Ten valuable customs and practices missing in the U.S. that are common in other countries

Jun 8, 2022 | 8 comments

In England and Wales, a public footpath refers to a path on which the public has a legally protected right to travel on foot even if it is on private property. Many countries have “right to roam” laws but not the U.S.

By Louisa Rogers

The other day, opening a bottle of wine with a corkscrew, I wished for the umpteenth time that more U.S wine bottles came with screw tops. So simple!

In the U.S., wine bottles with screw tops still have a stigma and are often viewed as cheap and lower-quality (although not as tacky as boxed wine!) In fact, studies have shown that screw tops are better for wine than corks, since they never interfere with the taste. Not surprisingly, only 30 percent of U.S. wine bottles have screw tops, unlike many other wine-producing countries with a higher percentage: New Zealand (95 percent), Australia (80 percent), South Africa (65 percent), and Chile (63 percent).

Screw off wine tops are easy and actually better for wine quality.

Here are nine more customs from other countries that I wish the U.S. would adopt.

1. A Minimum 4 Weeks Of Vacation A Year
The U.S. is the only developed country in the world without a single legally required paid vacation day. By law, every country in the European Union has at least 4 weeks of paid vacation. Some countries have even more: Austria, France, and Finland have 25 days; Panama and Kuwait, 30.

But the U.S. is indeed a culture based on the Protestant work ethic, and according to a 2018 study, 63 percent of Americans don’t even use all the vacation days they have. Even when they take vacation, it may be for only two weeks a year. I remember when my husband Barry and I lived in Silicon Valley, from time to time we would go camping or backpacking in the Sierras. After we’d return, people would inevitably ask, “Was your trip for work or play?” If I said “play,” I always felt a pang of embarrassment, knowing it was the wrong answer!

2. Personalized, Unscripted Customer Service
Many years ago, Barry and I were eating dinner one chilly evening at an outdoor restaurant in Antalya, a Turkish town on the Mediterranean coast. “It’s so cold,” I said to our waiter, shivering. “You don’t have anywhere to eat inside, do you?”

“Would you like to dine in our kitchen?” he said in heavily accented English. “Let me show you.” The warm and cozy kitchen was just what I wanted — though I did wonder where he’d put us, with no table in sight.

Two waiters immediately picked up our entire table–plates, glasses, silverware, tablecloth, the whole thing — and hoisted it into the kitchen next to the steamy, warm old-fashioned stove. The inviting smell of a thick soup in a cauldron wafted over us. “Now that’s customer service!” I exclaimed to Barry.

Something tells me OSHA’s safety regulations wouldn’t let customers sit so close to the stove!

Parque Calderon is the central plaza in Cuenca.

3. Town Plazas And Pedestrian Areas
Almost every town in Mexico, and in almost all of Latin America, has a central plaza, with pedestrian areas nearby. People gather, sit on benches chatting, listen to music, watch street performers, flirt, stroll with their families, and so on.

I’ve seen a few plazas in the U.S., but they’re nowhere near as common – or as nice — as in Latin America and Europe.

4. Public Footpaths And Long-Distance Walks
In England and Wales, a public footpath refers to a path on which the public has a legally protected right to travel on foot. There are an estimated 140,000 miles of public rights of way, often through farms. The “right to roam” law allows the public to move through open access land without penalty of trespassing. Many Latin American countries, such as Peru and Ecuador, have similar laws. It’s the complete opposite of the U.S., where private property reigns and you better take the “no trespassing” signs seriously lest the owner comes gunning for you.

Britain has 16 national trails and hundreds of other long-distance routes. Just about every county boasts a long-distance walk, from gentle ones like the Cotswolds Way in the south to long, strenuous ones like the Pennine Way in the north. And the England Coast Path, when completed, will be the longest coastal path in the world at 2,795 miles.

I’d love the U.S. to borrow this custom from Britain, designing local long-distance walking trails as a way to promote tourism in every state.

5. Saunas
Immersing yourself in a hot sauna is good for relaxing muscles and cleaning sinuses, and in Scandinavia, family members are usually nude, as my husband Barry discovered to his shock when he went to Finland on a work program in the 1960s.

In Cambodia, people erect religious shrines outside their homes.

Rather than building a sauna at home, most Americans use one at a gym, which is what I did when I spent several months in Amsterdam. I knew it was okay to be nude in the sauna, since everyone was, but I didn’t realize (until reprimanded!) that it was an unwritten rule that you had to lie on a towel, I guess for hygiene reasons.

6. Tangible Signs Of Spirituality
In the home Barry and I own in Guanajuato, Mexico, we hear church bells ringing several times a day, and similarly, in Islamic cultures, we listen to the haunting sound of the Call to Worship.

In Cambodia, we admired spirit houses outside homes. These shrines, usually in the form of small roofed structures mounted on a pillar, are meant to protect the home from evil spirits. Cambodians and other Southeast Asians believe that the door of the shrine, which faces the entrance to the house, brings luck and wealth to the family.

Tangible spiritual markers don’t really fit in our culture, but I yearn for invitations like these to rattle me out of my everyday trance and awaken me to a sense of wonder.

7. Polymer, Multi-Colored Currency
The U.S., with its no-nonsense universally green paper bills, is an outlier. Many countries I’ve visited use multicolored banknotes made of polymer, a kind of plastic. Polymer bills were first issued in 1988 by Australia and are now used in Canada, Mexico, the UK, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Romania, Vietnam, Fiji, and Mauritius.

Multicolored polymer bills make so much sense. Not only because different colored bills never get confused, but also because those made of paper get dirty, faded, wrinkled, and torn much faster than polymer. Plus all the different colors are so pretty!

Polymer is better for the environment, too. A Canadian study found that a polymer bill reduces global warming potential by 32 percent and uses 30 percent less energy compared with paper. It also lasts more than twice as long.

8. Pop-Top Cans
In Mexico and most European countries, food cans come with a pop-top. Not so in the U.S., where a can opener is necessary for almost any can.

According to research by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, traffic circles reduce crash injuries by 75 percent at intersections where stop signs or signals were previously used for traffic control.

While cans with a pop-top are slightly more expensive, market research has shown that many consumers would be prepared to pay a little more for a can with a pop-top because of the added convenience.

9. Traffic Circles, Or Roundabouts
Studies reveal that traffic circles are actually safer than stop signs or intersections with traffic signals. According to research by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), traffic circles reduce crash injuries by 75 percent at intersections where stop signs or signals were previously used for traffic control. Traffic circles also save time and reduce the use of gas, since a driver is slowing down but not stopping and starting.

Some of these changes are already underway, but others would be difficult to implement. So what? The longer we wait, the more complicated change might become. My vote is to begin now.
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Credit: Travel Awaits

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