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I have a couple esophageal conditions that result in a high probability of a food bolus impaction when eating (a food bolus impaction is when food gets stuck in the esophagus). There are a few precautions I take when eating to reduce the risk of food getting stuck in my esophagus, one of them being taking a drink with every swallow. Naturally, this means I consume a fair amount of water during a meal.

While traveling to France and Germany recently, I had a bit of a hard time getting enough water during my meal. I can't just ask for a pitcher of (tap) water like I can in the USA. In Europe, when you order water, you get bottled water1, and specifically requesting tap water is bad etiquette.

But one bottle of water isn't enough.

Is there a way I can request a sufficient supply of (still) water, without breaking etiquette rules?

The only option I've thought of is ordering multiple bottles of water (which, depending on the meal and the bottle size, could easily be 4+), but that's: expensive, potentially wasteful (if I order more than I need), and a little weird. I don't mind revealing my swallowing issues, though preferably if I must, I'd do so with a very concise explanation.

1And hopefully I remembered to ask for still water. Getting a food impaction when chasing food with carbonated water (or any kind of carbonation) is the worst.

Edit: Wow, so tap water seems to be more common than I had thought in France. My initial assumption was based on my previous experience, in which I was eating at a restaurant in Paris (I can't recall it's name, but it was quite popular (but not expensive)). When I asked the waitress for tap water as my drink (and declined wine and other drink options), she was visibly shocked and upset. For the rest of the evening she either ignored me (and my wife), or if she had to interact with us, she had a permanent scowl directed at us. It was quite clear she fully expected us to order a "proper" drink. I assumed I had broken some kind of French etiquette rule due to this experience.

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    In France, you can definitely ask for a pitcher of tap water (une carafe d'eau) and will almost always get one. In Germany, it's more complicated but you can at least ask for a large (1L) bottle; or is that not enough? – Relaxed Jul 17 '17 at 5:59
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    I can't just ask for a pitcher of (tap) water like I can in the USA — Huh? Why not? I always do that and I've rarely had problems. – gerrit Jul 17 '17 at 9:48
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    The remarkable confusion on this question seems to be caused by the bizarre bringing together of France and Germany wherein, on this very topic, the two answers are utterly different. It would be exactly like breezily asking "Can I drive fast in Germany and Switzerland?" (one is indeed known for incredibly fast driving and one is indeed known for incredibly slow driving). – Fattie Jul 17 '17 at 11:52
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – JonathanReez Jul 18 '17 at 13:04
  • As for your waitresses preference for customers who order "proper drinks", I've run into the same problem in the US. The waitress wants to spend her time where it gets her the tips. In some restaurants the drink is a large chunk of the bill. The simple answer is to tip well. The moment you get the look smile and say, "Don't worry, we'll take care of you". I tip my waitress based on her performance. The kitchen can be on fire but if she's handling it well I still tip. – candied_orange Jul 23 '17 at 9:58

11 Answers 11

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  1. Your in Europe is an overgeneralization. But that does not solve your issue in individual cases. So:

  2. This has nothing to do with etiquette, anyway. You have a medical condition, that goes beyond etiquette.

I have a medical condition that requires me to drink a lot.
Can you bring me 2 liters of tap water to go with the meal?

Do not make it more complicated than that. If they refuse to accommodate you, walk out.
On your way out you may want to inform the manager why you're leaving.

(And of course, don't complain if they charge you something for it. That's fair).

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    In many European countries there is no way the waiters would be able to able to understand such a complex phrase in English. I'd recommend having a translation on your phone if needed. – JonathanReez Jul 17 '17 at 9:36
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    I agree with @JonathanReez. So for the OP as a help: In German it would be: "Ich habe eine Krankheit, weshalb ich während des Essens sehr viel trinken muss. Könnten Sie mir daher freundlicherweise 2 Liter Leitungswasser zu meinem Essen bringen?" – dirkk Jul 17 '17 at 10:18
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    Regarding the cost - not sure about elsewhere in Europe, but in the UK any establishment that sells alcohol must also provide unlimited cold tap water free of charge. Since most restaurants sell alcohol they are included. (Edit: Just noticed, Richy B said this as a comment on Subert's answer, along with a reference) – Kallum Tanton Jul 17 '17 at 11:10
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – JonathanReez Jul 18 '17 at 13:20
  • @CandiedOrange. For your one word edit, three or more people do need to review. You are asked to refrain from small edits because of that. On top of that, any edit brings a question up to the top and too many of those are not good for the site. Good edits are appreciated, small edits are a pain. – Willeke Jul 23 '17 at 10:57
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In France it is required by law to provide tap water to a customer, for free. It is very common and acceptable to ask for tap water in a pitcher in a restaurant. Don't hesitate to ask for a refill.

