Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Point /Counter-Point

Often times on this trip I've been asked, "Tell us Leslie, what do you think Europe does better than the U.S.?" Actually, no one asks me that but were someone to ask me, here is what I'd say*:

Better in the U.S.
Mexican food - It's been insanely hard to find on our trip and even "hot" salsa is ridiculously sweet.

Showering - Why oh why are the showers designed so that you have to hold the shower head constantly OR set it in its holder (which is never attached to the wall any higher than knee level) OR you can try to set it down in the tub only to have it spray all over outside of the tub? I guess it does mean that you don't waste water because showering is cumbersome rather than enjoyable. In one location in Croatia our shower was flush with the bathroom floor and had no door which required that I enlist Jacob to spray me down like an elephant if I didn't want to get water all over the floor.

Beds for multiple people - What is the point of having a queen/king sized frame but with two single beds placed within the frame? It's like you are conceding that two people will want to sleep next to each other but you still want to make it undesirable by having a crack in the middle of the bed. I thought having my own little single comforter would be a plus but Jacob still steals the covers.

Curbside recycling - I realize a good chunk of the US doesn't even HAVE recycling, but living in a liberal, progressive state I'm used to taking it to the curb and no further. Barcelona has food waste next to the other recycling receptacles, that was pretty cool.

Tap water - For all the eco-goodness that Europe does have, why do you have to buy bottled water everywhere you go? We encountered exactly three restaurants that didn't force us to buy a bottle of water if we wanted water with our food. The glass and plastic waste from that was painful.

Pay bathrooms - This is a tricky fence rider. On the one hand, it's great to be able to go into a place and plunk down your change and use the bathroom (which is nearly always clean) without the pretense that maybe you're going to buy something else. On the other hand, paying to pee adds up.

Clothes driers - Another fence rider. We only stayed in two places that had a clothes drier in addition to a washer. You can't deny the environmental benefit of skipping drying and I actually started to like hanging up my clothes (mostly because I had time to), but it also made for some pretty stiff and scratchy towels.

Better in Europe

Grocery bags - Just about everywhere we went you had to either bring your own grocery bag or pony up the cash to buy one. Now I'm sure most people would find this annoying but from an environmental perspective, hitting people in the wallet is a pretty good incentive. Granted they were always plastic but they were pretty heavy duty and therefore reusable.

Sundays - We never did quite get used to having everything shut down on Sundays and often found ourselves without food but overall I think it is fantastic to have a day of rest that everyone partakes in.

Local/seasonal produce - I'm not going to lie, it was tough living off the same five vegetables. Living so close to the "salad bowl" of the U.S. we get a lot of fresh produce. However, we also import huge amounts of produce and have a culture that demands strawberries and roses year round and there are big environmental consequences with that. Farmers markets were in many of the places we went and in some cases they were daily.

Cheap wine - A place where your two-buck chuck actually results in a fairly decent wine. On the other hand, I find American two-buck chuck perfectly fine and can't tell the difference. Maybe the angle with this one is that you can buy cheap wine and not be scorned?

Pharmacies - Some people might find it annoying to have to go to a separate store for aspirin and such but the giant green crosses denoting a Pharmacy were practically on every block. Staff were informed and helpful and they usually had non-Western medicine options just as prominently displayed.

Multilingual populations/health care/fuel efficient cars - Okay, so this is the low-hanging fruit but won't someone think of the salsa?

Electric water heaters - How many years of my life have I wasted heating up water on a stove? Exactly 3.4. That number might be slightly off but it's fair to say that I will be buying an electric water heater as soon as I get home.

*Disclaimer: These are the views of someone who has only lived on the West Coast and has only traveled for 5 months, but if I know anything from living in the U.S., it is that gross generalizations are perfectly acceptable. Now please pass me a strawberry.

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