I always set my default string encoding to utf8 if I'm working in a python environment I have control over, and having done that I don't recalll having had any difficulties with library code that uses strings. Of course that's no use if you're in a shared hosting environment, or distributing code for others to use in their environments. The utterly stupid and bizarre only-at-startup way to set this really doesn't help.
It occurs to me that Dutch is one of only three ASCII-only languages I can think of off the top of m head (the other one is Italian). This might explain a lot.
Not even Italian and Dutch are absolutely ASCII. Italian makes use of accented vowels quite a lot (e.g. á) and Dutch technically needs the trema (e.g. tetraëder); the IJ (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C4%B2) is usually written as two letters when using computers, but typewriters still have this as its own ligature.
So, unless I'm missing something, English is the only pure ASCII language there is (except Latin, of course).
You think English is a "pure ASCII" language?? Nonsense!
What about 'façade' or 'rôle', or 'résumé', all perfectly good English words!
~fran# Francis Tyers