Traveling in Europe in the past two weeks, I saw some things that, as an American, I am embarrassed to admit we are either too dumb or too corrupt to adopt. Here are a few.
Credit card lanes on toll roads. It's so simple. You drive up, stick your credit card in a slot, and go. On "turnpike ticket" type roads, you insert the ticket in one slot, the card in another, and you're done. It's quick because you don't have to wait while the machine processes the transaction. If the machine can read the card, and the card is of a type it accepts, the card is returned and the gate goes up. Defaults are dealt with later, and just aren't a big deal, as the numbers are always small. Of course, they have an RF system like NY'NJ's EZ-PASS, too. Still, the card is a big deal because tourists don't have tags, and so many EU visitors travel freely around the continent but don't all speak the same language.
I don't know why our toll booths can't take credit cards. I suspect union opposition is an issue, but it's hard to accept that our unions are more obstructive than those in France.
Eye-level trafic signals. This one seems like a no-brainer. At intersections where it is difficult for the first car in line to see the overhead signal, the signal post has an additional, mini- signal at eye level that is easy to see. It's just a great help. Why don't we have it?
Variable flush toilets. Ever heard of "country rules"? (If it's yellow, let it mellow; it it's brown, flush it down.) Anyway, the Euros have their own version. The toilets have two flush buttons, one big and the other little. Picture, for example, a circle divided unequally into two parts. The small button produces a "small" flush, which is perfectly adequate for removing liquid. The big button produces a bigger flush. The average flush is probably less than the 6.0 liters our toilets allow, but the big flush is big enough to get the job done. Seems like a much better arrangement than our one-size-fits-all approach. Are we too dumb to use it? Too whatever to use the small button? What? (Dual-flush toilets are available here - just Google on "dual flush toilets" - so maybe they're coming to a public restroom near you. But I haven't seen one yet.)
The question isn't why we can't think these things up. Surely, we can, and even if we didn't, we could adopt them. The question is what about ourselves or our systems prevent that from happening.