8 Things That are Distinctly American

Most people, before they depart on a trip, understand that cultural differences are inevitable. What usually comes to mind is the big things – different language, different transit schedule or method of transit, different currency – all very in your face and memorable. When you’ve been on the road for 3+ months, it’s the little details that take shape in your mind and become much more laughable.

1. Unlimited drink refills. A 10/10 on Americanism. We went to Subway in Toulouse, France and ordered the combo. In America, this comes with unlimited sweet tea or coke or whatever you fancy. When Mark got up to refill his Subway cup, he was promptly told that refills aren’t free. Color me surprised.

2. Free, unlimited water at bars and restaurants. I think Kosovo is the first place where we have asked for water and it’s been given to us at no charge. For the other 18 countries in Europe, table water ranged from 2 to 6 euro per decanter.

3. Employees that bag up your groceries and the free plastic bags at grocery stores. Wholly American. In Europe, not only do you pay per plastic bag, but you also bag your own stuff! The first couple of months of grocery shopping were hilarious as both of us had to Tetris our purchases on our arms like a Jenga tower and walk slowly out of the store. Now, well, we just buy less.

4. Complimentary bread at dinner. Are you noticing a trend? Nothing is free in this world. We noticed this in Italy, where bread was offered at each meal and we took from it, thinking nothing of it. When the bill came, we were charged for all of it, even if we didn’t eat all of it. We figured it’s maybe a douchy restaurant thing, but when it happened again we realized, nope, just an Italy thing.

5. Clothing dryers! We’ve only had access to them twice: in Ireland and in Southwest France. I learned the delicate art of hanging clothes out to dry in a way that dries them the quickest. I also learned how much of the day revolves around clothes. A sampling of my clothes washing woes:

Scenario 1: I wash my clothes in the washer in the morning. Irish mist rolls in the afternoon. Guess who doesn’t get dry clothes? This girl.

Scenario 2: Ran out of clothespins while hanging up socks. Folded socks in half over the line. Gust of wind comes. Here I sit in the kitchen sipping on my hot tea when I notice socks rolling like tumbleweed in the yard.

Scenario 3: Clothes are dried. Had too much Rakia (homemade brandy resembling jet fuel) and forgot about the clothes before the sun went down. Went to collect clothes. No longer dry, but damp.

6. 27 minute wash cycles on the clothes washer. Actually, any wash cycle that’s less than 2 hours. In Finland, Bulgaria, France, Scotland, Ireland – anywhere that we washed clothes, it was a minimum wash cycle of 90 minutes. The longest was 4 hours. YES. Imagine waiting for your clothes for FOUR HOURS. Then you have to hang them out to dry. Do you see why it’s a full-time job just making sure the laundry is clean and dry?

7. An Inability to Separate Trash and RecycleAmerica is definitely considered an industrialized nation, but I fail to understand why so many people here take such an issue with separating the plastics, glass and paper products into three containers. Europeans have mastered this and it is an art-form. We can’t master paper or plastic, and there are people that have 7 bins to separate their trash?

8. The saddest public transit system of any industrialized country. This has got to change. We have 40,000 miles of highway in America and yet there are only six cities that have halfway decent public transit options? Why does a train cost as much, or more, as a flight? Why do we have a stigma that public transit is for society’s degenerates instead of people that want to be productive and travel at the same time?

There’s going to be a part 2 to this list, I can feel it. But 8 things at once is enough.

October 28, 2015

 

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