Sochi conditions not so extreme

I love the Olympics. Who doesn’t really? Although normally you would never catch me intensely watching a curling match and certainly not – dare I say it? – a hockey game, every four years I put on my America pants and cheer for every triumph and a few epic falls.

Of course, this year there was some tension leading up to the Olympics. With terrorist attacks and anti-gay legislation in Russia, traveling to Sochi has not been carefree. So when I saw headlines and social media posts the week before the Olympics began about the horrible things reporters were experiencing, I thought they must be justified.

Then I read them.

The first public outcry I came across was from a reporter who tweeted a picture of a sign asking users not to flush toilet paper down the toilet but instead to place it in a trash can next to the toilet.

What barbarians! How disgusting! Can you believe how backwards this country is?

Wellno. I have been fortunate enough to travel to many different countries in my life. While I haven’t made it to Russia, I have lugged my gigantic backpack across large parts of Europe and notably smaller parts of South America. The whole ‘don’t flush your toilet paper’ thing is not all that uncommon. Traveling in Italy, that epicenter of art and culture, I frequently had to use bathrooms at train stations that were quite literally a hole in the ground. Not only did I have to use them, I had to pay to use them – another practice that is extremely common in places that aren’t America.

Now, I’m not an engineer, although I’m sure at least some of you reading this are. I don’t know exactly what it take to completely overhaul the plumbing system of a city to accommodate the waste of thousands of people. I don’t really want to know all the details, but I’m guessing it takes a bit more time and money than are warranted for an event that lasts just a few weeks.

One reporter even complained about being told not to drink the tap water. Again, this is not all that strange. Whenever I travel I assume I shouldn’t drink the water unless I’m told otherwise.

Now I’m not saying some complaints aren’t warranted. Hotel rooms without shower curtains or even running water are a bit ridiculous given the amount of money that has been spent on the games – estimates hover around $50 billion. One reporter claimed she was told not to even use the tap water on her face because it would burn her skin. The assumed corruption and evident discrimination leading up to the games should also be a cause for concern.

The Olympics are not a charity event and we should expect that the host country be prepared – with shower curtains and everything – for the massive influx of visitors. But when traveling to different countries, we should also expect to encounter some things that we may not be used to. Whining about those differences is petty and takes away from the real issues surrounding the Sochi Olympics.