Living abroad is a wonderful experience and opportunity that I am extremely grateful for. It has broadened my perspectives, world view and instills a deeper appreciation for what I have back home in the states. After 3 years abroad I came to realize that when you’re in your home country you may tend to overlook all the great benefits that are of access to you. Perhaps it’s the park where you spent your days meditating or the smoothie bar you frequent weekly. While I don’t take any of this for granted I have a stronger appreciation for the comforts of home. Here are the American things I miss the most while living abroad.
American stores are twice the size of European stores and have more variety of products on the shelves. I miss going to Trader Joe’s to stock up on their fun snacks, orange chicken and macaroni bites! The bi-weekly trips to Target or one-stop shops to get everything from shavers, sci-fi books, and ice cream. There are so many unique items to choose from that are decent and not going to break the bank.
Having lived in big cities such as London, Paris, and Amsterdam groceries tend to be more expensive than American Stores. It’s also quite a bummer having to visit 3-4 stores just to check off everything on my grocery list. Since stores are much smaller you won’t be able to find all your products all in one place. After the past years abroad I realize that American stores are my favorite.
American customer service is some of the best I’ve experienced. Employees are typically friendly and willing to give a helping hand. We even have a saying that “the customer is always right” which is pretty self-explanatory. I cannot count the number of times I’ve called a domestic customer service line in distress, to have all my worries about a product, refund, or purchase be put at ease. However, I notice that American customer service is held to a different standard. I could not count on someone going the ‘extra mile’ or even have a pressing issue resolved.
Truthfully, you should never hold someone or a country to the same expectations that you are familiar with. For instance, the Netherlands is not a service-oriented country and tipping is not mandatory. In this case, it makes complete sense why the employee will not wait on you hand and foot. Obviously, each country has its own standards but I can’t help but miss the customer service back home.
Much Larger Spaces
The Netherlands is a small country with a high density of people so there isn’t much space, to begin with. With a surface area of 41,528 km in crowded cities like Amsterdam or Rotterdam you can totally feel this, particularly; when it comes to housing and privacy. The US is a vast country with expansive land. However, the concept of space, whether that be in our homes or personal life is a part of American culture. For instance, closets are standard in our households, a small room you enter to put your clothes and other items. However, in Europe, you typically have drawers or even built-in wardrobes. I miss the space of walking into my own closet and storing my own clothes.
Americans value personal space. I’m still getting used to having that shared for certain moments: having a private conversation or sunbathing on the balcony. Living in a multi-complex building may not guarantee this but that’s okay. From this experience, I appreciate more of the open space we have in California and the complete feeling of freedom.
I miss the random hellos and how are you from strangers, neighbors and passerbyers. The smiles, genuine eye contact, and interaction with others outside your circle are quite nice. It might sound strange and a bit crazy to others but this behavior is customary in the US. Being polite, respectful, and courteous are manners that are part of our culture. Of course, not everyone exemplifies this but it is what we are taught from grade school. In America, our communication style is quite open towards others. We don’t consider it strange to strike up a conversation with someone at a coffee shop or go to the bar alone and make new friends. In the Netherlands and some parts of Europe, they may consider this type of mannerism to be rude and off-putting.
The Variations in American Climate and Topography
The US is the third-largest country in the world and has many varied climates and topography. We have mountain ranges, great plains, deserts, cities, forests, beaches, lakes, and rural towns. It depends on what region you are in and what you prefer, but chances are they are within our borders. Tired of the sun in California then head to the east coast. If you like a desert environment why not visit Arizona or New Mexico? We have 50 states to choose from so take your pick. While I’m slowly getting used to the rain in the Netherlands and its flatness I miss the variety in topography and weather that America has to offer.
American Sporting Events
In no way am I a hardcore sports fan but I do certainly miss the thrill of sporting events. Everyone in a crowd intensely watches the game as if their life depends on it; fervently cheering on their favorite team. Enthusiastic mascots hyping the crowd, junky game food and the notorious tailgates! College football games are some of my favorite memories because everyone gets involved. There is a sense of camaraderie and teamwork in this fun environment and I miss it dearly.
Shops that are Open Late
In the Netherlands, stores close quite early. The latest large grocery stores will close at 9 or 10 pm. On Sundays, some shops close down at 5 pm so you’ll have to plan shopping and groceries accordingly. If you need a late dinner your best bet is to order in, and that’s only if a restaurant or fast-food joint is open (most of the time they’re not). It still baffles me because back home if you need to run a quick errand you can go to a 24/7 convenience store. The only night stores that you will find in the Netherlands are night winkels (night stores) which really only have junk food available. Don’t even think of late-night pizza because sadly those shops are not open too.
Using a Dryer
Dryers are not common household items in Europe. Sometimes I get the impression that they aren’t even well-liked. Clothing is typically dried on a clothesline or even on house radiators. What I hear from others is that having a dryer is expensive and takes up too much space. These are all legit reasons but honestly, sometimes you want to dry your clothes for goodness sake! It’s just so much easier and convenient. Back home I throw my items in within 30 minutes I’d have clean clothes to wear out the same day.
Doing laundry in Europe can be a hassle. Clothes can take a day or more to dry especially if it’s during the colder months. Towels always end up feeling so hard and dry that I feel like I’m scraping my skin off. I remember washing a blouse for an interview the next day which was obviously not the best idea. Apparently, 12 hours was not enough time to dry it so I literally used my blow dryer!
Real Mexican Food
This is probably on the top of the list of any American who is living abroad. While there are decent spots in Amsterdam and an even better one in Utrecht, nothing tastes like home. In the states, we are fortunate to have delicious and authentic Mexican food. I miss taco stands, real carne asada, and fresh-made corn tortillas. To make up for the lack of it I try my hand at home! While my Sopa de tortilla, huevos rancheros, and elote are improving, nothing compares to the accessibility and great flavors back home… well except Mexico, the true OG.
I wouldn’t say it’s an obsession but it’s definitely my holy grail. So you can only imagine the deep disappointment I feel living in Europe not being able to get my fix. after ordering an iced coffee I literally got two pieces of ice in some old coffee. I like coffee but love ice coffee because of the much more pronounced flavors. I also tend to like things on the sweeter side so what I miss the most about the states are the different variations like caramel, coconut, and vanilla. One of my favorite hobbies is going to coffee shops and trying all the specialty iced coffees like lavender or even rose flavored.
Family and friends will always be on the top of my list but living abroad the aforementioned are the more lighthearted aspects I miss when homesick. While I’d do love the Netherlands and now call it home, California will always have the bigger piece of my heart. What American things do you miss most when living overseas?