We don’t drink coffee, tea, or alcohol for religious reasons. In the US we have options and it’s easy not to offend when declining tea and coffee and skipping the alcohol. But European countries seem to have alcohol and coffee with everything. How can we travel without committing some sort of international faux pax by declining these things (or looking like picky/offensive/backwater Americans)?
Whatever you drink in the US is most likely available in Europe.
You need not explain your choice there anymore than you have to explain it in the US.
Just order what you want.
As Joe32F said, order whatever you want. No one will care if you turn down alcohol or coffee or tea. Water, both still and sparkling, will be available everywhere. Some soft drinks might be available.
However, an adult ordering a glass of milk or orange juice with their dinner might get you a look.
The automatic question you're asked at any restaurant in Europe is "would you like water?" followed by "still or sparkling?". You will often be provided with or asked if you'd like to see the wine list, a polite refusal will be met with complete nonchalance. Once you're finished with your meal you will most likely be offered coffee, you'll be met with the same reponse if you decline it.
No-one cares what you drink with your meal, even if it appears that everyone around you is drinking wine with their lunch no-one will bat an eyelid or have any interest in you if you're simply drinking water or soft drinks.
Let go of this cultural paranoia. Not everyone in Europe drinks alcohol or tea or coffee. There are plenty of people who don't for religious reasons too. We're not ignorant of other people's choices or cultures and we're not constantly scanning other tables to see what people are drinking.
I always decline the big super sized soft drinks in American fast food places, I don't feel out of place in doing so and no-one cares either.
There are many Europeans who don't drink coffee, tea or alcohol for a number of reasons. And while they are all part of the culture in many areas, nobody will be offended if you want something else.
Fruit juices, water and cola are available everywhere. No one will bat an eyelid if you order a soft drink. Others maybe driving, so will also be abstaining. I never order coffee after dinner and have never had any odd looks for declining.
If you can drink herbal teas such as mint tea, these are widely available.
For the most part, I agree with responses so far.
I guess to add, you would notice a difference depending on the country, I do not think you would have any issues or even notice a difference in the UK, or even Germany, but might in a more Mediterranean, wine centered culture, but as others have stated a polite refusal is all that is needed, and not uncommon.
My only other advice might be to consider the type of restaurant you select. Some places are more alcohol centered. Obviously a restaurant at a vineyard serves food to feature their wines...so not partaking in the recommended wine with the course might seem odd, and is often part of the price of the set meal. This could extend to an Enoteca in Italy, where the feature is wine, serving meals to go along, heading to a traditional Trattoria or Restaurant might be a better choice. I suppose the German Biergarten or hall might see the same expectation, though I don't think that the larger tourist centered operations would bat an eye if you want to experience one. These are just a few examples, but illustrate the point.
we go to various German Biergarten in several parts of Germany and Austria. We don't drink and have never had a moment's problem getting various fruit Schoerle drinks - fizzy water with non alcoholic apple or other fruit juice. Tasty and cheap, and very local.
I rarely order any of those at a restaurant and, in many years of travels in Europe, have never experienced an odd reaction or even a second look as a result.
When I've traveled with some of my European friends and colleagues, both in the US and in Europe, they used to regularly try to get me to have a glass of wine or pint of beer with them. In a UK pub, my friends and colleagues were particularly persistent ("you're in a pub, have a pint!") but in a teasing sort of way and still just accepted that I'd be drinking water. They may still offer out of politeness, but have gotten used to my declining. They're more surprised now if I do have a glass with them.
But these were close friends, and not different than I might expect in the US. No one else - staff or other diners - has ever given it a second's notice.
I agree with the above posters about the ease and acceptance of choosing what you want and not worrying about others around you are drinking. I did want to mention a drink we found very widespread in Northern Europe a couple of years ago that we enjoyed in cafes and restaurants. We liked it so much that we came home and bought similar shaped clear mugs. That drink was simply fresh mint tea. It was as easy as sprigs of mint, hot water and honey (optional). Fortunately we have a source of fresh mint in our garden to keep us thinking about our time in Europe all year long.
I totally agree that you'll find this to be a non-issue.
