Europe travel tips: Six things tourists do that annoy the locals

The verb "annoy" has its origins in the Old French word enoiier, and no surprise that annoyance with foreigners is a European specialty. Ask for an after-lunch cappuccino in Italy or plonk an ice cube in your wine glass in France and they come over all sniffy. Europeans have had centuries of cultural conditioning that dictates exactly when to wear a winter coat, the etiquette of the greeting kiss and how to tie a scarf – skills that are bafflingly opaque or even meaningless to a foreigner.

Treading on European toes can happen without any thought of malice on the part of the transgressor. Here's a small sampling of the things that press the buttons in all the wrong ways when you're gallivanting around Europe.

Call the Netherlands "Holland"

epa02201807 Dutch fans celebrate on the stand during the FIFA World Cup 2010 group E preliminary round match between Netherlands and Denmark at the Soccer City stadium outside Johannesburg, South Africa, 14 June 2010. EPA/Achim Scheidemann Please refer to Netherlands fans at the World Cup in South Africa

We may call it Holland. You may not. Photo: AP

The Dutch get snotty as hell if you make this mistake. "Holland" refers to just Noord-Holland and Zuid-Holland, North and South Holland, two of the 12 provinces that make up the Netherlands.

Confusion exists because Holland was once the important bit of this tulip-loving nation of whirling windmills, the biggest contributor to the country in terms of wealth. That also includes Amsterdam, which is part of North Holland. But hey, cut us some slack Netherlanders because you're not exactly consistent here.

Try Googling "Visit Netherlands" and what comes up? "Welcome to, the official website of the Netherlands Board of Tourism and Conventions". And what will you hear Dutch football supporters chanting at the next World Cup? Is it perchance "Go Netherlands"? Nope, 'fraid not. It's "Hup, Holland, Hup" ("Go Holland, go").

See also: The top 10 queue-free attractions in Amsterdam

Ask for pizza with pineapple in Naples

JKRRDT Italian Pizza Margherita Napoli pizza

Pizza, Napoli style. Photo: Alamy

Naples is where pizza was invented. According to the Neapolitan view of the world there are just two kinds of pizzas. One is with tomato, the marinara, and nothing to do with the sea. The other is the margherita, tomato plus mozzarella, and that's it. Ask for a pizza with pineapple – or with prawns, chicken, avocado, corn or any other culinary abomination you can think of and you're treading on sacred ground.


Want to sleep with the fishes? In the home of the Camorra, do not ask for anything other than a marinara or a margherita. Fuhgeddaboudit, as Tony Soprano might say. Then he'd shoot you.

See also: Italy's best pizza? It's not that good

Drive with headlights off in Finland

In the daytime that is. Finns are deeply conformist. The herd instinct is implanted in the Finnish psyche at birth and they spend their lives fitting in. Naturally, they drive everywhere and at all times with headlights on full blast.

If you want to infuriate Finnish drivers, try driving with your lights off. I did, and nothing is more likely to drive a Finn into a paroxysm of rage. Except maybe not giving them right of way at a roundabout. For this they might even toot you, which is the Finnish equivalent of pulling out a gun and blasting your brains out on the freeways of LA.

Smile at Muscovites

They don't do smiles in Moscow. Look at their photographs. Does Putin smile? Putin has a closed-mouth half-smile, and that's about as much as you get in Moscow. When Putin smiles he looks dangerous. Toothy grin, never, horrible and offensive to the Russian mind. Smiling is a sign of insincerity, dishonesty, an unfortunate palsy of the face or a mental condition.

Your salesperson will not smile when you buy a nice tin of caviar in the GUM department store. Nor will your waiter even if you tip handsomely. Smiles are for your buddies, your mother, for when you've drunk lots of vodka and just before you fall down. So if you smile at a Muscovite they think "Why smiling this person is? Do they know something I don't know? No, they're JUST AN ANNOYING FOREIGNER!"

Cut into an English queue

C98AD0 People queuing outside the National Gallery in London, England, while a popular show of Leonardo Di Vinci paintings is open. People queuing outside the National Gallery in London, England, while a popular show of Leonardo Di Vinci paintings is open. 2011

Expert queuers in London. Photo: Alamy

The British love to queue. It comes naturally, part of their DNA, deeply embedded in the English sense of fair play and notions of decency. At a recent Ed Sheeran concert at London's vast O₂ Arena, hundreds of patrons waiting to buy standing-room tickets formed a bendy, snaking queue exactly like the ones at airport security – but there were no barriers, no policing, just an inbuilt mindset that required it.

Given that a queue is the upright state of affairs, nothing is more offensive to the British sense of righteousness than queue cutters. At Athens Airport some years ago, while I awaited a BA flight to London in the departure lounge, the Brits all formed an orderly queue before the flight was called. As soon as boarding commenced, the Greeks pushed in from the sides and the British were left smouldering. The words "bloody foreigners!" formed on several lips.

Speak louder and they'll get it

Tourist: "Do you speak English?"

Shop assistant in a Paris grocery: "Non"

Tourist: (speaking louder): "OK. We want 2 per cent milk. Do you have that? Two per cent milk?"

Given the overwhelming dominance of the English language in the media and popular culture it is tempting to assume that the whole world understands it. Two per cent milk? As in low fat? Who wouldn't get that? And if they don't, just ramp up the volume and the dark clouds of ignorance will miraculously part.

What bad behaviour from tourists in Europe have you witnessed? Share your experiences in the comments below.

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