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    In the UK, tap water has to be legally free if the place is selling alcohol ( bbc.co.uk/news/uk-39881236 ) . If they don't sell alcohol, there is no legal requirement for them to provide free tap water. – Richy B. Jul 17 '17 at 10:07
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    Yes, you're fine in France but you'll need to be specific - asking for l'eau (water) will usually get you bottled water, whereas carafe d'eau (lit. a jug of water) will get you tap water. – Mourndark Jul 17 '17 at 13:30
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – JonathanReez Jul 22 '17 at 15:47
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In my experience, places where waiters may frown upon customers ordering tap water will happily accommodate you if you order a paid drink with it. Just order yourself an aperitif or a glass of cola / juice / beer, and ask the waiter to bring a pitcher along. This way, the restaurant still makes the profit they expect to make, and you get enough water.

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    Yes! While in France restaurants are legally required to provide free tap water, it doesn't mean they won't consider people who order the simplest meal and just tap water not to be cheapskates... and thus not expect much of a tip (since it's optional in France). – Matthieu M. Jul 19 '17 at 8:51
  • I do this often, it works pretty well. Hot tea is a good choice for a paid drink - it usually isn't too expensive, it's not carbonated (as the OP mentioned that may be an issue), and I find the heat helps when I'm having trouble with my throat. – Megha Jul 21 '17 at 7:05
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    @Matthieu: besides which, arguing points of etiquette with Parisian waiters is (I've heard) a fool's errand even if you're French, never mind foreign. – Steve Jessop Jul 23 '17 at 1:16
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    @SteveJessop: It's a bit embarrassing but... yes. French waiters are not exactly renown for their hospitality, especially in "cheap" bars/restaurants in touristic places where they have no incentive to be kind since the place will get full anyway and one tourist spends much like another. Out of the beaten ways places, or higher end ones, are more likely to have welcoming staff. – Matthieu M. Jul 23 '17 at 11:23
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I am French myself, and i traveled a lot in my country.

I've never found a place where they wouldn't (or would reluctantly) serve tap water. Maybe in very expensive restaurants (i doubt it, but why not), but anywhere else it's totally okay.

  • On the other hand, they often (not always) bring such small jugs that you need to ask for more every five minutes... – Marc Glisse Jul 21 '17 at 19:19
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I may want to add the specific case for Austria: You can order tap water ("Leitungswasser") in almost any restaurant here. They will charge you a small amount (mostly for the service of bringing the water to your table, washing the glass after use).

Be aware that "Stilles Wasser" (Still water) will be bottled and expensive as it is mineral water. A useful hint by martin.koerbel from the comments: If they charge for "Leitungswasser" they will need to reflect that fact in the menu, so you can look up the price for it before you order it. If it is not listed there it will - most certainly - be free (although I did encounter places where this was not the case).

Source: I live in Austria and have been to most of the parts in the country. As I am without a regular income tapwater is the way to go in restaurants.

  • @martin.koerberl: Thanks, I have added it to the answer. I did encounter places where this wasn't the case, i.e. No tap water on the menu and they still charged a small amount for it - is this illegal? – Haini Jul 18 '17 at 6:53
  • I suppose Austria is happier with serving tap water than Germany because they already serve water anyway as a side to coffee. – Hagen von Eitzen Jul 19 '17 at 3:29
  • @DavidRicherby I doubt that it's legal to allow people to clean their own glass and use it again for other customers. I don't get this distinction either, and I'd be surprised if the law makes this distinction (but I'm interested in hearing otherwise). – martin.koeberl Jul 20 '17 at 19:32
  • @David Richerby: You are indeed correct that even the law is not crazy enough for Something like that - pardon me! I will edit my answer and clarify. As a sidenote: I mixed up some surveys / studies that picked up the reasons for charging tap water, as surely a whopping 1,80€/1000L can't be the reason. The restaurants mostly answered with a.) its the service that is expensive or b.) they vitalize the water as "Grander" Water ... – Haini Jul 21 '17 at 12:51
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I'm in Europe, and have travelled in many European countries over many years.

I can count on the fingers of a hand, the times I haven't been able to say "a glass of tap water please". That includes pubs that make most of their money from drinks. Perhaps "once in 4-5 years" kind of frequency, that rarely.

If needed, "sorry, but I have a medical condition and need tap not bottled water, can I have a jug of tap water, thank you".

If they say no, say "okay then, thank you" courteously, and leave. Change where you are for anywhere else.

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You got a healthy amount of answers and comments, but I see no concise part about Germany, so let me add that:

While in France you get your unlimited supply of tap water by law, in Germany - at least in all places I visited so far, mostly in the south - waiters do understand the word "tap water" (well, Leitungswasser). They do not get offended, but they will not actually go to a tap and let out our excellent and healthy tap water, but they will very likely open a bottle of still water.

In other words, hereabouts, the word "Leitungswasser" is a synonym for "Stilles Wasser" (still bottled water), at least it is understood as such by waiters. They generally, in my experience, won't raise a brow, but you will pay whatever you have to pay for still water.

When going out with many people, it is common to order bottles of water for the table; indeed I have never seen pitchers of clear water. You can get some alcoholic beverages in pitchers, but in my experience not still water.

