Living in a foreign country really can bring things into a new perspective. You see how people live different lifestyles, and yet can still be perfectly happy. In a relatively poor country like Bolivia, you see people get along without many things we take for granted in the United States. After spending the last eight months living in Bolivia, our family has learned quite a few lessons, for sure. For one, we are no longer going to complain about some of the things that work so well in the United States. These are our travel lessons: ten things I’ll never complain about again (seriously):
Get in a car, drive a couple of miles, fight for a parking spot, walk into the store, then scour the aisles to finally find what you’re looking for. After that, you usually have to wait in line for longer than you want to. After all, you really need to be somewhere, right? Hopefully, your clerk won’t be a complete grump. And if you’re lucky, you won’t remember something you forgot to buy right when you’re pulling back into your garage. Supermarkets are a hassle, right?
WRONG! I will never again complain about a supermarket. They are glories of the modern world. All those choices in one place? Oh, yes! Supermarkets are the pinnacle of convenience and choice.
Here’s what our markets are like in Bolivia:
We have about 200 items to choose from (yes, I counted). Compare that to 40,000 items at your average U.S. supermarket, and maybe you’ll get an idea just how limited our food choices are in Bolivia. If you want more choices, you’ll have to drive hours to the nearest city.
Even in the city, you won’t find many things. Coconut milk? winter grapes? gluten-free pasta? You’re not going to find those anywhere in the whole country.
Related Content: What If All Your Food Were Fresh And Local?
I love supermarkets! When we return to the U.S. later this year, I’ll probably spend a good hour just wondering the aisles of the first supermarket I see.
2) Internet / Cell Service
It’s kinda sad how dependent we’ve become on the internet. But, here we are! One thing I’ll never complain about again is internet availability and speed. That’s because internet and cell service is often not available at all in Bolivia, outside of the major cities.
And even when it is available, it’s not. We have internet in our house, but it often cuts out for hours at a time. When it is on, it’s as slow as molasses rolling uphill in a blizzard. No, I’m not going to complain for a few dropped calls or lack of coverage.
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They say the national flower of Bolivia is the plastic bag, and for good reason. You see them everywhere – along the highways, in the bushes and the trees, in the rivers. In Bolivia, people really don’t care about litter. One time, my wife even had to ask a mom to pick up her child’s diaper! She did, and then when my wife turned away, she threw it right in the bushes!
Littering is not socially shunned in Bolivia. People do it all the time, and nobody shrugs a shoulder.
On top of that, Bolivia doesn’t have the infrastructure to deal with trash. In the U.S., there’s a trash can everywhere you look – in the parks, on the sidewalks, in stores, malls, and gas stations. Here in Bolivia, public trash cans are as rare as a mullet at a style show.
Plus, the public trash service is lacking. In our town, we have a weekly trash pickup, but I have to walk it about a quarter-mile to a drop off point. I don’t mind it much, but the situation does encourage people to find other ways to deal with their trash. In fact, it’s quite common in Bolivia to see trash piles outside of homes.
While I don’t like to see litter, I’m not going to be complaining about the trash situation in the U.S. again.
4) Tap Water
It’s truly astounding that an endless supply of cool, clean, drinkable water is piped into virtually every home in the United States (outside of Flint, MI, I suppose). What a wonder!
Here in our small town in rural Bolivia, we only have water every other day. It comes on Tuesday afternoon until Wednesday morning, then again Thursday afternoon until Friday morning, Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning. While the water’s on, we fill a trash can full of fresh water to use during the off days. We also have a water tank on the roof, but the water pressure is so low, that it often doesn’t reach the tank.
Oh, and, of course, the water is not potable either. If you don’t filter the water before you drink it, you could get giardia or other nasties. That makes everything more complicated, from washing vegetables and rinsing cups to brushing your teeth.
But the truth is, you get used to it. After eight months, living with non-potable water delivered every other day under low pressure is just normal. But, I’m sure as heck not going to complain about glorious potable tap water in California, even if it has a slightly off-taste.
