I’m from Peru, but I’ve lived in the United States for a long time—over a decade. Until recently. My family just moved back to the city where I was raised: Lima. And now that I’m here, I’m finding that I’ve become more Americanized than I thought. In particular, I’m missing a lot of things that I got used to having in America. No doubt, these are many of the same things that born-and-raised Americans miss about their country when they travel. So, take note—here are the 12 things that you will miss the most if you go to Latin America.
- Free bathrooms You may not realize this, but free bathroom access is not a God-given right. In fact, in Latin America, you have to pay to use many public bathrooms. The cost isn’t much—the equivalent of maybe 25¢—but if you want to pee, you’ll have to remember to carry some change.
- Toilet paper in the bathrooms Ah, the hidden costs of using the bathroom. In the land of plenty (i.e. America), these hidden costs would refer to the amount of trees being cut down to supply the nation’s bathrooms with toilet paper and paper towels. In Latin America, it’s the literal cost of getting the toilet paper in the first place. Many public restrooms have an attendant at the entrance who distributes a few squares of toilet paper in exchange for a few cents. Another reason to remember to carry change—or your own toilet paper.
- Refills Say goodbye to free soda refills. This is not a concept that exists in Latin America. It’s also one of the things my husband and I miss the most.
- Ice Another luxury you never thought was a luxury until you went to Latin America: ice cold drinks. If you’re out in a restaurant and order a beverage, there’s a good chance your soda or juice will not come with ice. And in a part of the world as hot as Latin America can be, you’ll really find yourself missing that. Side note: maybe if the drinks were loaded with ice like they are in America, Latin American restaurants could afford to offer a free refill?
- Heating/Air conditioning Speaking of Latin America frequently being a hot place—isn’t air conditioning great? Too bad most places in Latin America (restaurants, shops, homes) don’t have A/C. Instead, there are fans, but in humid weather, they offer little relief. I hope you like sweating. On the bright side, you don’t need to carry a sweater for over-air-conditioned stores and restaurants (which is what I find myself doing during American summers), and you have the perfect excuse to buy yourself that sundress or linen shirt you really want—both stylish and practical!
- Hot water Even in hot weather, most people still love a warm shower. Unfortunately, in much of the region, hot water is a luxury that’s hard to find. This can be particularly disappointing in places where the temperature drops to the 60s in the evenings. On the flip side, it gives you an incentive to shower in the middle of the day, which will feel really great to your un-air-conditioned sweaty self.
- Ranch dressing/Traditional Heinz ketchup
Depending on how frequently you eat fast food, this may or may not make it to your top 5 list of the things you miss most about America. But if you’re a ranch dressing lover like I am, then the lack of it in restaurants will hit you hard. Also, ketchup tastes different in Latin America. Most places don’t offer Heinz, but even Heinz seems to taste a bit off to American palates—it’s a little too sweet. Definitely throws off your French fries.
- Drive-thrus This is another thing that will affect you proportionately to how often you eat fast food. But in Latin America, assuming you have access to a car, there are barely any drive-thrus for you to take it to. Yes, you actually have to get out of your car and go inside to get your food. Sheesh, Latin America is always forcing a person to walk.
- Security While walking around some parts of Latin American cities, you’ll have to remember to be extra careful with your possessions. As you’ve no doubt heard, theft is a bigger problem here than in the United States. So it’s probably a bad idea to have your cell phone sticking out of your back pocket, or to carry a purse that is easy to reach into, or to leave anything that looks valuable in your unattended car.
- Attentive customer service In America, customer service is a very, very important priority for (almost) every business. Sometimes, it’s even a little much. After the third time of saying, “No, I’m just looking,” or, “No, thank you, I’m fine,” you start to wish people would just leave you in peace. But in Latin America, shopkeepers might pay so little attention to you that you start missing the American barrage of servile friendliness. There’s a good chance you’ll find yourself feeling ignored. Just remember that, here, you have to go up and ask if you want something—don’t wait for somebody to come to you.
- Pedestrian right-of-way In addition to being a customer, being a pedestrian is another time when you’ll wish people paid a little more attention to you. In America, pedestrians always have the right of way. If you step off the sidewalk, cars will slow down and wait to let you cross. But in Latin America, crossing the street can sometimes feel like playing a game of Russian roulette. Road rules are much less established (read: it’s a free-for-all) and between the cars, taxis, mopeds (so many mopeds!) and, sometimes, even horses, you’ll find yourself standing uncertainly on the curb watching the people around you to see how they manage to survive in this crazy motor jungle.
- Wifi, everywhere Last but absolutely not least, you will miss having Internet access everywhere you go. I don’t even mean your mobile network, which you could get in Latin America with a local data plan. But in America, we take it for granted that almost everywhere—malls, coffee shops, many restaurants, and even some parks—has free wifi access. In Latin America, you should make sure you plan ahead, because there’s no guarantee that you can hop into a coffee shop to look up maps, bus schedules, or email your mother. And just forget about YouTube. (But a part of you will also love being so disconnected.)
So, these are the things you will probably miss. But remember, these feelings probably won’t last for more than a few minutes at a time. Because no sooner will you think, “Man, I really wish this soda was ice cold,” or, “I sure wish it wasn’t so hot,” than a delicious plate of lomo saltado will be set before you, or an exotic animal will appear in the trees in front of you, or a beautiful Latino man will say, “Hey, you’re so sweaty—how attractive,” and you’ll immediately forget all of your complaints and remember why you came here, and why you probably never want to leave.