Everything said so far aside: most waiters around here are human though, and you might just try to order "one glass of XXX, and I need to drink a lot for my stomach, could you please also bring a large jug of simple Leitungswasser". 99% they will happily respond "sure! I'll bring you a large bottle" (and you will pay for it), but you might just meet the 1% who indeed is able to fetch some vase and fill it to the brim with actual tap water from a tap.

But I would not suggest leaving the restaurant if they can only bring bottles - you might find yourself starving (and thirsty!) after a few days...

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    Back in here you wont get "original" coke or even 7-up especially in pubs. They do have large containers of similar enough drinks produced locally that are far more cheaper, and just add a truckload of ice when serving. – Rui F Ribeiro Jul 20 '17 at 8:28
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    That makes sense, @RuiFRibeiro. – AnoE Jul 20 '17 at 10:00
  • btw some will be atraightforward about it, many will swear it is the genuine article. do not expect always a straight answer if inquiring about it. I have seen the containers, they look like the metal casks/kegs of beer. – Rui F Ribeiro Jul 20 '17 at 14:45
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    Yeah. By the way, I have removed that paragraph from my answer, it really has nothing to do with the question at hand, but would be its own question. @RuiFRibeiro – AnoE Jul 20 '17 at 14:51
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    I was in Flensburg (almost on the Danish border) recently and on the menu I found 'Flensburger tap water' (but written in German) 500cl €1. – Willeke Jul 21 '17 at 18:14
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There's nothing weird in ordering a few bottles of water, however it would be more economic to order one big bottle instead of few smaller ones (if the restaurant has it in menu).

However, if you expect to get 4 bottles in the price of 1 because you need more water, it's similar like asking a double steak in a price of 1, because your body needs more proteins.

Restaurants are generally expensive and for some people they are more expensive than for others.

Drinks are the main income source for restaurants in Germany, so it's not very likely you find one that will offer drinks for bulk price. If so, they'll have to get their money in some other way. Either the quality would be lower, or the food will be more expensive.

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Other answers have touched upon some of these, but to recap here are some strategies you can use:

  • Don't feel shy and order tap water as often as you need. It's extremely common and totally unproblematic in France. Most waiters/restaurateurs expect it and won't think twice about it, only the most upscale restaurants expect you to buy bottled water. It's not so common in Germany but still worth a try. The only “regular” place (i.e. beside remote islands or mountain hut where water supply is scarce) I have seen a waiter flat out refuse to serve tap water was Luxembourg.
  • Order large (1L) bottles. I can't tell if you meant 4L or 4 individual 33cl bottles but if you meant the latter then switching to large bottles would make it easier. Just ask for a “large” bottle of (flat) water. In Germany, water tends to be carbonated if you do not ask specifically. While not completely idiomatic asking for water “without gas” may be the safest way to make yourself understood if you are not comfortable speaking German.
  • If you still have some qualms about ordering water, order a drink at the beginning of the meal, maybe some soda, juice, or a beer to drink before your food. That way you don't come across as cheap and the restaurant gets to make a profit on the drinks so you can feel free to ask for tap water. Same thing if your party is having a bottle of wine or something, asking for water next to it is completely normal.
  • @Fattie As I said it's not common but I did get some before (although possibly by the glass, not the pitcher) and I don't think the contrast is as sharp as you make it to be. I see no harm in asking. Incidentally, I am still not convinced the law in France unambiguously require restaurants to offer free tap water but I tried to steer clear of that discussion. – Relaxed Jul 17 '17 at 12:08
  • @Fattie What's your point? Is it a cliche or not now? I do make a distinction of course, you're right that the situations are very different. – Relaxed Jul 17 '17 at 13:41
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    I would agree with relaxed about the fact that asking for tap water in Germany is uncommon. But if you said you had a medical condition most of the time they would be happy to accommodate. Germans are very good about accommodations. – OmamArmy Jul 19 '17 at 8:39
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    @Fattie Um. You're claiming that Germany doesn't have potable running water? Why would it need to be filtered? Why couldn't they just put it in a beer glass for you? They might be unwilling to give you tap water but your claim that they're physically unable to is laughable. – David Richerby Jul 19 '17 at 21:50
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The only times in Europe I've not been able to get more than a glass of water (though I've never asked for several liters for me alone) in a restaurant was in parts of Spain during a severe drought, when water rationing was in effect.

And even in those cases they're usually more than happy to sell you any amount of bottled water (carbonated and still both) as long as they have it in stock.

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One trick that can help in Germany if you're somewhere that doesn't have large bottles of water is that alcohol-free hefeweizen is widely available, sometimes cheaper than water, and the standard size is a half liter.

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    The OP specifically asked for non-carbonated water. I doubt that beer, with or without alcohol, would be of any value in this case. – Matthias Jul 23 '17 at 21:03
  • That's a reasonable point. Nonetheless, I prefer my water uncarbonated but am happy with beer, so perhaps OP is similar. – Noah Snyder Jul 25 '17 at 5:30

protected by Mark Mayo Jul 17 '17 at 9:32

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