I spend a lot of time in Europe. At lunch and dinner my beverage of choice is non-fizzy water 95% of the time. I occasionally order house-made lemonade with a casual meal. On really rare occasions I'll order a Coke to be served with pizza or perhaps before the meal if I'm fainting from hunger. A high-end chef might be flummoxed by a diner's decision to consume a sweet soft drink with a serious meal, but I don't go to that sort of place, and I'm a water-with-meal gal anyway. I've had no issues except with getting the right kind of water (see below), but I certainly wouldn't go to a fancy restaurant where my only choice was a multi-course meal priced to include matching wines I wouldn't be drinking.
Despite specifying still water, I have on a few occasions been served the fizzy stuff, which I dislike just as much as wine. I just can't drink it. So I've learned (I hope) always to look at the bottle before I start drinking the water. Italy is a country where this seems a bit likelier to happen because the local preference tilts very strongly toward fizz. It happened once in Normandy as well.
Getting free tap water instead of paying for bottled water is a whole different subject, and I'm not going to touch that one. That situation varies by country. If that's something you want to explore I recommend posting an inquiry in the appropriate country forum.
The other thing to be aware of is that your server may on rare occasions show up at your table with a free after-dinner drink of something local. If I realize what is happening in time, I just smile and wave it off with a "No thank you" (in the local language if I can manage that). Otherwise, it just sits on the table, not consumed. I do the same thing with the little dishes of olives sometimes presented as appetizers in Mediterranean countries.
Many countries have fruit-based soft drinks that are lighter and less syrupy than most US equivalents. They are worth trying if you want something other than water. I think non-alcoholic ciders are available in some areas. Non-alcoholic grape juice is probably more limited geographically; in my memory that's connected with Switzerland. I believe the latter is more expensive than the cheapest table wine.
I agree that in restaurants, you will have no trouble. I like Mona's idea of mint tea; learn the word in the language of the country for "herbal tea" or "infusion," and it will serve you well.
Where you're liable to run into trouble is if you are the guest (at home or in a restaurant) of a local. It can be very frustrating to keep turning down your host's offer of a digestivo or after-dinner coffee. It's okay to be polite but firm. "No, thank you," is sufficient. There's no need to explain or elaborate on your reasons unless you want to. And if your host insists on pouring you a glass or cup of whatever, quietly leave it alone. It's okay.
This is a frequently asked question here with the same responses. On your list of worries about what you should and should not do, this one is near the bottom. Wine and beer is available in more locations than the US such as McDonald's. And obviously you don't go a tour of wineries or beer gardens.
Is some of your perception from watching Rick’s shows? Although he’s having something with alcohol at his highlighted meals, we haven’t experienced expectations to be much different than eating in the US.
When you’re seated for breakfast, the waiter will usually ask you if you want coffee. The juice options are on the buffet area if that’s how the food is being served. I would just know “orange juice” or whatever in the local language, so you can reply.
If you’re participating in a cooking class, it’s good to mention it up front, so the chef isn’t pouring wine, etc. in your glass. It could seem like a slight on their choice of wine if you leave it. We have stopped drinking alcohol, so during our Spain cooking class, the chef blended our dessert drink with a non-alcoholic base before blending the rest of the participants’ dessert drink. We appreciated it, and tipped him nicely for his consideration.
I concur with the replies above and would just note that regarding enotecas or beergardens the comparison might be to going to a seafood restaurant or a steakhouse and then not ordering any seafood or steak, respectively. Someone might wonder, momentarily, why you chose a steakhouse if you don't eat meat, but it's a rare steakhouse (ha) that doesn't have an item or two for those who don't want meat. I don't eat much fish, but I do enjoy dining by the water, and there's usually choices on the menu to accommodate me.
Is a rare steakhouse a well done pun? 😀
More and more, people are being provided alternatives to certain foods (gluten free, vegetarian, vegan, etc.), and not for reasons that they’re picky, offending, or backwater. Many places and hosts realize that the customer’s right. As with food, beverage options are respected.
"To quote my mum, “nobody is looking at you dear, you’re not that interesting”. :-)"
Well, nothing to add that everyone hasn't already said but I will thank Emma for the above statement. I literally laughed out loud and will say that sounds like something my Mom would have said.
