I am a white male engineer born in Brazil and lived also in United States and France. I usually opt to live with roommates since it is more affordable and also I like the atmosphere of a shared living. The only problem that I have is that, despite rarely having problems with my multinational roommates from all continents, except Oceania so far, and races, I noticed that I do fairly poor with roommates (and at times also neighbors) that are originally from Europe. To list the problems encountered so far:

  1. German roommate in United States complained hastily that me and my Chinese American roommate don't buy toilet paper promptly as it finished. It warranted to me be yelled at being accused of being reckless of leaving the house without TP. The other roommate (and me) found his rant disproportional and we agreed to buy more TP while the German roommate didn't want to join. This roommate also accused another Vietnamese roommate of lying about being a doctor because he had tattoos. He had a shady past, but seemed to have got over it since. The Vietnamese roommate came to talk to me about that very upset about the situation and said that he "would get mean with him", so I felt it was urgent to broker a reconciliation which happened fine.

  2. French neighbors in student dormitory in France came often to knock at my door in the middle of night and sometimes they entered the room drunk to make noise. They appeared to be targeting by Brazilian roommate. We had to file a complaint with the dormitory manager. After a while the Brazilian roommate left and a Lebanese roommate came in, and one day they knocked the door again (I had told him about the facts before) and he went to answer the door with a knife. Thankfully they had left by the time he picked his knife and went to answer the door. I don't blame my roommate about his defensive attitude, I just didn't want to get involved in such case.

  3. Female French roommate in France caused a lot of noise at night, stole my food, had nervous breakdowns and acted very rudely with me. She appeared to be psychologically troubled.

  4. Female French roommate (for only a few days, since I arrived just before she left the house) said that my habit of cleaning up common areas that appear to be neglected by the others could become a source of conflict. My Tunisian roommate mocked that she and other former roommates of the house (3 French and one Italian) neglected the cleaning and we did a major clean up ourselves.

  5. French roommate in France got upset when he saw me doing his dishes. The first time he had prepared a diner with friends and he said that he was too tired to wash them at night but he promised to wash them next day. Next day at noon the dishes were still to be washed so I washed them without expecting anything in return and I didn't say anything about it, other than, when he said that he would owe me that favor, he could return it by mopping the floor of the kitchen, which was left quite dirty after the dinner (so he already had this obligation anyway). He said that felt being a trouble if I do the dishes for him. The next week he saw me washing a pan that looked one that he had just left in the sink and told me to stop washing his dishes until he realized the mistake. He said that he would fell bad if I do the chores for him, which, whenever I do I never expect anything back and most my other roommates so far never complained about that or sometimes even praise me.

  6. French roommate was thrown out of the house by landlord (who lived in the house) in Brazil after he brought a girl to his room. It didn't appear that they were in the room to talk about Jesus. I didn't see the situation and cannot say who was right, but the landlord appeared to be mad at him.

I fell that it looks like I am a trouble maker for European people and I can't see what am I doing wrong. I don't have any particular rant against Europeans in general, but it seems that their values are simply too complex for me to understand, even after being used to other even more diverse cultures, like the Chinese, African and Arab. I do have some opinions that are less acceptable in Europe like I don't enjoy alcohol and I am pro gun rights, but many of them didn't even know that before causing these troubles to me and other people I know usually simply do not agree without causing trouble. What am I doing wrong? Am I just unlucky?

  • 1
    Do you get along with people from north America?
    – Golden Cuy
    Oct 18, 2017 at 1:55
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    Your examples suggest a specific problem with Frenchmen, not Europeans in general. Decent chance it's just strange luck, though. Oct 18, 2017 at 2:15
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    I'm not sure if you've just had a bad run of luck or if there is some cultural tic going on in Europe in this generation. I do know that I'm now officially afraid of French people. ;D
    – akaioi
    Oct 18, 2017 at 2:23
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    Are you sure this isn't an illusory correlation? It makes sense that if you have lately been in France then most of your roommates would have been French and if most of your roommates are French then most of your bad roommates will be French. The two incidents not happening in France don't look that crazy to me, actually they look pretty normal. Oct 18, 2017 at 19:46
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    @GabrielDiego If what you describe is accurate then your problem is that Europeans don't share the well-established world cleanliness standards. E.g. everywhere but in Europe it's OK to use up the toilet paper and not restock but it's not OK to leave your dishes in the sink. So if you want to live with Europeans, you'll have to get used to their greater variance in hygiene standards. However, I doubt that the variance is much lower elsewhere. Chances are, you just ascribe the variance to other attributes, e.g. "those students / women / old people / jocks" instead of "those Europeans". Oct 19, 2017 at 8:47

