An open letter to American erasmus students in Europe.
Congratulations for being awarded a unique chance to live and study in a European country for a few months. You have been given a fantastic opportunity to learn a new language, immerse yourself in a new culture and grow as a human being.
As a waitress in a top restaurant in Barcelona, I have been serving and observing you for the past few months. There are a few points that I would like to make that may help you utilise your time in Spain.
1. Always tip. I know that you have been told otherwise, but take it from me — a waitress — always tip. Now, we don’t expect you to tip the 20% you are accustomed to, but a respectful 10% is what is expected in most western European countries.
I know this piece of advice may be a little left field, and yes, in Catalunya it has only been in the past few years that the region has adopted the tipping culture, particularly in Barcelona. I do believe that this could be credited to the influx of tourism. I read recently that in some countries it’s an insult to tip. I am yet to come across a European country where they turn up their nose at a tip.
My general advice about tipping — if you have table service, tip. If you buy a drink at a bar and you have 50 cents change, leave it for the bartender. If you have bad service, don’t tip. If you have a polite and attentive waiter/bartender, overtip.
Don’t pay with your father’s Platinum American Express card, and make a comment that you are tight for cash — it’s pretty insulting.
On a side note — American Express is not commonly used in Spain and the reasons are two-fold — firstly, you’re not in America, and secondly, you’re not in an ‘express’ country. I listen into your conversations.
2. On the subject of listening into your conversations. I’d like to make a few observations. To the student who explained to his visiting mother about the problem with socialism and living and studying in a socialist country. Don’t get me wrong, when your late for work/class and you have to run across town to get to the metro, running head first into a protest is quite bothersome and I empathise with your plight; the number of times I have been late for work because a group of red-faced, picket-bearing Catalans are protesting over police brutality is uncountable. Terribly inconvenient. And yes, nothing is worse than having to take public transport when the taxis are on strike because of the low pay and petty work benefits.
Us being the top 10% of the world and living in a democratic country, we are fortunate enough to have the luxury of freedom of speech and the ability to protest. Mexico kills people for this.
The right to protest also exists in the US and the UK and all other countries in Europe, however, the Catalans know how to do it best. They have been given the opportunity to come together and protest about their corrupt politicians or the lost babies of the civil war. A few weeks ago a mere 160,000 protesters came together to demand that the Spanish government honour their pledge to house refugees.
You can learn a lot about what’s going on in the world from Barcelona’s manifestations: It wasn’t until I was inconvenienced by protesters that I learnt about the situation in Venezuela and the SOS Venezuela campaign.
So yes, for young, rich American students like yourself, socialism is a bit of a pain in the ass, but for the rest of the world’s population, we will march, picket, scream, shout for the sake of humanity. If you really want to immerse yourself in real Catalan culture, grab a picket and a whistle and join a protest — you’ll be learning from the best.
A more general point I would like to make on listening into conversations — girls, we live in a very exciting time in our lives — women are gaining more recognition and misogyny is dwindling — we just witnessed a world movement after Trump became president when [women from around the world marched for women’s rights. Whether you were apart of it or not, you witnessed an historical event that will shape the future of our children.
Us chicas are pioneering and we’ve come a long way, but we do still have a long way to go. When I overhear conversations about ‘what do you eat on a first date?’ or ‘I would never date a guy who, like, wouldn’t buy me a drink.’ It worries me a little. You are young adults with a great and influential future in front of you — make a difference. You should be discussing the environment, women in politics, the war in Syria. Don’t get me wrong, I am not listening into your conversations all night long and I know that these might be a topic of conversation in a different setting, but all the conversations I have listened into, I am yet to overhear a debate current issues.
Chicos - you’re really not that important (see point 5).
4. Moving on to table manners. For a group of people who have had the best privileges in life, you’re lacking basic table etiquette. A few things that I would like you to consider when sitting in a restaurant:
- Don’t click your fingers at a waiter — we will ignore you. (this is the basic etiquette of dining, by the way. I blame your parents for this.)
- Burping at the table is horrific.
- Mouths closed when eating, please.
- It’s not customary to ask for the check until everyone has finished eating.
- Stop fucking swearing. The English language is fucking huge and swearing only weakens your argument. Work on your personal vocabulary.
- What’s the magic word? If you know what it is, use it. Coming from a Brit, you can never be too polite.
5. ‘You’re not better than anyone and no one is better than you.’ This is a statement that everyone should abide by. The people that wait on you are students — like you. And they might not come from a wealthy family, but thanks to that pesky socialism movement, we Europeans are all entitled to a reasonably affordable (if not free) higher education, no matter how rich our fathers may be. That means that the girls that are serving your food will most likely be highly successful in later life — like you.
Also, when you call up to make a reservation, don’t state that you are a high-profile customer. You’re not, I know that from your fresh voice and American accent. You’re a student who doesn’t tip. The VIPs that eat at this restaurants are politicians, doctors, footballers and their trainers, CEOs, Directors, Arabian Princes. All of whom are extremely polite and respectful — and they all tip.
6. Speak the lingo. Spain has five official languages and Catalunya alone has two languages. Try at least learning one of them. And don’t get shocked or offended when your waiter is having trouble understanding you. The majority of the waiters that I work with speak at least three different languages, American not being one of them.
So I do hope that this mini-guide can really help you get a full European experience. If you feel that your friend can benefit from my advice, please do share it. And don’t forget to tip.