If it's 3 am in Seattle and I have a headache and I don't have any Advil in my house, I can jump in my car and go to the local QFC to buy some. If I didn't have a car, there's a decent chance if admittedly no guarantee that there's a 24-hour gas station/store-of-some-sort within walking distance of my home. I had a booming headache duing my second night here in Zagreb last week. I went out at 11 pm and searched for a ljekarna -- a drugstore you can recognize a block away thanks to neon green crosses -- that was open. None of the ljekarna-s where open. The late-night CVS-counterparts in Zagreb, at least the ones I went to, didn't have Advil. I went home and toughed out the night. By the next morning my headache was gone, but I bought some ibuprofen at a ljekarna just for the future. I came down with a flu this afternoon, and I'm glad I have it on hand.
There have been other things. There are two markets within walking distance of my apartment. One is a Lidl. It is small, brightly lit and always crowded. The other is large and most of it looks like a warehouse, until you get to the very back of the store where the meat section is pleasant. Everything in both stores are where it's supposed to be, assuming they have it, but none of it is made to look pretty. When you shop at these places there's no irritating music in the background.
There are things they don't have that I usually eat. If I want to eat fish, I have to go to a ribarnica, and I've stopped off at the one in Zagreb's Dolac Market a few times to get salmon, catfish, and tuna. But I couldn't get any tilapia. Both markets are stacked with Barilla pasta, but I haven't found whole wheat pasta. I've had a hard time locating good fresh fruit. The only familiar candy brand are Kit Kat bars. If I still bothered, I could drink Coca Cola.
I had to buy a separate role of aluminum foil, but not one with a special box which would allow me to cut it off piece by piece as need be. I couldn't find a vacuum-sealed zipbloc bags, so I settled for plastic bags that you tie manually and hope for the best.
There's a pekara on every street and you can always get a nice krafna donut. If I ate out a lot, I would be eating a lot of čevapi and probably some good pizza. I know where to go.
The transporation system? Better than what you have in Seattle. Easier to manage than what you have in Washington, D.C. The buses and trams come semi-regularly and they usually come when they're supposed to come. Garbage: It's not hard to throw out my trash and I'm actually relieved not to have to care about recycling that much. There are plenty of broken exteriors and dilapidated benches but the streets are clean.
I don't know enough to say why certain things are readily available and certain things are not or why it's hard to get ibuprofen in a sizable city with a significant population that stays out at night. Tariffs? Cultural differences? Economic crisis? None of what I've described are big problems. The city has big problems. The mayor is a lower-case Donald Trump, the worst kind of crony capitalist, and there are plenty of basic utilities that through the years have periodically not worked that should work.
I'm just thinking of the small details -- the particularly things you are forced to notice when you try to cook yourself the same meal you eat when you're in the States -- that add up to a culture, one that is created by forces beyond anyone's understanding.