5 Answers 5


I'm a landlord as a side business, so I've pretty much seen it all, from the tenant who returns the flat without a single grain of dust even on the top of the cupboards (these get a discount, lol) to the... well, you know, when the neighbors call because of the smell asking if someone died in there, so I go check, and I find the door open, no-one inside, and it turns out the tenant was too cheap to buy cat litter, so the cupboards under the kitchen sink have a foot thick layer of cat poop in them, the electricity has been cut months ago because he was too cheap to pay, and the fridge is still full of what may once had been food... first time I had to wear a gas mask, LOL

Now, your roommate problem is known as the Tragedy of the Commons aka "I don't need to clean if someone else will!"

This problem is probabilistic: say you pick 5 roommates from a population of 80% orderly people who clean and 20% slobs. If you get a good sample you'll have 1 slob and 4 who like it clean. After a few months, one of the 4 "cleaners" gets fed up with always having to clean the slob's dishes and goes on a strike. So you get 2 slobs and 3 cleaners, then the process accelerates until everyone gives up and you live in a trash heap.

The different cultures you mention may very well have different average levels of slobs/moochers vs orderly/cleaning people. Or maybe you just got lucky with your sampling of Americans. But in any case, introduce one slob/moocher into a well-organized set of roommates, it will become a wreck unless drastic measures are applied to civilize or expel the slob/moocher.

Now since I'm French I find myself in a good position to explain your persistent problems with French people ;)

French neighbors in student dormitory in France came often to knock at my door in the middle of night and sometimes they entered the room drunk to make noise.

The probabilistic approach explained above extends to a dorm, except the sample is much larger (like 50 people) so the probability of having some low-lifes bent on waking up everyone else the night before the exam becomes 100%.

When I was in a dorm this was quickly resolved by all the people who would like to actually have their diploma at the end of the year ganging together and applying buckets of cold water to the drunks. It kinda worked, some were quite intent on making everyone's life miserable though, so when it got to the point of pillowfights I rented my own flat. A few weeks later I learned that they were filling their pillows with hardcover books, and was informed it was effective.

Your Lebanese roommate with his knife had a rather bad idea though, regarding going to jail and all that...

Female French roommate in France caused a lot of noise at night, stole my food, had nervous breakdowns and acted very rudely with me. She appeared to be psychologically troubled.

I'd say you got a random sample of crazy.

Female French roommate (for only a few days, since I arrived just before she left the house) said that my habit of cleaning up common areas that appear to be neglected by the others could become a source of conflict.

Now we're getting into the juicy bits. Quoting your question:

I fell that it looks like I am a trouble maker for European people and I can't see what am I doing wrong. I don't have any particular rant against Europeans in general, but it seems that their values are simply too complex for me to understand

The reason you had bad experience with the French is that our culture is very reliant on the welfare state, ie everyone expects free stuff without effort, which means lack of self-reliance and lack of individual responsibility. This is deeply ingrained into the mentality. If you were raised as an independent-minded individual you should have trouble understanding this, but I assure you it is true.

You doing the dishes creates a higher standard of cleanliness which she would now feel complied to respect. This is why she resents it and labels it "a source of conflict". Because by being responsible, serious and respectable, you show her that she is not, and she doesn't like that. Obviously she would never say it, so she accuses you of "creating conflict". Got it?

The same happens quite frequently at some workplaces, when someone who works hard will be reminded by his colleagues that he should work less, because they don't want competition.

I'm going to insist on the word "competition" here, in the aspect of "comparing oneself to others": when you do something good in front of someone who is not averse to this, they will either respect you, try to do better or try to do at least as good. When you do it in front of someone who loathes competition/comparison due to a repressed inferiority complex they will understand it as you boasting how much better you are than them, deeply resent it or get envious, and try to prevent you from doing it again.

This is what happens. It is textbook.

