Water, juice, and cultural differences

An array of fresh juices in a Polish supermarket, including carrot, beet, aloe and grapefruit.


Something I need to vent about: how European bars and restaurants are incredibly stingy with water. If you order water, you get a bottle of water— sometimes really tiny!— and good luck getting a regular glass of tap water. On the flip side, I’ve noticed how easy it is to get really excellent juice at bars, restaurants and stores.

The no-water business at bars seems a bad idea for people drinking. I mean, how are drinkers supposed to stay hydrated? Once, at a restaurant in the Czech Republic and after most of a bottle of wine, my friend and I decided the best thing to do was hide the water glasses in our purses, sneak into the bathroom, and fill up the glasses. And at a recent night out at a bar in Poland, I found it hysterical that while beer was served in 1-litre mugs, I couldn’t get a glass of water that size. After much haggling and discussion, I got an empty 1-litre mug and a few tiny bottles of water.

Tiny bottle of water (the sugar shaker is next to it for scale.)
Tiny bottle of water (the sugar shaker is next to it for scale.)

And trying to get tap water is next to impossible. A few vegan/vegetarian joints (the awesome chain Loving Hut comes to mind) have water coolers and glasses of water available for free, but they’re not the norm. Most places I’ve been in will flat out refuse to give out tap water, much less for free.

While I can completely understand not giving a huge glass of water to every person who walks through the door, I’m baffled why it’s so hard to get water at restaurants in Europe. Part of it may be the water is fairly hard here (old pipes) and I’m guessing environmental reasons have a lot to do with it. Especially in the southwest and California, restaurants really ought to be careful of their water use.

Or maybe restaurants are just cheap.

However, I’ve decided to embrace the water-less restaurants, and embrace something else: juice. A number of bars and restaurants I’ve been to serve fresh juice— and this seems to go along with  the Polish way of drinking. Order a bottle of vodka, get two or three pitchers of juice, do shots and chase the vodka with juice.

Also, I’ve discovered some of the most interesting juice varieties at grocery stores. The picture at the top are of freshly bottled juices— you buy them and drink them the day of, since they have no preservatives. They’re sold everywhere from nicer grocery stores to tiny corner stores, and my favorite is the carrot juice. The selection of juice in cartons is good as well— and I’ve found an excellent banana juice.

Which almost makes up for the missing water glasses in restaurants…

Juice in cartons, Polish corner store.
Juice in cartons, Polish corner store.

3 thoughts on “Water, juice, and cultural differences

Add yours

  1. I’m coming around to juices as something more than a breakfast thing, in part because of a local middle eastern grocery that carries some of those cartons of interesting pure juices. But the lack of just tap water would drive me bonkers.

    1. I’m with you. While I’m developing a taste for different kinds of juice, I’ve started the smuggle in my own bottles of water…

  2. Very interesting about the tap water. I haven’t been to Europe since I was a teenager, but you’d think an essential for survival would be more readily available in the wealthiest places in the world. Another aspect of my Canadian life I can’t take for granted.

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