After living abroad for a collective year and a half, I have had some of the best experiences of my life. I've learned new languages, met amazingly interesting people, and eaten incredible food. I've been so lucky, but I won't hide the fact that there have been a lot of moments where I just feel homesick. I have missed out on family get togethers and friends’ birthdays and fun vacations. I have eaten dinner with my family over FaceTime and stayed up until 1am to talk to my friends in the US when they get home from work. There are times where I wish I could just teleport home to be with the people and the little things I miss.
While I was feeling a little homesick earlier this week I made a list of all the things I miss about the U.S. when I'm in France and a list of everything I miss about France when I'm in the U.S. There's something to like and dislike about every country, but let's start with the list of what I love most about my home country.
If I were to walk outside of my apartment right now I would see leaves changing color, feel a brisk Autumn wind, and see leaves swirling in the street. On the surface it seems like fall, but it's just not American fall. There are no corn mazes or pumpkin patches. There are no jack-o-lanterns on front stoops. There are no hay rides or farm festivals. There is no apple-picking or warm apple cider. There are no football tailgates, no haunted houses, no cute kids dressed up for halloween. There is no apple pie, no butternut squash soup, no warm pumpkin bread!! No Thanksgiving! I just don't think any country celebrates fall as well as we do.
2. Fresh Fast Food
The U.S. has a bad reputation for it’s fast food and I won’t lie and say I’ve never had my fair share of Bojangles, Chick-fil-A waffle fries, and jumbo slice pizza, but we also know how to do fresh(er) fast food better than anyone. I miss being able to get a semi-healthy meal without cooking it myself or sitting down at a restaurant. I miss Chipotle bowls, Sweetgreen salads, Cava Greens + Grains bowls, and even a good soup and salad from Panera. Here in France your options for a quick eat are usually McDonalds, Dominos, and the many kebab places.
3. Amazon Prime
France technically has Amazon Prime, but they don’t have the selection we do in the U.S. The fact that in the U.S. you can go to Amazon and find almost anything you want, usually for cheaper than in-store and have it on your doorstep in 1-2 days is basically considered sorcery for the French and most other countries I've been to. I miss my Korean sheet masks and replacing trips to the office supply store and supermarket with a few scrolls and a couple of clicks.
4. Customer Service
I always say it’s amazing to work in France, but it is the worst being the consumer. The culture of working is completely different in France. Here full-time in only 35 hours, hardly anyone works before 8am and even less after 5pm. You also know with any job you work you’ll save enough to retire and you'll have health insurance.
This is all great, but this causes a completely different work ethic which leaves workers caring a lot less about customers. I’ve had numerous bankers, customer service representatives and waiters straight-up lie to me or avoid telling me information just because it would require more work for them. I’ve been left without a place to stay when a hostel owner overbooked the hostel and then canceled my reservation. It took three months to resolve a simple issue with my phone’s French SIM card. Not everyone in France is like this and I’ve had some good experiences with customer service as well, but I do miss the go-out-of-their-way kindness that you see a lot in the U.S.
5. Good Foreign Food
A lot of people poke fun at American food saying it’s all fast food and pizza, but I love the food in the U.S. Since the majority of the U.S. population either are immigrants or descend from immigrants, you can find seriously amazing foreign food in the U.S. Indian food, Vietnamese food, Thai food, Italian food, sushi, Mexican food (oh, if only). I miss it all and wouldn't recommend trying a lot of the foreign food (especially Mexican) that I've had in Europe.
6. Sports Culture
While there are definitely some soccer-nuts in France and a lot of people who will watch international matches like the Rugby World Cup, there isn’t the same sports culture here as there is in the U.S. There is no baseball (go Nats!!), no tailgating, and hardly any sports bars. Neither high schools nor universities have sport teams so there's less school spirit. While I don’t pretend to be a huge sports girl, I do miss the energy and camaraderie that comes along with sports culture in the U.S.
7. Lack of Bureaucracy
The French love forms and paperwork and long-winded procedures (well, actually everyone hates it, but somehow the administration and the government utilizes them anyway). If you want to do anything in France it requires a little more pain in the ass than it does in the U.S., even buying a car requires a long process and a special permit (it’s not simply a craigslist listing and an exchange of money). At least once a week I am amazed by how the French can complicate something I didn't think possible.
8. Vegetarian Food
Unless you're in bigger cities like Paris or Lyon you really won’t have amazing vegetarian options. While the vegetarian industry in France is constantly improving, it is nowhere close to other places in the world. I definitely miss really delicious veggie burgers and vegetarian options on every menu that isn’t just pasta or lentils. My boyfriend and I are going to visit his friend in northern France this weekend and when my boyfriend told his friend I’m vegetarian he said he’d have a few pieces of lettuce for me to eat, or if worst comes to worse there’s always grass outside. You can’t say the French aren’t funny, but when their idea of vegetarian food is lettuce and grass it's no surprise I miss vegetarian food in the U.S.
9. Business Hours
I could write a whole blog post on this one. Every shop in my town closes at 7pm, meaning that if you finish work at 5pm and get into town at 5:30pm you only have an hour and a half to do your shopping. Also almost every shop and restaurant is closed on Sunday and a lot of them are closed on Monday, or sometimes Tuesday or Wednesday. Shops in small towns, especially banks and post offices, close for lunch between 12:30pm and 2:30pm. Shops will randomly close for holidays and will sometimes close up to two hours early if there aren’t customers. I would do a lot for 24/7 grocery stores, pizza open until 3am, and shopping until 9pm.
10. My Car
This probably isn't a problem for all expats, but when you come from a country like the US where car is king, you really feel the pain of not having a car. The transportation sector is stronger in France than it is in the US, so you can get basically anywhere you want between buses and trains. But, learning to depend on bus schedules and late trains can quickly drive you crazy. To make matters worse there are a lot of strikes in France, especially in transportation. The day before I arrived in France, the bus system in my town announced that there would be a strike everyday from September 23rd until December 31st for one hour a day, but not just any hour it's either 7:00am-8:00am or 5:00pm-6:00pm aka the busiest part of the day. But what can you do?
11. Drive Thru
Going off my last point you don’t have a lot of drive thrus in France. There are a couple for fast food restaurants and grocery stores, but those moments where you’re running late and need to stop by the bank or CVS to pick up a prescription you’ll have to go inside and wait in line to get what you need done.
12. Open Spaces
The US is the third biggest country in the world, following just Canada and Russia who boast a large chunk of frozen, uninhabited land, which makes it a pretty special place to live. It is rare to be anywhere in France or Europe in general and see large open spaces like you do in the US. I miss the forests of the east coast, the desert in the SE, and the mountains in the west.
13. American kindness/positivity
Maybe when you’re living it it doesn’t seem that great. Things like smiles from your cashier, conversations on the train, and help from a stranger might seem like everyday fare, but when you leave the US you start missing all of the little acts of kindness you see at home. We're also pretty positive. We tend to dream big, look on the bright side, and hope for the best. The French are known for being complainers and connoisseurs of the RBF so I miss my smiley USA.
Stay tuned next week to see what I miss about France when I'm in the US!