Travel is the ultimate eye opener. If your routine life is growing a little old, take a trip and learn how the rest of the world lives. After traveling to even just a few countries, you’ll see that there are some ways of life in your home country which seem perfectly natural to you but that are actually unique to your area. As an American, I’ve been surprised by the following five distinctly non-American aspects of life I’ve found while traveling.
1. Stray Animals Everywhere – It’s far more common to spay and neuter cats and dogs than to let them reproduce in America, so I’m not used to seeing un-owned domestic animals running around. In other parts of the world, though, these pets are everywhere. In Egypt I’ve even seen stray camels and goats roaming through the streets, although I think maybe they weren’t truly stray but had escaped their confines. Even though these animals are sometimes injured, often scrawny from hunger, and usually people shy, here in Israel I’ve managed to befriend a couple of the less shy stray cats, sometimes feeding them and giving them milk. One hot spot for stray cats around the world are trash dumpsters. In this photo the large one on the right with the wise eyes and the crumpled left ear has become my favorite cat in Israel.
2. Over-the-Counter Medications Which You Could Get Arrested for in the U.S. – Prescription drugs are so tightly controlled in the U.S. that I’ve found my experiences with medication overseas to be just shocking. In Australia I gulped down over-the-counter cold medicine which got me positively stoned. In Cambodia, I walked into three different pharmacies, asking for a simple medication to get over a simple illness, and for some reason each time the person manning the counter immediately stuck a bottle of Valium in my face. Valium without a prescription? I soon found out that no medications in Cambodia require a prescription. Maybe America is a little over the top with its prescription drug laws?
3. Instant Coffee Only – Coffee brewed in coffee pots was a staple of my life in the U.S. I know coffee pots are in plentiful existence elsewhere in the world, but certainly not everywhere. For the past 13 months since I left my home, I’ve either been drinking instant coffee or utilizing my own special method of making a cup of real coffee without a coffee pot. Brewed coffee may not be a worldwide phenomenon, but it is one thing I am just not giving up.
4. Lax or Nonexistent Safety Standards – America is so padded, buckled up, strapped on and locked in that seeing the lesser safety standards in other countries can be shocking. Several years ago in the Bahamas I went on a snorkeling trip, when suddenly the boat stopped, one of the Bahamians began throwing large, bloody, dead fish into the ocean, and Carribean reef sharks, jaws wide open began jumping out of the water to devour the fish. A small cage containing fish was dropped to the bottom of the water to lure the sharks back down, and the snorkelers began snorkeling with the sharks circling beneath them. Isn’t this…dangerous? I asked the Bahamian who’d been tossing the fish to the sharks. They’re sharks, he shrugged. That was a good answer in my eyes. I lowered myself quietly into the water and began snorkeling with sharks. A few months ago I saw a man lying down with one leg crossed over the other and his hands folded behind his head, as if he was watching television at home. Was he? No. He was on the roof of a truck barreling down a road in southern Cambodia. Are such activities as these legal in the U.S.? No way.
5. Multicolored Money – Why are all American bills the same color? In many other countries each demonination has its own unique color. Memorize them, and you won’t have to look at the numbers on the bill when you count them. Multicolored money is such an excellent concept, surely the United States will be switching our blah green to bright hues of pink, yellow and blue soon…?