French roommate in France got upset when he saw me doing his dishes.

Again, same interpretation as above ;)

I'm sure you'll be surprised by this, but it is true. I've seen it happen IRL countless times and find this kind of attitude (his, not yours) very irritating. For example I remember the teachers telling my parents that I should have lower grades because it "demoralized the other students" (LOL).

if I do the chores for him, which, whenever I do I never expect anything back and most my other roommates so far never complained about that or sometimes even praise me.

Yeah, that's because you're a decent normal guy IMO.

  • A few comments about the drunk French students in the dorm: the dorm was in a major French 'grande école' were 80% of students were foreigners and the direction said that these guys had a 18/20 performance. I really don't know on what to believe anymore :-( Oct 18, 2017 at 10:06
  • 13
    I've been to a "grande école" too and can testify that "smart" people can get astonishingly dumb when guzzling enough beer. It was a lot of fun though...
    – user2135
    Oct 18, 2017 at 10:12
  • That's why I will pick this as answer ;-) Oct 18, 2017 at 17:41

Honestly, I've had pretty much all of these experiences just being an America living with American roommates. I don't think nationality has anything to do with it, which honestly seems evident with your wide variety of troublesome roommates from different cultures and countries.

Try to remember that correlation does not equal causation. Just because a few of your troublesome roommates happened to be European, does not mean that that's the reason they were trouble.

It's just kinda like that when you're living with other people. Someone always has to do the dishes and buy the toilet paper. People are always going to have their little dramas with neighbors and landlords. It's just an unfortunate part of living with other people. This is a huge part of the reason that I now prefer to live alone.

I really doubt there's any one-size-fits-all solution here, apart from maintaining open communication with the people you live with. When problems come up, talk about them openly and respectfully and try to resolve them. Where possible try to talk about problems before they occur. Sometimes just sitting down with your roommates and agreeing on some house rules and a fair division of chores can eliminate some problems before they happen.

  • I indeed talked with the other party in most of these problems (the ones I was directly involved) but it seems that some people simply cannot reason. Oct 18, 2017 at 2:07
  • @GabrielDiego Ya, roommates are a pain.
    – apaul
    Oct 18, 2017 at 2:12
  • I disagree, I always had good experiences with most roomies. It is just that there is something with people from Europe that I don't click with. Oct 18, 2017 at 2:14
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    @GabrielDiego Correlation does not equal causation. People from anywhere can be a pain. I've had a few really good roommates as well, but on average a lot of them weren't.
    – apaul
    Oct 18, 2017 at 2:16

I don't think these behaviours you came across are due to their geographic origin; they just seem plainly weird and unpredictable to me. As apaul wisely reminded us in his answer, "correlation does not equal causation".

As for the solution, since we're talking about European cultures, I'll start with an Italian proverb that translates as "If you want to live a hundred years, mind your own business" (don't know if there is an English equivalent). If you notice that you do not understand some culture, keep a low profile and just do your things, at least at the beginning of the relationship.

It appears that you have problems with French people rather than with Europeans in general. If you feel that their response is due to cultural reasons, you could try discussing it with them underlining the cultural aspect:

I'm sorry if you interpreted my behaviour as impolite, is just that where I come from this is not a big deal. How about it in France? Did it happen to you other times to have such problems with Americans?

This way they will know you meant well, it will be clear that you actively seek not to do it again even unintentionally and at the same time they will ascribe the accident to the unavoidable cultural distance.

Also you can ask explicitly about the possible response to one of your actions, even if it looks obvious to you ("Hey, the living room looks dirty, would you mind if I clean it up?"). You will appear "overnice", which is not a bad thing in itself.

