i.e. Scandinavia, the Netherlands and Great Britain), treat them with high honors and respect. In a region that previously was divided in kingdoms, most Royals have ceded right of rule to their subject people and government.
- Ethnic and national pride is common, but one must avoid chauvinism and favor patriotism of uniting peoples regardless of their ethnic and national origin. "English" and "British" or "Holland" and "the Netherlands" are NOT the same thing! For examples, the Welsh in Wales, the Basque in northern Spain and the Occitans in Southern France, may hold ethnic pride. But others may express pride of being British, or "Anglo-Saxon" named for the first Germanic settlers of England; others French or "Gallic" named for their Latinized Celtic ancestors though the name "France" is derived from West Germanic Franks. Many Basque identify themselves as "Spaniards" by nationality, but fewer are "Castilian" because they don't hail from Castile whom are a "Latin" Romance-speaking people. But today, more Europeans express themselves as Europeans thus a polyglot cultural entity.
- Also in Europe race issues are not common; slavery was abolished early on and intermingling of races was always a non issue. Europeans heavily shuns racism against minorities, national chauvinism, ethnic hatred and intolerance of language differences, sexual orientation and women's equal rights. The experiences of World Wars I and II (esp. Poland, Germany, and Austria who experienced Hitler, the Nazis and racist/ethnicist agendas and Russia who experienced Lenin) is a horrible reminder for modern Europe to "never again" repeat such horrors. There is "hate crime" legislation to protect people from violence or harassment by individuals, and International Law and courts can be used to penalize those who use governments for this purpose. Note that recently radicalism by a minority of Muslims and an increased level of immigration mostly from Turkey, Pakistan has indeed exacerbated xenophobic discourse and animated immigration policy discussions regarding the burden of costs of handling illegal immigrants at Europe's periphery and the tightening of requirements for asylum.
- Europeans respect language usage choices, differences among them (i.e. dialects) and bilingualism/multilingual practices in the governments and social life of Belgium (French and Dutch with some German), Switzerland (German, French, Italian and Romansch), Ireland (English and Irish- a form of Gaelic), Finland (Finnish and Swedish) and so on. National governments and the European Union (EU) Charter of Human Rights now respect an ethno-linguistic group's right to protect, promote and even revive a language if necessary.
- Politics is a topic that can go bad, though Europe (esp. France and the UK, and nowadays Germany) emphasizes social democracy and fair transfer of power through peaceful and non-corrupt means. Human rights, international peace efforts and cultural exchanges in the form of Eurovision is more popular ways for Europeans to become closer together. Euro Cup and World Cup football (soccer) and other sports have international competition, but are light-hearted though pro sports leagues and team fanfare can be heated.
- And religion is another topic not to be taken lightly, though most Europeans are not as dogmatic in religious observance. There is more religious diversity, tolerance of churches and minority sects, and the separation of church and state is serious policy. Religious conflicts sometimes fueled by politics and ancient ethnic hatreds like in Northern Ireland, civil wars and breakup of the former Yugoslavia, and the rise of Islam in Europe (particularly France, Switzerland and the UK) based more on xenophobia, are emotionally charged issues.
- Topics about sexuality has lessened from the Victorian Age (in Britain's case in the 19th century) than in the USA continually held onto "puritan" mores of sexual behavior. But European culture remains close to older rules of etiquette handed down in generations even though some of the rules changed by social unrest in the 20th century, and the young tend to alter them in the 21st century.
The notion of multiculturalism is widely accepted among the European population and there is a considerable understanding about how different rules apply to different peoples. Accordingly, expecting (for example) a Hasidic Jew to remove his hat when visiting a Church or to badger a Muslim or Hindu to accept food that violates her/his dietary laws is a faux pas that would offend many Europeans regardless of their own denominational backgrounds.
Special advice for Americans edit
- It is worth noting that American Foreign Policy is a deeply emotional issue for Americans but even more for the rest of the world, due to US international economic and military status, influence and actions. Even friends who believe they share similar political viewpoints can quickly find themselves in contention when the topic is discussed. Americans should try to remember that seemingly anti-American statements may not be intended to offend and are rarely directed to the American people, but toward the US government/corporations. On the other hand, statements by Americans politicians are often taken in the most negative way. Another topic is the influence of American popular culture, esp. in France and other European countries with the most contact with the USA, on concerns in replacing older local cultures.
- Perhaps the only helpful advice for Americans in this arena is not to start any political discussions in foreign countries, particularly in hotels, pubs, airports or in the street. If another person starts a political discussion, it would be best to admit you know little about the issue being raised, and then change the subject. If you are in a group and someone raises a political issue, it is best to listen to the debate and maintain a noble silence, or withdraw from the group if you prefer to be doing something else. An exception would be in private family, and a gathering of people of a political party or campaign group, of which you are a member or are sympathetically aligned.
- In Europe, the term soccer is replaced by football. Football, as it exists in the USA, is called American football. Also, "hockey" generally refers to "field hockey" with the other form being called "ice hockey".
- Freedom of speech is important but moderated by article 17 of the European Convention on Human Rights which states that one cannot abuse of the freedom of speech if it goes against the other fundamental human rights like equality between races, faith or sexual orientation. Most European countries have laws against racist, antisemitic, homophobic... public speech.