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How do you refuse alcohol or the like in Europe? (without offending or insulting them)

I do not drink and want to have a pleasant trip but it seems like I am going to struggle with this or it seems anyway. So if you are offered something like beer, or other alcohol filled drink - what would be a polite way to refuse?

Posted by
6627 posts

The same way you do it wherever you live. Really. Its a stereotyped caricature we have of Europeans drinking beer and wine at every opportunity from childhood. No one will insist or care if you're not drinking.

Posted by
2580 posts

Yes, why does it seem like you'll struggle? Are you watching old movies or something?

Vegetarians don't have to eat meat, tee-totalers don't have to drink at all or can drink as much or as little as they want. This 2016, it's a brave new world.

Posted by
2891 posts

Say, no thank you.

Posted by
5784 posts

You're the customer. That said, the restaurant would be happy to sell you bottled water.

An American friend did have a chastising from a French waiter when she tried to order a glass of milk with her dinner. Said waiter informed her that only children drink milk with their dinner. And some German restaurants are not very open to offering free tap water. But I haven't heard of anyone being forced to consume an alcoholic beverage.

Posted by
6478 posts

Just learn to say 'no thank you' in the language of whatever country you're visiting (in case of non-English speaker). Nobody will be offended or insulted.

Posted by
23 posts

Friends who came back from Europe but they drink. They loved it, it just seems like I would but from watching RS it seems like if I was here. I just got a little panicky because I would hate to offend them.

Posted by
2788 posts

I do not understand your concern at all. Have you ever been in a situation where you were forced alcohol? In the last 13 years spending a month in Europe every summer and not being one to consume alcohol, I have never had a situation come up where I felt uncomfortable about telling someone "no thank you" when alcohol was offered. When I first started taking RS tours (I have taken 13 - #14 next month) in 2001, alcohol was provided at our meals and occasionally it was difficult to get non-alcoholic drinks. That has changed some years ago. Now, if you choose to have an alcoholic drink with your meal, you pay for it at least on the tours I have taken. Non-alcoholic beverages are always provided. I hope this is the biggest of your worries because if it is, you will do just fine. Happy travels.

Posted by
7205 posts

Honestly! Where do people come up with these things???

Posted by
796 posts

We don't drink either. We know people who have gone on tours to Europe and found that the tours included "special" meals with alcohol or wine tastings, etc. Just say, no thank you, and ask about non-alcoholic offerings. Don't worry about offending or insulting one over it. You are not obligated to eat, drink, or use anything that you don't want to. Most people won't care. I have seen Rick's videos where it looks like he is always drinking alcohol but that doesn't mean you have to.

Posted by
14898 posts

The few times alcoholic drinks were provided on a tour, other than meals, like the whiskey at the distillery or the wine at a carpet factory, soft drinks were offered at the same time. No one is going to assume you want to drink alcohol or pressure you to do so.

Posted by
194 posts

Why do you think that refusing alcohol could be ofensive? Or even strange? And who is going to offer you alcohol? Usually I'm asked "and to drink?" and I just say what I want. That's a strange question, but well, Europe has many countries and I've been only in a few (and live in one) but never had that problem, or heard of something like what is worrying you.

Posted by
5129 posts

Thank you for asking this question and being concerned about being culturally sensitive. I'm glad that you should be able to put your mind at rest on this one.

Posted by
18301 posts

"So if you are offered something like beer, or other alcohol filled drink"

Offered? I've never had a restaurant "offer" me anything. Restaurants have a lot of non-alcoholic drinks on the menu - mineral water, fruit juices, etc. Just pick something else on the menu. Other people do or they wouldn't be there. The restaurant will be happy to sell you anything you want.

But since you said, "offered", it sounds more like you'll be visiting friends, business associates, or relatives over there. As long as you don't make a big deal of it, make it sound like you're morally superior because you don't drink (you're not), nobody is going to be offended.

Posted by
8108 posts

I don't drink and no one has ever reacted oddly when I ordered something else or if at a friends house said I would prefer water or juice. No one cares, it is not going to offend anyone. If it did, it would be their problem and not yours.

Polite way to refuse is to say "No Thank you. May I have a water/apple juice/coke please?"

Posted by
4986 posts

I have been in situations in private homes where the host or hostess (usually the host) presses alcohol on the guests. If your "No, thank you" is ignored more than once, accept the proffered glass and just leave it on the table. That has worked for me. (I do drink, but there are times when either I don't want to, or I don't want as much as is being pressed on me. This only happens in private homes, not in restaurants.)

Or in some European countries, an acceptable excuse for not drinking is to say "I'm driving." There are places in Europe where having consumed any alcohol before driving will lose you your license.

