There are many things about my native country I am not a fan of (ahem-ridiculously overpriced university tuition, lack of national health care, and non-mandated vacation time). But then there are things that I adore and really appreciate all the more when I travel abroad. (Note: things like running water, hot showers, and inoculations I never take for granted and always feel blessed and fortunate to have). Here’s a list of the top ones:
I grew up and continue to live in a state that gets ghastly hot in the summer-high temperatures into the 90s with often oppressive humidity. As such air conditioning in the summer is de rigueur for me. So when I travel somewhere (I’m looking at you Europe) where air conditioning is really only found in more touristy facilities, it hits home…hard. Yes, perhaps Americans overuse air conditioning a bit, but when a nightly low is 85 degrees I can’t sleep or get comfortable. I’ve heard time and time again on how many Europeans think it’s unnatural for cold air to circulate and cool you. No, it’s a form of physical relaxation. In the final weeks of my semester abroad in Spain, daily highs were over 100 degrees F and the only place there was air conditioning was at Starbucks, the computer lab at the center where I took classes, and the movie theater. I vowed to never return to Spain (willingly or at least where I was footing the bill) in warm weather months after that experience. My recent trip to Montreal involved traveling on public transportation…subways and buses without air conditioning. In the United States, most public transportation is air conditioned. So on the almost hour bus ride from the Montreal Airport to our hotel in 90 degree weather, let’s just say it was hot.
I’m a water drinker and I drink water straight from the tap. I only buy bottled water when that’s my only option. But I’m not one of these people who would never dare to drink tap water abroad (to me that’s snooty and pretentious). So when I travel to Europe I am always taken aback when either one, I am refused tap water and have to buy “sparkling water” or two, waiters look at me like I have five heards when I make my request. When the tap water is not safe to drink, of course I do without (i.e. Mexico) but last time I checked Western Europe was perfectly civilized. If you go into an American food establishment and ask for tap water, no eye brows are raised, no further discussion is needed. At a restaurant in Montreal I asked for tap water and the waiter basically said no, as in it wasn’t an option. I wanted to fire back with, “Do you have a faucet with running water” Yes? Well, fill me a cup of that.
If I am in want of a cold drink, I don’t want it to taste tepid. Although I’m made fun of a bit by some, I love ice in my drink (the more the better frankly). I hate when I order a coke or have water and the drink tastes lukewarm (that’s why God invented ice…). I loved the bed and breakfast I stayed in when visiting Portugal last year but the one time I asked for ice, the proprietors looked at me strangely for making such a request (I found this annoyingly funny since one was an American and the other, although German, had lived in the United States for a long time and would clearly have been knowledgeable on American drinking customs). So my breakfast each morning consisted of warm water to start the day. Although I have had instances at American restaurants where I get a couple of cubes (hate this), generally when you order a drink, ice comes with it.
I find it amusing that Americans are deemed outrageous in some regards by the world (excessive cars, excessive meal portions, excessive everything) yet we know that having screens on our windows to keep out bus and any other creature makes sense. Before I traveled abroad I thought window screens were normal. Yes, in the olden days, homes and buildings simply opened to the outside, but once modernity stepped in, there was no going back for basically any American, rich or poor. They don’t seem like they would cost a lot, they’re practical, umm, so what’s the reason for not having them? Last time I checked keeping bugs out of one’s home was a good thing. The rest of the world has adopted a lot of “American” ways; too bad this can’t be one of them.
In short, the United States does many things wrong and is far from perfect. However, in more practical ways, we do some stuff right. No, this is not some nationalistic post, but one in which I wish the rest of the world would see the logical light and get with it.