As a sidenote, I would be cautious to make a clump out of European cultures. As an European (Italian, from Rome) who travelled quite a lot in Europe, I can say that for instance it's easier for me to understand people from Latin America than Scandinavian ones, that I can click way more easily with somebody from Madrid than with people from Milan, that Canadians are easier than Paris citizens etc. I feel that there are big cultural differences here that cannot be overlooked. Probably you are well aware of this and the simplification in your question is just for the sake of brevity, but I felt it useful to point it out :)

  • 1
    Thanks for the shout out to Canadians, but trust me when I say that there's plenty of a-holes on this side of the world as well.
    – AndreiROM
    Oct 18, 2017 at 17:30
  • @LinuxBlanket It is interesting to note that once a Chinese landlord who lives in the US once complained that I am "too nice". While I agree that the tallest nail is the one that gets hammered (from a Japanese proverb equivalent to the Italian one you mentioned), I can't measure precisely "how nice" I am and should be, so I rather take some margin to be nicer than needed than nastier. May 1, 2018 at 0:51

At the end of the day, many of those sound like various extreme cases more than anything else. But even beyond that, as you yourself pointed out in a comment, there are clear cultural differences between you and these people. It would be fine if it was just the overly noisy and rude party lovers, as I myself have run into issues with those during my stays in western Europe as someone from eastern Europe, but a number of other examples suggest that you might have a habit of taking matters into your own hands and taking things very seriously, which can distance you from these people. I wouldn't say you're outright wrong to do so, but I'm not convinced, for instance, that #5 did anything wrong besides waiting a bit, which isn't uncommon for many people, especially those who struggle in mornings or who've just gone to bed late after spending time with friends. Age is an important factor here as well, as is the strictness with which they were raised and whatever little freedoms they were given while growing up.

With some luck, you should run into people who better suit you, but depending on your overall situation and especially how old you are, you may want to take it easy for a bit. Don't let people simply walk over you because that's much worse, but with the ones you think you can reason with, do that. Compromise a little and see if it works out for you. Let them do their own thing to enough of an extent that they can feel more comfortable around you while still allowing you to be comfortable around them. Don't be bothered by the things they do and don't do, and instead give them the chance to show you what else they could do. I know you've said in another comment that you've tried that and that you've found that "some people simply cannot reason", but to me, that's no reason not to try again. Different people react differently in such situations. You yourself could probably do a better job of it as well.

I've found that those who prefer living with roommates in such countries, especially if you're not strongly incentivized to do so via cheaper living costs (a known problem at university in the UK), often tend to fit a certain carefree, easygoing mold that might, perhaps, not be to your liking. This could also be another cultural factor as perhaps it's more normal to stay with others in places outside of western Europe and thus the idea might attract other kinds of people instead.

  • Thanks for the tip. I don't feel like taking the matters in my own hands when I did the dishes. I just thought that the dishes would stay the whole day and I had my hand already wet from doing my own, so I took 10 extra minutes to finish everything. This is not the first time someone tells me that I take matters in my own hands when I think I didn't do anything wrong. I will be more attentive to my actions to not be misunderstood as such next time. Oct 18, 2017 at 6:55

I would say it's unfair to necessarily target Europeans in this situation as this is down more to the individuals than their point of origin in particular. I've had friends in Universities (and as a chosen method of living even in full time work) and most if not all have gotten on absoutely fine with theirs.

This isn't an example of "well they got on fine so should you", as conversely it just appears you've had a number of bad experiences with bad housemates- bearing in mind that those in shared accomodation sometimes choose it due to circumstances, but more often due to the lifestyle itself.

For some, it's a lot like living with a family again- only where you'd like to think that this is a companionship and shared-effort situation, some of these characters do so more because they like someone to "mother" them to some degree and hope others will do the work and they can find some way of avoiding it altogether.

I wouldn't worry about European housemates at all- it's down to the individuals rather than anything else. If there's any kind of a "grace" period or "probation" that new housemates go through, this would be perfect to get to know what they're like then refer to the landlord if there's any problems.

It's not nice to have to move that far as, obviously, not that anyone enjoys it but mediating or having to deal with confrontation of bad behaviour is never pleasant- but the sooner that you make it clear (either by yourself or with the others to back you up) the sooner they'll be encouraged to either stop it or to move on somewhere they can get away with it.

I'd say if you can get into the good graces of your landlords, this always helps- not just so you have a friend in a good place, but they'll provide you with solid, good refrences for the future and also be someone trustworthy they can rely on to let them know if there's any trouble.

  • Many of these times it went through mediation, but most of the time it remained the same. Even worse since the perpretators learned that they could getaway with somewhat serious violations of conviviality. Living in Europe for some years I noticed that this appears to originate from their approach to reduce criminality by not prosecuting the perpretators and blaming/damaging the victim for the complaint.. Apr 28, 2018 at 5:50

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