We love living in the United States, and we’re thankful for many aspects of American culture.
What’s better than a nice slice of apple pie? Who doesn’t love a trip to the Grand Canyon, a relaxing day at the baseball park, or a good old American monster truck rally? Is there anything better than watching a bald eagle light fireworks while listening to Lee Greenwood in an SUV?
Still, while we wouldn’t trade our citizenship for anything, we have to admit that our country’s woefully deficient in some areas. Some countries simply do certain things better.
1. Estonia is better at providing internet access.
With a population of only 1.4 million, Estonia is a tiny country, but it has used its small size to its advantage: For over a decade, the country has offered free wifi access to everyone—a feat that might not be feasible for a larger nation.
The Estonian government decided to invest in internet infrastructure in the late 1990s, and the country is currently a technological utopia. Ninety-four percent of citizens pay their tax returns online (within several minutes, thanks to fairly simple tax laws), and Estonians can also vote, sign legal documents, receive prescriptions from doctors, and handle hundreds of other common tasks without paper. It’s a high-quality connection, too, and government officials claim that a person could walk for hundreds of miles without losing wifi access.
“For other countries, the internet is just another service, like tap water or clean streets,” Linnar Viik, a lecturer at the Estonian IT College, told The Guardian. “But for young Estonians, the internet is a manifestation of something more than a service—it’s a symbol of democracy and freedom.”
Cobblestone streets, incredible cafes, fast WiFi, European basketball; Estonia, you've stolen my heart.
— A.J. Shearon (@coachajshearon) July 28, 2017
Estonia’s significant investments have paid off, as the country is home to a number of significant technology companies, including Skype. Fortune even published a piece asking whether Estonia’s approach to the internet might be an effective blueprint for other countries.
Meanwhile, Americans pay more for broadband access than many other well-developed countries, and our connections aren’t especially fast. Perhaps we’d be better off rethinking our approach to the internet and treating it as a public utility—though that doesn’t seem like an especially likely outcome, given recent changes in internet regulation.
2. South Koreans are better at interior heating.
If you hate cold feet, you’re going to love Korean heating.
“You ever walk into a really cold house and then have to wait hours for the heat to kick on?” asks travel blogger Chris Backe. “South Korean houses run hot water under the floor to heat the house. It’s a nice, even warmth that stays on in the background without consuming much power.”
Backe is referring to ondol, a traditional heating method that dates back to the fourth or fifth century. The name comes from Chinese characters that roughly translate to “warm hollows.”
Sometimes I forget I turn on my heat and then I’ll be like “why am I so hot?” Later I’ll stand up and feel the warm floor and realize that the heat is on #floorheating #Korea #ondol
— Erica (@ewags6) February 28, 2018
For centuries, Korean kitchens would be several feet lower than the ondol room. Smoke, steam, and hot air from the kitchen would run under the floor through horizontal flues before connecting with the chimney.
These days, most ondols use hot water instead of hot air. That’s thanks to Frank Lloyd Wright, who was enamored with “the indescribable comfort of being warmed from below.” Wright found that water allowed for simpler radial heating than smoke, and today, the vast majority of Korean homes have water-powered ondol thanks to the American architect.
3. Japan is way better at making Kit Kats.
Kit Kat bars (and no, there’s no hyphen) are a classic confectionery. You can probably recite the candy’s catchy jingle by memory—and yes, you just started singing it at your desk. Even if you don’t love the chocolate-covered wafers, you’ve probably had your share of them over the years.
Still, we bet you’ve never had a strawberry- or corn-flavored Kit Kat. How about a soy sauce Kit Kat? Cantaloupe? Sweet potato? In Japan, those are actual options, and the Kit Kat brand is consistently one of the country’s top-selling candies.
Orange Kitkat tastes like Orange Creamsicle. We need these things in the US. #japanesekitkat #fromAmerica #USAsoboring
— Miffy Yee (@spiffymiffy) March 1, 2018
That’s partially due to a fortunate coincidence. In Japanese, Kitto Kattsu means “You will surely win.” When Nestle began marketing the Kit Kat in Japan in 1973, a savvy executive noticed the coincidence and built a marketing campaign around it. Parents began sending Kit Kat bars to their college-aged children for good luck during exam weeks.
@KitKat_US please make the Japanese roasted tea kit kat available in the US byeeeee
— Timoteo W (@EscaparNecesito) February 15, 2018
That might have been the end of the story, but in the 2000s, Nestle launched hundreds of limited edition Kit Kat flavors. Japanese collectors quickly snatched them up. Look hard enough, and you can find interesting flavors like red potato, rock salt, cherry, cinnamon cookie, banana, miso soup, pear, and edamame.
