Most Americans know Halloween as the time for trick-or-treating, caramel apples, and crazy costumes. In Europe? Halloween is that night you sit down and catch up on your TV shows, pretty much like any other night. As a British expat in America, I was taken completely by surprise at how much enthusiasm there is for Halloween here.
These are a few of the most perplexing American traditions from a European perspective:
1. Candy corn
The first time I encountered candy corn was when I was living in the Czech Republic. An American friend had just visited home and come back with a veritable sack full of the little orange-and-yellow triangles. She presented it as if it were some holy item, and every other American in the room crowded round, nostalgia misting their eyes.
I was thinking: What on earth is it? Can I eat it? Do I build little towers out of it? Once I’d established it was a food, I wondered why exactly it was a food. It tasted, well, plain bad. What was all the fuss about? Now that I’m in America, I realize this is an autumn classic and a must for any Halloween candy bowl. To any European who sets eyes on it, though, it’s prettily colored chalk that should on no account be put in your mouth.
2. Sexy / creative costumes
Granted, some of us Brits do like to dress up on Halloween, especially as children or students. However, our Halloween costumes have a strict code: They have to be scary. Ghost, vampire, mummy, and witch are popular choices. In America, however, it seems as though your favorite character or celebrity, ‘sexy’ anything, or even more abstract interpretations such as ‘Freudian slip’ and ‘budget cut’ are legitimate costumes.
In Europe, you’re lucky if we dress up at all. I’ve known plenty of Americans who spend a good few months leading into Halloween feverishly researching and making costumes. Hats off to America, it’s certainly more fun that way.
3. Pumpkin beer
I’m not saying we don’t have it in Europe, I’m just saying that never in my life have I ever seen or heard of it in Europe. Americans seem to equate fall with pumpkin everything, and Halloween means an abundance of pumpkin beer. If you asked which pumpkin beers they had on tap in any English pub, they’d give you a pitying look and a pint of good old English ale. None of that newfangled nonsense.
4. TP and egging
Not one of the more pleasant traditions in America, it has to be said. Some Brits might have heard of people throwing toilet paper and eggs at people’s houses on Halloween, but I guarantee you not a single person has ever taken part in it. It just isn’t done in Europe.
In America, however, this seems to be a favorite college pastime on and around Halloween. It’s the one Halloween tradition I really don’t envy.
5. Decorated houses
I’ve taken great pleasure in spotting the most extreme and wonderful Halloween decorations along the streets in America. Americans don’t just stop at pumpkins: Giant spiders, graveyards, swathes of spider webs, and countless miscellaneous ghouls and ghosties can be found in abundance on any street in American neighborhoods.
In England, you’re likely to spot a few pumpkins in windows and maybe a skeleton or two if you search long and hard. It seems Christmas is the only time when the British really go all-out on decorations — that and the World Cup, anyway. Decorating for Halloween? It just doesn’t happen.
Most Europeans know what trick-or-treating is. Not that many have participated. As a child, I remember ringing the doorbells of about three houses (the owners of which we knew) and receiving a chocolate bar or two. I’m not convinced we were even in costumes, and I’ve never once had a trick-or-treater knock on my door in England.
In America, it’s a tradition everyone takes part in with gusto. Adults stay home with huge tubs of candy, and children run in packs and hit up house after house until the sugar rush wears off and they drop where they stand.