I love waiting in line. Are you kidding me? It’s awesome! That’s because people don’t know how to do lines in Bolivia. What results is generally a mad scramble, some pushing and shoving, and a whole lotta rudeness. Yeah, lines are brilliant! It’s a much more polite way to determine who’s turn it is. I’ll never complain about a line again.
6) Public Schools
Public schools in Bolivia are not good at all. The teachers often don’t know their own subjects, and even if they do, the teaching methods are outdated by at least half a century. They even spend half a day on Mondays talking propaganda about their fearless political leaders – in grade school! On top of that, in rural Bolivia, most families don’t value education (you can’t blame them when the only education they have access to is crap).
It’s no wonder that any family with money sends their kids to private schools in Bolivia.
What a world apart from the United States, where public schools are not always great, but many of them are indeed. How wonderful it is that nearly the whole country has access to a good, or even halfway decent education, for free! Our public schools in northern San Diego are top-notch. And, while we always want to see them improve further, I certainly won’t be complaining about them after spending a year in Bolivia!
Now, I love the DMV! Here’s why the DMV is so great:
- DMV has a website, which explains most procedures.
- You can make an appointment online or over the phone, which will be honored when you go in.
- It has big, beautiful LINES, which people respect.
- Most procedures, like renewing a driver’s license, can be done in less than half a day!
Que viva la DMV! I might sign up for an appointment when I get back just for the experience.
Compare that to a Bolivian government bureaucracy, and you’ll be blown away. The typical Bolivian experience would include no information, or incorrect information on the website, bureaucrats who change the rules as they go, and procedures that take weeks, not hours.
Nope, I’m never complaining about the DMV (or other government services) again. I love the DMV!
Related Content: The 10th Circle of Hell – Bolivian Bureaucracy
We have a bank account in Bolivia, but for the next two months, we cannot withdraw or deposit any money! That’s because my wife (a Bolivian citizen) failed to vote in December elections in Bolivia. The punishment for failing to vote? You cannot access banking services for three months!
Do I need to say more? Can you imagine the outrage if something like that happened in the U.S.? Some banksters may be sleazy, but in the U.S., consumers have rights. I won’t complain again about poor customer service at a bank.
Related Content: Adventures in Banking Abroad
9) Our Legal System
Which brings me to a very big deal: the legal system. While the U.S. legal system certainly has some problems, it is a massive world apart from the legal system in Bolivia. Every problem you can think about the U.S. legal system is amplified a hundred times in Bolivia: corruption, nepotism, ambiguous laws, lack of access for the poor, favorable access for the rich, and politicization of the courts.
Despite some problems, the U.S. legal system is undoubtedly one of the best in the world. Its fairness and transparency attracts business, investments, and immigration to the U.S. It’s not always fair, but damn if it isn’t in another universe compared to the rest of the world. And that makes a huge difference in so many ways.
10) Our Political System
And finally, the one thing we all like to complain about the most: politics. Not me! I’m not complaining about our political system again! Not after seeing how things work in Bolivia (or don’t).
OK, yes, I’m sure I’ll still complain about politics. It would be un-American not to. But dammit if our system doesn’t just somehow work at the end of the day. We have presidents elected every four years, without interruption, senators and congressmen who don’t get jailed for opposing the executive branch, and courts that balance out the power of the other branches. It’s an amazing thing!
As a foreigner in Bolivia, I don’t want to say anything about the politics here, because I could actually be thrown out of the country or even jailed if I were to get involved in politics. That should tell you enough. I won’t complain about the U.S. political system again!
One of the best things about long-term travel is that it can really open your eyes. In many ways, it’s like looking in the mirror – you examine the good and the bad about who you are and where you come from. I certainly won’t be taking things for granted back in the U.S. anymore, and I’ll never complain about certain things again.
Of course, not all is bad about Bolivia – far from it. It’s a country I’ve grown to love in many ways. In fact, there are some things Bolivia really does better than the U.S. That’ll be the subject of an upcoming post – things I wish the U.S. can learn from Bolivia.