How to Avoid Common Menu Blunders in Europe
Because some things don’t always mean what you think they do
Then there’s coffee. In France and Italy, a coffee is an important undertaking. In Italy, a caffè is an espresso, a caffè latte is espresso with milk, and a cappuccino — well, that translates. An important note, though, is that Italians (as a rule) do not drink cappuccino or caffè latte after noon. They are considered too milky and heavy, and are limited as breakfast drinks only. Ordering one after dinner will conjure confusing glances (read: eye rolling) between the wait staff.
In most of Europe, ordering an “American coffee” will give you the longer brewed cup of Joe you’re used to back home, though it’s not available everywhere. (Photo courtesy of Flickr/devrieda)
Trying to imbibe alcoholically can even be tough. Order a martini in Italy or France and you’ll probably receive a dry vermouth (unless you're in a fancy hotel bar or somesuch). The most popular vermouth brand in Europe is Martini & Rossi, hence the mix up. If you’re searching for the cocktail, ask for a “martini cocktail.”
Likewise, order a manzanilla in Spain and you’ll either get a cup of chamomile tea or a glass of sherry. Then, Champagne is only Champagne in France. Italy’s equivalent is prosecco, in Spain you’d order a cava, and in Germany, a sparkling wine is sekt. The confusion at the bar in Germany continues if you’re after some schnapps. American schnapps are very sweet, fruity liqueurs. In Germany, though, schnapps is a widely used term for all clear brandies distilled from fermented fruits with no sugar added — an acquired taste, we’re told.
Rounding out the end of the meal, there are a few remaining faux pas to avoid. Telling your server that you’re full (and that, indeed, they can take your plate) is tricky. Literal translations are rarely correct. Take the French translation for “I am full” — Je suis plein. Your waiter would give you a pitied smile and reply to you in English. One rule of thumb is that most European countries use the phrase “that’s all” as their indicator. So that’s c’est tout in France, basta cosi in Italy, eso es todo in Spain, and dast ist alles in Germany. Alternatively, the French sometimes say terminé and the Spanish terminado, both meaning "finished". (Photo courtesy of Flickr/SjoerdvW)
Asking for the bill can also present some moments of uncertainty. Don’t let it trip you up — instead, just ask for l'addition in France, die Rechnung in Germany, la cuenta in Spain, and il conto in Italy. Working out what to tip is a whole other story (so stay tuned).
One of the more fun parts of dining and drinking abroad is venturing into uncharted territory and you should always be able to offer cheers to that in the native tongue! That’s:
Italy: salute, cin cin!
Germany: prost! (when drinking beer), zum whol (for wine and formal occasions)
Spain: salud, chin chin
Any other lost in translation menu moments we missed? Tell us yours in the comments!
Be a Part of the Conversation
Have something to say?
Add a comment (or see what others think).