Ten years of living abroad has taught me so many important things, one of which is: America is the land of convenience. You can have anything delivered to your doorstep in minutes, and all the same big box stores exist in practically every city and town throughout America, meaning you’re never very far from a Home Depot, World Market, IKEA, etc.
Giant hardware stores are something I really miss while living abroad, especially here in Algiers where a home improvement project can require a visit to as many as four different teensy hardware stores. Not to mention lots of Google Image searches because either there is little agreement on how to say things like “spackle” and “white paint for outdoor metal railing” in the local language, or I am just not pronouncing these phrases correctly in French. Every time a lightbulb burns out, I’m despondent for several moments as my mind goes toward the old “how many people does it take” joke, only it’s more like “how many visits to light bulb stores will it take until I find the right one.” The answer is five in the case of the time I tried to find little bulbs to go in the chandelier in our bedroom. The number may prove to be higher than that for a donut-shaped fluorescent light in our bathroom that burned out eons ago.
So while America is the easiest place I know of in which to run errands, is not the only country that knows how to make at least some things easier for daily living. In fact, there are some gadgets we don’t have in America that are widely used in other parts of the world. Americans: I think you should know about these!
I was first introduced to this smart and simple cleaning tool when we moved to Jerusalem and have used one ever since. While Americans rely on a mop with a bottom that looks like a wig made of yarn (or do we not use these anymore?) or a Swiffer, many people in other parts of the world use what looks like a squeegee on a long stick. And yes, it can be a squeegee, that you use to push dirty water into a drain that is on every patio and in most bathrooms. But the squeegee becomes a mop when you put a large wet rag on the floor (that has been soaked in a bucket or sink with a few drops of cleaning product) wrap a few corners of the cloth around the squeegee, and you can just push that thing all over, collect all the dirt on the floor, and voila, clean floor. Toss the rag into the wash. In fact, I’m fairly certain that whoever invented Swiffer was modeling it on the Cuban mop, but how do you make money on a forever squeegee and a few rags? Thus the Swiffer folks invented their own flimsy device and set up the American people to be forever reliant on mop diapers that will clean one room and then sit in the landfills for a lifetime. Anyways, Cuban mop: An elegant cleaning device and we should all be using one.
Much has been written about Americans who are suddenly exposed to the nether-rinsing device that is a bidet. A bidet is its own toilet-looking structure and you use the toilet, scoot over to the bidet to rinse. In Japan, sometimes the toilet has a rinser built right in. Much more common from where I’ve traveled to and lived is a hose next to the toilet. You do your biz, you turn the nozzle on the hose to get water, and you press the lever and spray down below with a fairly strong blast. Jury’s out on whether you’re officially supposed to dry off with toilet paper after, but that’s how I like to roll. I know a lot of Americans who keep wet wipes next to their toilets, and so the hose is in lieu of that. I once read something about a wastewater treatment plant that was at a loss for how to remove from the system millions of wet wipes that formed a giant berg, as they don’t disintegrate like toilet paper. I might also be the only person who sometimes hovers my end-of-the-day feet over the toilet to give them a rinse with the toilet hose so I can hop into bed with clean feet. It’s a versatile tool and one that I wouldn’t want to be without.
I first came to know and love the electric kettle when Adam and I lived in a hotel in Yemen for his first Foreign Service post. (This is also where I learned that steamer on our fancy espresso maker could be used to make the fluffiest scrambled eggs.). We had no stove or hot plate in our room, and our espresso machine had yet to arrive, so an electric kettle was very useful to have immediate boiling water for tea and French press coffee. It hit me then that I’d grown up waiting much too long for a kettle to boil on the stove. I’ve wasted minutes of my life! An electric kettle boils water in under a 60 second. I learned that in most places of the world I’ve been – Europe, the Middle East, North Africa – every household has an electric kettle. Hot water at the push of a button. Won’t ever do without one again.
I’m curious to know from other Americans living abroad: What ingenious tools and gadgets have you been introduced to that you wouldn’t want to live without?