July 2007


The Zahnpasta Challenge

The only thing better than real security is false security—and since 2001 no organization has been better at providing false security than the US’s TSA: the Transportation Security Administration.

Predictably the TSA is reacts to situations. Someone tries to blow-up a plane using a bomb in a shoe? The response: make everybody take off their shoes and put them through an x-ray scanner—for which now all people are now truly grateful that Richard Reid is known as the “Shoe Bomber” instead of the “jock-strap bomber.”

Tooothpaste in AmericaAnother reaction: When the UK finds some people who were plotting to blow up airplanes by mixing Diet Coke with Mentos or other interesting combinations of liquids, the TSA decides to limit the potential liquids threat by implementing the 3-1-1 for carry-on luggage.

No more than three ounces of any one liquid, in one quart-sized bag, with one bag per passenger. It’s a cute way to reduce security to a simple slogan that makes grandma feel safe, even as it makes frequent travelers go slightly mad trying to contort to the newest rules—which are wildly inconsistent within one sentence at the TSA.

Take this from the TSA’s “3-1-1 Gains International Acceptance” news bulletin:

…the international traveling community agrees – TSA’s 3-1-1 for liquids makes security sense. Countries around the world support TSA’s approach to reducing the amount of liquids, gels and aerosols passengers can bring in their carry-ons. The rule limits the volume of liquids, gels and aerosols to bottles 3 ounces or smaller (or 100 ml), in 1 quart-sized zip top bag, and 1 bag per traveler.

Now which is it? Are we allowed “3 ounces or smaller” or are we allowed “100 ml” of liquid? After all, 3 oz converts to 88.7205891 ml—and the difference between 88.7 ml and 100ml is not trivial—it might be the difference between blowing up an entire airplane and just getting the seat wet when it spills.

Regardless of the actual limitation for carry-on luggage, since I rarely check my luggage, hair gel is out and the previously ignored bottles of hotel shampoo are now precious. The only other liquids I carry around are hand lotion and toothpaste—the former comes in small tubes from hotels—and a little bit lasts me quite a long time; the later has proven to be a bizarre problem—easier to solve in Europe than in the States.

Crest in AmericaYou see, size is the challenge. In the States, the smallest legitimate tube of toothpaste I can find is 4.2 ounces. I’ve searched CVS, Target, and Kroger—and whilst convergence between the cola and toothpaste aisles is coming (you can get both Crest and Coke with Vanilla; Coke flavored Crest must be next), one cannot buy legitimately small tubes of toothpaste in the states.

A Word On “Travel/Trial” sized merchandise: I want my tubes of toothpaste to last longer than one day—I’ve never seen a tube of travel/trial sized toothpaste that looked like it would last an entire vacation; and much to my surprise I haven’t actually seen any of the infamous “travel/trial” sized bins at CVS, Target, or Kroger. I could be overlooking them, but regardless they are actually too small for utility when it comes to toothpaste.

ZahnpastaStrangely enough toothpaste shopping is a breeze in Germany. After getting to Germany Saturday, I headed to a nearby Müller in Leipzig, walked into the toothpaste section and was presented with a plethora of options smaller than 100 ml—in fact I selected my German favorite, Blend-a-Med; which is a close cousin to Crest (both are made by Procter and Gamble), after a briefest of pauses. I don’t think I saw any tubes of toothpaste that were larger than 100ml.

I am left to presume that this oddity of package size is a reflection of the American Bigger is Better mantra: We want BIG tubs of popcorn at the movie theater, we want mega-sized cars (Hummers are for studs), and when we go to McDonald’s the smallest drink should be enough to float Chad’s Naval Fleet. American’s have come to believe, over the years, that we get a better value when we buy big—and since houses are bigger, when Americans head to the Warehouse Superstore and buy the large packages of 400 rolls of toilet paper, there is a basement/attic/closet to store the excess.

Particularly inspiring, at least for me, was the realization that one can buy toothpaste in large packages and be rewarded with two tubes for the price of one!

ZahnpastaNow, I don’t know about you, but after living in Germany for several years, I know that a brand new tube of Blend-a-med toothpaste, at 75 ml, will last me at least a month and a half. Two tubes of American Toothpaste would probably last me six months, if not longer, but cannot be carried onto an airplane.

Sure larger tubes of toothpaste last longer and might be a (slight) economic savings, but it’s neither an emotional nor fiscal disaster for me to stop by the drugstore to pick up a new tube of toothpaste every other month—along with the knowledge that I can carry my regular toothpaste with me, everywhere I go.

5 comments to The Zahnpasta Challenge

  • Disenchanted

    Ya gotta’ remember that while a tube of toothpaste might last you for a month and a half, families go through that stuff a whole lot faster — especially if the kids have braces. I used to brush my teeth upwards of 3+ times a day because I always had shit stuck in the metal. Blah. Anyways, that’s probably why the double toothpaste packages occur.

    P.S. We usually have two tubes of toothpaste going in my house at any one time simply because the Coach and I like different flavors.

    P.S.S. You’d be surprised how many toothbrushing episodes one of those travel sized tubes can do. I usually pack two of them and never had a problem with the airport folks in Sorta’ Cosmopolitan. The thing that pisses me off about the travel sized TP is how ungodly expensive it is! Grrr. Most of the time you could buy one big tube for the same price as two little tubes.

  • I’m glad to see I’m not the only one that has issues with the “security” measures taken by the (T)otally (S)tupid (A)$$wipes.

    Thanks to these nitwits, parents with screaming children can no longer knock ’em out with Benadryl which makes red-eye flights a real joy! *ugh*

  • @disenchanted: I have to say, it would never occur to me to share a tube of toothpaste–that’s way too personal for me! I can see how if a family did share it would be used rather quickly.

    @cq: as much as i dislike screaming kids, i really object to drugging kids…

  • disenchanted

    Wow! Did you always have your own tube of paste as a kid? We always had one for the parents’ bathroom and one for the kids’ bathroom. Of course, we all had our own toothbrushes. LOL!

  • @disenchanted: Yes–We each had a shelf/space to store stuff in the bathroom. I was on the bottom shelf on the left (my dad’s shaving equipment was on the right).