A few differences Americans will discover in Poland

Posted March 25, 2016 by Tricia in Europe, Germany, Poland / 18 Comments

Dear Dad,

Let’s talk about the differences Americans will discover when visiting Poland and Germany. Sometimes I was a little dumbfounded when confronted with a difference because I wasn’t sure what the heck I was supposed to do, such as change the temperature of the shower water. It seems like a relatively easy task but I was half way through my shower before I realized how to change the temperature at one hostel. I found a few things to be comical, some to be annoying and others to be better.  Here’s the rundown.

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The Shower in Germany

Look at these knobs. Can you tell how you change the water temperature? Looks easy. Let me know if you figure it out.


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Showers in Poland

What the heck, Poland? Why are your showers so small? If I weighed any more, I’m not sure I would be able to move around in them at all. I had to ask a Polish friend why. Explanation: apparently, Poland used to only have bathtubs. These bathtubs were on the shorter side too. Think, your knees bent even for a short person. So when Poland was no longer part of the Eastern Bloc and more goods were available, Poles started to remove the bathtubs and install showers.  Bathroom space was very limited; hence, the extra small shower.

In one shower, it was so small every time I attempted to turn and wash, my back hit the faucet turning the water off. It had a glass wall giving it the appearance of a larger space. Wrong! In another, I had to turn the water off in order to wash because there was only a handheld shower nozzle.


The Electric Plugs

Small showers, large plugs.  Go figure. The outlets are huge and so are the plugs that go in them.


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Where are the Lights?

At every restroom/bathroom/WC/toilet (whatever your country calls it), the lights are on the outside. You turn the lights on before you enter the bathroom. I understand the logic behind it. Lights on before you enter but…what happens if someone turns the light off while you are sitting on the toilet or are in the shower? Then what? I accidentally did this to someone at a hostel. Luckily, she screamed and I turned the light right back on. Whoops!


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Again with the Lights?

In many places, the lights are motion-detected. Yayyee for going green! However, I really wished they would stay on a tad longer without having to dance around to get them to come back on over and over. Or have to walk down a dark The Shining-like hallway or staircase and wonder if the lights will click on or if you have to find a switch. It’s creepy.


Lights Again? For Real?

Yes, how about having to insert your room card key into a slot in order to get the electricity to turn on. This one isn’t bad. Simply something this American needed to get used to doing. I would forever try to turn on the lights and wonder, “What is happening?” Duh, Trish, put the card in the slot. Head smack. When you head back to that door, don’t forget to lock it with your key as there may not be a knob.


Need some more differences Americans will discover, how about…


Hotel Beds

In some hotels, certain Americans would freak out. Why? Because the rooms come with two twin beds. Not doubles. Not queens. But twins. Didn’t bother me; however, I work in a hotel and can imagine some people’s reaction to finding two twin beds. Some people have real issues only have 2 double beds or even 1 double bed in their room. They would flip a lid with the twins. Hehehe makes me giggle thinking about it.


Bed Covers

In every hostel and hotel I stayed, with the exception of the two 5-star hotels, the bedding was made up the same. Bedding consisted of a blanket covered by a white duvet, always folded the same too, with a bottom sheet (no top sheet) and of course, a pillow. More on those later. I LOVE the crisp but soft white duvet cover. (hint: Christmas present some year???)


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The Pillows

The pillows are huge! Or at least the places I stayed at had huge square pillows. I’d never seen such pillows on beds before.  They worked great for propping yourself up in bed. Love them.


Towel Warmers

For a traveler, the towel warmers installed in most bathrooms are like nirvana. No more waiting forever for your clothes to dry. Wash them in the sink and hang them up to dry. Even my heaviest sweater was dry overnight. This addition is something American hotels and builders should incorporate.  Oh, and you can warm up your towel while you take a shower in the teeny tiny stall.


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Chai Lattes

Avoid them at all costs if you are a tea lover. Why? Because there is espresso in them. Yuck. I almost gagged on my first sip. Now, I want to know how chai lattes are made in the rest of the world.


Lunch is dinner. Meaning at your noon-2pm meal you are eating your largest meal. Traditional lunch time may consist of a bowl of soup followed by the main meal such as pork with potatoes and cabbage.  Soup is a national pastime. It is extremely popular, all varieties. There is even some soups for breakfast. Personally, I wanted to take a nap after every lunchtime meal as I had food coma.


Breakfast is lunch or at least what Americans would eat for lunch. Cold cuts, hot dogs, cheese, rolls, and sliced tomatoes and cucumbers. It is a very hardy breakfast. Definitely not the sweet laden or bacon n eggs type of breakfast I am used to having. Man, did I crave some peanut butter toast or pancakes and maple syrup or bacon and hashbrowns. Since I don’t like cold cuts, I ate a lifetime’s worth of cold cheese sandwiches.


Everyone eats so politely with a fork and knife, at the same time. From what I hear, it is only barbarian Americans that eat with only a fork. It was a difference I noted and they noted about me as well. Americans tend to cut their food then set the knife down while eating with only fork in hand. If we need to scoop up bits of food, instead of using a knife to push it onto the fork, we um, well, ah, use our finger or thumb. 🙂 It is so much easier.

