Wednesday, May 11, 2011

For Sale: Toothpaste, Little Dead Frogs, and Live Chickens

Toothpaste in Macedonia.

I sometimes teach a travel class in Los Angeles in community-education, lifelong learning type schools.   One thing I always try to impress upon my students is the importance of traveling light.  When in doubt, I tell them, leave whatever it is at home.  If you find that you really need it when you get there, you can find always find it.  I don’t know why some people think, for example, no one outside of the Western world brushes his or her teeth.  Well, maybe there are some people who don't, but regardless, you can always find toothpaste everywhere.   

The thing is, pretty much everyone uses and needs the same things the world over.  On this trip I bought, among other things:  floss in Russia; one single AAA-Duracell battery in Ukraine; ibuprofen in Poland; a pink, plastic razor in Bulgaria; toothpaste in Macedonia; and 2-in-1 shampoo-and-conditioner in Montenegro.  I’ve never wanted for anything, and I’ve never not found something I really needed.

That being said, there may be some differences in particular items for sale, and the manner in which they are sold.  Yesterday I ran into a man selling little dead frogs from the hatchback of his car.  And I can’t count the number of live chickens for sale on the street that I’ve sidestepped.   There’s a whole avenue in Tirana where men just sit selling used cell phones on upturned cardboard boxes.  In fact, one need only walk down the sidewalk here in Albania to find whatever it is that’s needed:  a head of lettuce, pants, security safes, flat screen TVs, the most red, ripe, and delicious tomatoes you’ll ever wrap your lips around.  All right next to each other, in some cases.

Need a small appliance?  Check on the back of this man's bicycle.  Actually, it looks like the front:

In some cases, you might not get the exact brand you’re looking for.  Say you want Mr. Clean.  How about Mr. Proper instead? 

And for the ladies--to lay to rest perhaps the biggest getting-caught-short fear of them all--rest assured you can get these everywhere--on every continent (though I don't think I saw them in Antarctica, so bring extra if you're going there):

The male security guard in the St. Petersburg, Russia grocery really looked at me funny when I snapped that one.