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Things Americans Miss When We’re Abroad

Only in America.

With the presidential election just around the corner, there is much debate whether Americans must “make America great again,” or if America was already great before. All politics aside, there are pros and cons to living anywhere. In my experience living on four different continents, I have found a laundry list of American things I (and my friends) appreciate much more after having gone without.

1) Customer Service

The customer is always right. Right? Not everywhere. In some countries restaurants and stores treat customers as if they are lucky to be allowed into the establishment at all. I once read a fictional book where the character said he was at a cafe in the South of France drinking his third pot of coffee in thirty minutes. I thought to myself, this author has obviously never been to the South of France, where it takes thirty minutes to order one shot of espresso.

2) Fast Wi-Fi or LTE

I never realized how much I took for granted watching Netflix or quickly pulling up videos on my phone. Not abroad. Even with local phone plans, the data never seems to be fast enough to share videos, and while the Wi-Fi is better in my apartment than in most hotels, it is still spotty at times and I find myself yelling at my computer for freezing. Poor computer, it’s not its fault.

3) Healthy restaurants

While it is possible to find organic, vegan, or food for whichever health regimen one may follow, the options are few and far between in other countries. Places like Monaco and Paris make life easier for the healthy traveler but, for the most part, health-conscious options are limited when living abroad.

4) Free Anything

There may be no such thing as a free lunch anywhere, but I never realized how much we get for free in America: free parking, free samples, free merchandise, and the list goes on. Even freeways! Freeways are a big thing I miss in the South of France and South America, where it is difficult to travel any distance without paying hefty tolls.

5) Ice

I am not a huge fan of super cold drinks; however, my colleagues often laugh when they ask for ice in their drink and the restaurant puts a whopping two cubes in the glass.

6) Air Conditioning

Ever noticed when you walk by the fish section of a U.S. supermarket that it doesn’t smell like fish? That would be because the fish are kept on ice and the store is kept incredibly cold. This is something one notices when going into shops and markets abroad. Aside from some major malls, going inside doesn’t really help beat the heat.

7) Bathrooms

As Americans, we often take for granted clean and functional restrooms. I will spare you the details about countries with a hole in the ground and two foot prints telling where to put your feet. However, even restrooms that look just like American ones don’t do one very important thing: flush! You can flush a single tissue down the toilets in most of Europe, hold the handle down for a minute, and still have to hope and pray that it goes down.

My 6’2″ colleagues are also always complaining about the strange half doors in most European showers, which leave them splashing water all over the bathroom floor.

8) Washer and Dryers

I have varying levels of thankfulness on this issue. In Southeast Asia, the only option was to hang; in South America the machine said it was a dryer, but really just made the clothes hot and damp. Even in Monaco, some of the wealthiest people I know still have to (have their maids) hang dry the clothes. I think older plumbing may have something to do with the lack of dryer function, but it doesn’t explain why the fastest cycle on the washer takes about two hours. When I go home to the States, I feel like a college kid saving up every piece of clothing I own to wash it at mom and dad’s house.

9) Non-Smoking areas

There is a joke that says, “it is rude NOT to smoke in Paris.” However, Paris is not the only offender. I can’t count how often I have gone home to wash my hair three times because the tables in the cafes are so close together that the person next to me nearly used my hair as an ashtray.

10) Courtesy

I once took for granted how I could forget something and, in most cases, someone would turn it into the Lost and Found. Even purses and wallets are often turned in throughout the USA with the money still intact. In many places around the world, that is not the case. I remember leaving my camera in a bar in Frankfurt for no longer than sixty seconds, never to be seen again. When I asked the bartender if he had put it in the Lost and Found, he looked at me like, “lost and what?” It was not even a concept that a good Samaritan would turn something in instead of taking it. I could go on here about people shoving as they walk by, gawking at people who look different, or in some countries spitting in the streets where people are walking, but I will suffice to say that courtesy in America is something I am proud most people still have.

Living outside of one’s country or origin is an invaluable experience. Beside enriching and maturing us, traveling teaches us acceptance of other people and cultures as we find ourselves to be the foreigner in a foreign land. When navigating a new environment, especially in another language, it gives us true appreciation for every person who migrates to our country to learn a new language and new way of life just for the possibility of opportunity that living in the USA allows. People across the world dream of moving to America to make something of themselves and give their family a chance for something greater. It is my hope that this realization would give us the dedication to be great people in a great country, a culture known for caring for our own and for others, and a nation that truly unites together for the common good of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

So regardless of what happens this November, let’s choose to be grateful for the country we live in, and be the people who make it great.


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