I'll just add this in case there are lurkers - even on a tour (Rick Steves or otherwise) no one notices if you decline wine or another beverage. You travel the way you want.
One of my grandmothers DID used to say "You won't see anyone you know or care about" .
Ok I get it, you're LDS. (I grew up LDS) I really don't understand your question, I'm sure there are people in Europe that don't drink alcohol and besides who cares. International faux pax.... LOL
We don’t drink coffee, tea or alcohol either, and it doesn’t have anything to do with religion. Soda or lemonade are available everywhere. It’s much more expensive than alcohol, there are no refills, and you typically won’t get ice. I don’t the ink we’ve ever offended anyone by our beverage choice. They probably laugh at us because we’re paying 30% more for soda than alcohol, but who cares?
Do watch for Cafe Gourmand on the dessert menu if you’ll be in France. It’s an assortment of small desserts, served with coffee. You can usually get it with hot chocolate (if you drink that), and it’s ALWAYS worth trying.
I rarely drink caffeinated tea and had no trouble ordering herbal teas in any country we've been to in Europe. Mint, camomile, etc were always available.
I don't drink alcohol either. I love sparkling water and keep Pellegrino or Perrier in the fridge at home. I choose sparkling water for meals in Europe. The fruity, non-caffeinated sodas are delicious, but I rarely drink them due to the high sugar content.
I've never had a problem with not drinking alcohol in restaurants or pubs anywhere. The only times it's been a little dicey so far have been on a couple of RS tours that included visits to winery kinds of places when I was the only non-drinker. But an alternative was available for me.
The funniest experience like that was a winery in Italy that had one of those lunches with several courses and wines to go with them. Some folks drank more than tasted the wines and slept when we got back on the bus. I had a 2 liter bottle of room temperature citrus soda for toasting each course.
My husband is former LDS, but he avoids caffeine for health reasons (HBP) as well as beer (gout). He does like and can drink wine. But his all time travel favorites are the apple tea in Istanbul, Schweppes Agrum and Cécémel dark chocolate milk. He doesn't worry about caffeine if chocolate is involved.
As others have said, you will be fine in Europe. Just familiarize yourself with the likely options in the places you are going. Not every location will have the exact same options and not every menu will have English translations.
I agree that it’s not a big deal, water and juice are available everywhere as is soda. I’m guessing cola is out for you too, and I’m not as sure about sprite or other caffeine free sodas at restaurants, it is easily found in stores though.
One thing to be aware of is often in Mediterranean countries restaurants there’s a “meal of the day” with bread, appetizer, main dish, dessert and wine. It’s a choice, there’s always the option of just ordering off the menu and getting exactly what you want. But the daily meal is often a decent deal, but you will need to specify no wine. No one will care, plenty of people don’t drink, but if there’s a language barrier it might take a minute to get it across.
Even in German restaurants that are a part of a brewery, no one will care. We visit friends who live near Münster and whenever we meet up for dinner at Pinkus Müller, our friends order sparking water, apple juice or non-alcoholic beer as they are very careful about not driving under the influence. No one bats an eye.
The only time I've witnessed a problem was when a couple sat next to us at a small "fine dining" sort of restaurant in Paris, and tried to order a single plate to share for dinner, and no beverages - just tap water. The waiter was completely confused - understandably so - and soon the owner appeared. When the couple repeated their request (a single course - one plate - to share, with tap water), the owner politely explained that wasn't possible because this was a small restaurant with just two seatings per night - the sort of traditional restaurant where one orders a two or three course meal with either wine or sparking water. The owner then politely suggested they go to a cafe instead. It was painful to watch, though to be fair, the owner tried his best to be discreet. So although this isn't the same as what you describe, I hope it illustrates how even in a fine Parisian restaurant, the owner was willing to allow them to order sparking water rather than wine, so long as they ordered a proper meal. The couple in question were completely clueless.
You are the customer and should be able to abstain without disdain. That said, a friend visiting Paris requested a glass of milk with her dinner. Her French waiter refused to serve her milk and told her that only children drink milk with dinner.
Wow, that was a picky/offensive waiter! On the other hand, foisting coffee, tea, or alcohol on a diner who doesn’t consume either wouldn’t be right. Drink what you choose, and go where it’s served.