Posted by
12040 posts

If you're looking for a non-alcoholic alternative in a restaurant in Germany, try a Schorle. It's juice mixed with carbonated water. Kind of like a low calorie soda. Apfelschorle (apple) is the most common flavor, but you can often find any kind of juice that's commonly available. I find it very refreshing on a hot summer afternoon.

Posted by
130 posts

I agree with Jane. When alcohol is offered in a private home it is a different situation. I don't drink alcohol because I really don't like it and can't see trying to "develop a taste" for it. When we were guests in a private home in Prague, the host was alway pushing alcohol on my husband and I. I tried to say "no thank you" but it didn't work. I just read through that part of my journal from that trip, and it was as I remembered. It was extremely awkward and uncomfortable for me. My husband enjoys wine and beer so it wasn't as big a problem for him. At one point, in a restaurant, our friend ordered large beers for himself and my husband and a small one for me, and then got a picture of our toast. Then he ordered 3 shots of some alcoholic drink that would signify our friendship. He was always kind and very excited to be our friends, but I was always uncomfortable about the alcohol, and he wouldn't take "No" for an answer. I didn't drink mine, or pretended to take a sip.

Posted by
125 posts

I also do not drink alcohol and I encountered an uncomfortable situation when I was in Prague last month and ate alone at a restaurant one night. When the server brought my check she also brought a shot of some kind of alcohol with it. She didn't speak much English and I don't speak Czech so I was trying to tell her that I hadn't ordered the shot since I thought it first it was a simple mistake, but she just kept saying "for you, for you" and then walked away.

It may simply have been their policy to bring a shot with the check, but it made me uncomfortable because 1. I don't drink and didn't want it, but I also didn't want to offend her and 2. I did not like the idea of drinking something I couldn't identify (and didn't order) in a strange restaurant while traveling alone. I ended up just pretending to take a sip and then paid my check and left quickly. This never happened anywhere else on my 3+ weeks in Europe though, so it's not like the locals were pushing alcohol on me at every turn, but I think it's smart of the OP to consider that a situation like this could potentially occur and to be prepared in advance with a response. I wish I'd added "I don't drink alcohol" to the list of Czech phrases I learned before I left. A good lesson for my next trip.

Rest assured though, you can absolutely travel in Europe and not drink alcohol and still have a great time.

Posted by
8396 posts

Allie, It's a custom in some restaurants to offer a shot at the end of a meal, particularly to customers they've enjoyed serving. No need for alarm. However to the OP, just say "it's very nice, but no thank you." It's not a big deal.

Posted by
2534 posts

Allie ,that shot was [probably Becherovka (yellowish liquid).
In all my many visits to Prague I have never been offered a shot at the end of my meal though some of the tourist resturants do push shots but expect folk to pay for them.
What place were you in when you got offered the freebie

Posted by
125 posts

It's nice to know that's just the custom in some places and that they (probably) weren't trying to poison me. As I said, I just wish I had known how to say "I don't drink alcohol" in Czech so I could have refused more politely instead of just looking confused and then leaving quickly. That would be my advice to the OP, to learn that phrase in the appropriate language(s) to help explain why you're refusing a drink.

Unclegus, the restaurant was U Zlateho Hada near the Klementinium. I enjoyed the rest of my experience dining there and the food was good. I just wish the evening had ended on a less awkward note. I do realize that it was probably only awkward for me, but I don't want to offend the locals if I can help it. Plus I was unsure if I would be expected to pay for the shot. I didn't eat out anywhere else in Prague that did this and it caught me by surprise. Didn't stop me from loving Prague in general though. I hope to go back someday.

Posted by
4535 posts

A lot of people would not know that offering a digestive with your check is a common custom in some places in Europe. It is not universal and even in places where it is common, such as Italy or Greece, it is not always offered. It should always be complimentary but I can imagine where some tourist traps might then try and charge you for it (never happened to me but I try and avoid such places).

It would not be rude to decline it or not drink it.

It most certainly was not an attempt to drug or poison you.

Posted by
4986 posts

Again, just smile, say "No, thank you;" if they insist, say "Thank you," and leave it on the table. It's okay to not accept something. I would sneak a peek at the bill to make sure I hadn't been charged for it, but as several people have noted, it is not uncommon for restaurants to offer a liqueur, brandy, or other digestif after a meal. Somewhere we ate last year in Sicily, I think, brought out not only a digestif, but coffee and cookies, all on the house. And none of which we wanted!

Posted by
8108 posts

It is pretty common in small Italian or Greek restaurants in Frankfurt to bring a small, free liqueur at the end of the meal. I just wave it away before they set it down and tell them thanks, but I don't drink. This has never been a problem and they have never been offended.