I swore this would never happen to me. I wasn't going to be one those Americans. But it did. I am.
I was walking past McDonald's yesterday, and I really wanted to go in and get a McBurger. Here's the thing: I don't even like McDonald's and basically consider it a greed-machine producer of nonfood. The last time I had McFood, we were were racing the clock, traveling across the northern tier of the US. We ate at McDonald's because there is literally nothing adjacent to vast stretches of I-90 except McDonald's, its fried-alike cousins and some really scary independents.
Actually, my list is pretty short. Just the chilies, although I sometimes wish that baking soda came in the big boxes found in the US. In addition to baking, it's eminently useful for all kinds of non-toxic cleaning and deodorizing (especially of the fridge).
Here, baking soda comes in teeny-tiny packets, while, oddly enough, Aromat––the all-purpose fundamental seasoning for Swiss home cooking––can be found in giant boxes that are pretty much the same size as those of baking soda in the US. Perhaps I could arrange an exchange of big boxes of Aromat for the equivalent of baking soda with a homesick Swiss in the US?
You could argue, and I have, that most of these foods have good or even excellent replacements here in Switzerland. But, like my brief desire for lunch at McDonald's, there's no accounting for what foods we'll miss.
Then there's the American drugstore and its cornucopia of health and beauty supplies, which have either no equivalent or are very, very expensive here. Advil and similar pain meds cost something like 1 CHF per tab and come in a teensy blister pack. Some things, like our favorite one-pill-does-it-all cold remedies, aren't available here at all.
I've never seen what we call rubbing (or isopropyl) alcohol in the shops here (it's quite useful as a topical antiseptic, for swimmer's ear and for sterilizing thermometers). I got a very strange look when I asked for it at the apotheke and, after a discussion of what I was going to use it for, was given a very small jar of very high proof alcohol instead. Hmm. Not quite what I was looking for.
I'm not going to be carrying rubbing alcohol home in my bagagge––it's highly combustible and it's not a particularly green product––but my excess baggage and care packages are almost entirely devoted to my favorite health and beauty products, from facial cleanser to jumbo economy jars of ibuprofen. And chilies, of course.
What's in your bag?