(Not so) Foreign Findings: These are a few of my favorite things

It’s almost the 4th of July, a time for a summer BBQ, tacky American flag clothing and sparklers. That last one made me smile; I truly love sparklers. In honor of the holiday, I thought I’d make a list of some of the things I love about my country. It isn’t a complete list, but it has some of the things you can find here that I’ve yet to find in excess anywhere else in the world. You can find the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness in tons of places, but the following things, you cannot.

1. The right to find what you want, when you want it. 

Anyone who has ever gone house or apartment hunting with me (okay, so this mostly just pertains to Andy) is well-aware of my love of convenience. I consider living anywhere more than four blocks from a mini-mart, a dry cleaners and a restaurant with a killer happy hour to be outside of modern civilization and I will not stand for it. Of course, not all of the USA is an urban environment and frankly, when it comes to density and living close to stuff, many other countries have us beat.

Where we really shine when it comes to convenience is store hours, more specifically, the sheer number of 24-hour establishments. In Portland I can eat sushi at 1 AM, hit the elliptical machine at the gym at 2 AM and take my dog to the vet at 3 AM. Even in my small hometown, no matter what time it was I could always grab some Skittles at 7-11 and fill up my gas tank down the street. Unfortunately for me, 24-hour establishments (or even seven-days-a-week establishments) aren’t as readily available worldwide. Even in some big cities, you’d be hard pressed to find somewhere to get a bottle of water in the wee hours of the morning, let alone sushi or a veterinarian. If you hunted, you could find something open, but you just might have to go more than four blocks.

I had made a point to patronize this mini-mart in Barcelona rather than the one across the street because I support 24-hour establishments. However, when we twice found their doors shuttered late at night, I changed my mind. I may support convenience but ultimately I support honesty.

2. The right to be a Pepper.

Back in my younger days, I wasn’t much of a soda drinker, so on my first trip to Europe, I barely noticed what was sold in the way of soft drinks. I remember finding it interesting that despite the fact that Pepsi was much cheaper, no one bought it; everyone was cuckoo for Coca-Cola. What I do remember is that my fellow classmates missed Dr. Pepper. They missed their boyfriends back home, coffee that came in something larger than a shot-glass-sized vessel and Diet Dr. Pepper. I missed clothes dryers, Lambda Chi’s Watermelon Bash and American Vogue.

Now, as I’m getting older, I need a bit more caffeine in my life and despite what my mother keeps predicting, I don’t think I’m going to develop a taste for coffee any time soon. I’m almost 30; I don’t think it’s going to happen. Sometimes, particularly when I’m traveling, I need a caffeine pick-me-up and I too crave Diet Dr. Pepper. But alas, restaurants/supermarkets/vending machines rarely sell it so I’m forced to settle for Coca-Cola light (something we don’t have here) and make a wish that someday the world will want to be a pepper with me.

3. The right to a seat on the porcelain throne.
Traveling brings with it a multitude of questions, one of which tends to be, “Where have all the toilet seats gone?” Hotels, of course, have toilet seats as do nicer restaurants and I assume, although, having never been in one I could be wrong, US embassies. However, restrooms in modern malls, train stations, museums, etc. are often missing this key part of the bathroom-going experience. But where do they go? There seems to be some sort of worldwide epidemic of missing toilet seats and if you’re thinking it has something to do with a country’s development, I’d say you’re wrong. I’ve been to some countries very high on the HDI affected by this issue.

Are the seats sold separately from the toilet and people are just trying to save some money by opting not to purchase both? Is there some kind of plumber’s black market where toilet seats are a hot-ticket item? Seriously, where have they all gone? I’m not saying we have better bathrooms in general – sometimes yes, sometimes no – but we almost always have a toilet seat. I’ve been to dilapidated gas stations in the middle of nowhere along some rural US highway with a disgusting bathroom where I’m more inclined to say, “I’ll just go in the bushes outside rather than step foot in that cesspool of germs.” But you know what? By golly, there’s always a toilet seat.

Is there some little girl who is being haunted by her big sister stealing them to make toilet tree art like we saw in Dead Like Me?

4. The right to wait your turn.

Waiting in line is a necessary evil. Sure, it sucks, but think how much it would suck if everything was a free-for-all. I read an article once that explained why some cultures are more inclined observe an orderly line than others and one of the points as to why Americans do so is because our country was and is based on equality – sure, at the time that just meant wealthy, white men, but still, the concept was there. Therefore, we feel that our time is just as important as the person in front of us and if he or she was there first, he or she should get to go first.

This cannot be said for the rest of the world. Some places wait in line just like we do, but some follow a different set of rules. In all my years of traveling, while I try to respect and celebrate other cultures, this difference has been the thing that has pissed me off the most. I’m not comfortable shoving my way to the front of a (nonexistent) line and although I do find the irony in the fact that tiny Guatemalan women who barely come up to my bellybutton can bully me into feeling invisible, I simply can’t get behind that part of their or anyone else’s culture. Call me a flawed traveler or an ugly American, but if queuing fails, I fail.

5. The right to run for the border.

I don’t eat that much fast food but Subway is a good standby when there are no sandwiches in the house and it’s hard to deny the deliciousness of Taco Bell. Both of these eateries can be found outside the US, the former more so than the latter but I feel Taco Bell in particular is disproportionately represented worldwide. You can find a McDonald’s or KFC on street corners from Chile to China but most places, you can’t get a 7-layer burrito to save your life and frankly, this feels like the world is being cheated.

Happy 4th of July everyone! Go have fun, drink American beer, eat a burger with American beef and light some fireworks that were made in China!

Tomorrow I’m celebrating by going to a barbecue at a friend’s house and watching fireworks light up the sky but today I’m going to try and squeeze in some things that made the list. I’ll walk two blocks to a 24-hour mini-mart to grab a Diet Dr. Pepper, I might even walk another few blocks down to the 24-hour Subway or 24-hour Taco Bell where I’ll likely have to wait in an orderly line, and at some point, I’ll need to find a restroom where, I would bet money, there will be a seat on the toilet.

Watching the Portland Downtown Waterfront fireworks from a boat on the Willamette a few years ago. Very loud, very cool and a bit scarier than I had anticipated.

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6 responses to “(Not so) Foreign Findings: These are a few of my favorite things

  1. Once again, you blogged a wonderful story. Hard to believe “Be a Pepper” was that long ago and for some reason, I didn’t think ladies used the seat when traveling. Just saying…

    • Just because you might not want to actually sit on the seat doesn’t mean the mystery of the missing seats is any less mysterious… 🙂

  2. Pingback: Where I’ve Been: Somewhere in the Southwest | See Jules Travel·

  3. Pingback: My Favorite Things: Porto edition | See Jules Travel·

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