Today's odd Japanese Kit Kat flavour: orange. As one of my favourite chocolate bars is dark choc/orange, I was expecting a lot here. I got a pastel orange colour, ever very slightly orange flavoured (it's there if you really try to taste it) white chocolate Kit Kat. That's it. pic.twitter.com/L9RSVbfa6q
— ExpatDan 🇺🇲 🇹🇭 🇭🇰 🇯🇵 🇭🇲 🇸🇬 🇰🇷 🇲🇾 (@ExpatDanBKK) February 24, 2018
We’ve got to say, we’ve never bitten into a Kit Kat and thought, “If only this tasted like a sweet potato.” Still, if variety is the spice of life, Japan certainly has a better approach.
4. Germans are much better at recycling.
“After living in Germany for a year, I went to visit family in Poland and asked them where I should throw away my yogurt lid,” says Nikki Prša, a frequent traveler who teaches language acquisition online. “I was so used to separating waste. They looked at me like I was crazy and said, ‘…in the trash?'”
Germany is serious about recycling, and the country’s penchant for organization really comes into play on trash day. A typical household receives five color-coded recycling bins, and each bin might have its own pickup day. In many cities, people can also drive to local recycling centers to discard their waste, provided that they separate their waste responsibly.
In case you're wondering what being German is like – I spent a solid 15 minutes of my day arguing about which recycling bin wood scraps belong in.
— Fiona Brutscher (@MingaMadl) February 5, 2018
The country also has an innovative “Green Dot” program. Manufacturers must pay a licensing fee and put a green dot on packaged products; more packaging means a higher fee. Businesses look for novel ways to limit packaging, which results in fewer wasted materials.
How much better are Germans at waste collection? Americans compost or recycle about 34.3 percent of their waste, while Germany has about a 66.1 percent recycling rate. In fact, the Germans have the highest recycling rate in all of Europe.
In 2013, Americans sent about 167 million tons of waste to landfills, so we could certainly improve on that number by following Germany’s lead. Maybe we could start by improving our garbage collection technology. Then again, maybe we can just start sorting our trash. How hard can it be?
5. Hungarians are better at keeping senior citizens active.
“If you’re a member of the European Union, after age 65, you may travel for free on any commercial route, streetcar, subway, bus, train,” says etiquette consultant Adeodata Czink. “This is fabulous, because if you are on a small pension, you would not be able to visit children, grandchildren, or do excursions. You might not have the money for it.”
Free train tickets? Sign us up. That’s not all.
“After age 70, you are welcome to any regular art exhibition or museum that costs the same to uphold whether you are there or not. Again, it keeps you motivated to go out and do something and not be lonely inside your home day after day.”
Hungary’s free travel program is especially broad and generous, and if it gets seniors up and moving, that’s certainly a good thing. Ideally, senior citizens should get at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise five days a week, but fewer than one-third of American seniors meet this recommendation.
6. The Dutch are better at being honest.
“Most people will talk about how the Netherlands is a bike-heavy country and how that improves overall health,” Lauren Gilmore, marketer for PR and Prose, tells Urbo. Gilmore is an American expatriate, and she moved from Texas to Haarlem in 2014.
“But to me, a people person, the most interesting aspect of living in Holland is that the Dutch are blunt.”
That’s not just Gilmore’s experience; the Dutch are renowned for their directness, which can create quite a culture shock for foreigners.
“It took a while to get used to,” Gilmore says, “but it’s become really refreshing to not wonder what people really think, or to be able to say ‘no’ to a request without coming across as rude.”
“[People don’t] sugarcoat or placate things,” Gilmore says. “That’s not to say that the Dutch aren’t friendly; they just aren’t fake. If you need something, your neighbor will help. But if they can’t, you shouldn’t expect them to go out of their way to do it. They don’t expect you to, either. It makes for a much more relaxed and pleasant atmosphere.”
Dutch people don’t take criticisms personally, which creates an interesting social dynamic to say the least. Etiquette expert Reinildis van Ditzhuyzen claims that the directness comes from the value that Dutch people place on treating each other equally.
“The Dutch don’t do hierarchy,” van Ditzhuyzen said in an interview with The Hague Online. “Add to this our international history as merchants, and you get a lot of people just being very clear and saying exactly what they mean.”