Water and Refills

There is no free water in restaurants. If you order water, chances are it will come in a bottle. You will be asked if you want it flat or with gas. Flat is regular mineral water and with gas means sparkling water. Now, if you order a soda (or pop), it will probably be bottled as well. Good news! The bottled soda is normally a glass bottle which makes soda tastes so much better! Bad news. It is a really small bottle and there are no free refills. No free refills on water either keep in mind.


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Thank You

One of my favorite things about eating in Poland is their tradition of saying “Thank You” when you are finished eating and leave the table. Isn’t that awesome? I love this polite tradition and found myself saying it by the end of my stay.


Differences are part of what make traveling so interesting and appealing. Therefore, I welcome the differences no matter how odd or unusual they may be.


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18 responses to “A few differences Americans will discover in Poland

  1. This post will definitely prepare me for my trip to Poland! I love your tips…especially regarding eating – how barbaric of me to only use a fork 😉 !

  2. Lol I can totally relate to those lights in hallways on motion sensors! super creepy! Great list with some differences we take for granted in North America!

  3. Loved this article. It was super interesting and an enjoyable read. The small showers, plugs, and lights on the outside of the bathroom are very reminiscent of what you’ll find in Asia. Those towel warmers are a great idea though. Why has America not gotten on this? This list made me miss all the awesome luxuries we have in America. (I’ve been an expat in Asia for 4 years now.)

  4. I have never been to Poland. It is always interesting to read about the differences between countries. There were some similarities with other countries I have visited in Europe. For example, it took me a long time to get used to the key card in the slot for electricity. I would take the card with me when leaving the room and kept wondering why devices didn’t charge!

  5. Haha! It’ so funny to read what an American thinks of Europe on such a ‘basic needs’ front. I’m from the UK and for all of the stuff you mentioned – I wouldn’t think twice about it! I admit the key card in the slot to turn on the lights and electricity still annoys me but I know its for the sake of the planet so I try to get over it! And don’t be fooled – water is free – you just have to ask for tap water!
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  6. That is really funny. I don’t find any of those things too unusual i might admit. I can imagine you would think the free refill option to be a little strange as it is everywhere isn’t it in the US. I actually find that quite off myself as I’ve never grown up with free refills! I bet your Dad really knows that this was you this time 🙂

  7. Ha ha ha! I laughed about the water – when I was is Warsaw at a restaurant, I asked for tap water. The waiter gave me the weirdest look and my friend told me that it isn’t very common to provide tap water with a meal (same thing happened to me in Prague). The waiter nodded but my water never came out ha ha.
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  8. Haha! This post made me laugh – I’m European and I struggle with working out how to switch on the water and regulate the temperature with this nifty system…

    On a side note: i really don’t like using my knife but it is considered polite in Europe in general – that is true!

    Espresso in Chai Latte? Never ever heard of that before. I have been drinking Chai latte for over 6 years and had it all over the world. The original proper chai latte comes in the form of loose tea (in a tea bag or loose) with milk and sugar. Better even, it is cooked to perfection like in India or Nepal (Masala Chai Tea). In Europe chai latte is often prepared by using a pre-mixed powder (like hot chocolate). But never ever with coffee….odd!

  9. I’ve noticed a lot of these while travelling in Europe and your post brought me back to when I first came here! It’s funny sometimes what you expect to be different often isn’t and what you expect to be the same rarely is.

  10. Hahah, these are all such great observations! I always find bathrooms in generally to be the most confusing part about a new country. Here is Guatemala there is only one tap and the more water pressure you have the colder the water is. Hot water = a trickle of water. Cold water = slightly more water. And the first time I saw squat toilets I was about 11 and had to ask someone how to use it!

  11. Great post! Your observations about the lights made me laugh out loud. I have had someone turn the lights off on me in the shower — and I definitely screamed. It was very funny afterwards, of course. I also kind of wish that our lunch was the main meal, but it’s hard to get other people to go along with that theory. Still, I’m trying!

  12. This is such a great and comprehensive post! Man I love towel warmers though – those should be everywhere. And yeah the lunch as the main meal thing is apparently more common all over the world than I thought…others probably think we Americans eat strangely!

  13. LOL thanks for the great tips and personal touches. Those showers look so puny; perhaps if you can seal the door it would become a standing 1 person pool haha. It’s so crazy how different the restrooms are from country to country. I have to admit I love living in the US for its restroom ease.
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  14. Hahaha, I laughed a lot while reading this article. It is so witty and diverse. I remember when in China, I was at the hotel’s bathroom (alright, a puny box) and I also did the same thing with the faucet. Every single time!

    Saying thank you after a meal is almost everywhere in Europe, isn’t it? Hmm, and in the UAE.
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  15. Top sheet or no top sheet seems to be the great global debate – my (French) boyfriend and European friends and I always get into this! Everyone seems to feel very strongly about that preference, but I still find it so strange not to have a top sheet!! A lot of these are actually pretty common across Europe, and took some adjusting when I moved across the pond 🙂