The Flavor Of Home

When you move overseas the “to be taken” list seems endless. But the list of things to be left behind is non-existent. It never gets made. In your frenzy to reduce the cost of shipping you jettison as much as you can.  You tell yourself, “we’ll buy it again over there”.  Inevitably you don’t make a list, or the making of said list falls somewhere below #83 on the big list.

Then you arrive in your new country and hit the ground living a life. It’s not just any life. It’s your “new life”.  And, like most of us, you want your new life to be just like your old life, but different. You feel out of place and want some comforts from home to make you feel less like you’re in over your head.  But you left the hot sauce and the first aid kit back at home.  Worse yet, you didn’t write down the name of the hot sauce.

While the “big things” like work permits, friends/family, social security, and health insurance are critical, it’s often the little things you miss most.  You never realize how much “your” brand of bread meant to you.  It sounds petty, but cranky and unhappy because breakfast sucked for a week is no way to make friends in a new country.  These are all fixable problems, but they take time, flexibility, and a willingness to engage local sources. Eventually, you start to understand how/why they do things differently here (wherever here is).

Over time you figure out that there’s no ibuprofen on the shelf because they use something called Nurofen that is largely the same thing.  It may take a few months for you to really stop being such a refrigerator size queen and realize that tiny fridges and freezers aren’t there just to piss you off.  They are a function of smaller sized portions across the board.  It’s a bit of a chicken and the egg question as to which came first:  small refrigerators to match smaller food containers, or the smaller containers to maximize fridge usability.  Rest assured, the student-sized fridge in your hideously over market rental is there for a reason.  What you have to figure out is the reason for it, and, more importantly, what other things it will affect.

The faster you start turning your mind to “how are things done differently here”, and, “how can I pre-think what I need, and where to get it”, the faster you’ll realize nobody gets their spatulas from the overpriced home goods store, they get them from the tiny local hardware/ source of all good things store, or the tyre store which inexplicably also sells kitchen gadgets, etc.

The real trouble starts when you face the reality of being a “guest” somewhere.  Back at home (wherever that was) you were a local, probably born there and entitled to all manner of things.  Now, not only did you leave your favorite mop at home, but you also left your right to work and your right to collect social protection right next to it.  Again, they can be replaced, but how, when, and where?  Did you think to bring the right paperwork from home?  Naturally you’ll need your childhood vaccination records when you report to the Department of Silly Names to get your “right to be left-handed in exile” card signed so you can apply for an immigration stamp to take to the Transportation Minister to get medical insurance (but only on Thursdays between 10 and 2).  But these “large” issues are not the end of the story either.

I think there’s something deeper at work here.  The bits of home that we miss are either issues of ease and comfort or they are moments of flavor and pleasure.

Ease and comfort issues are the things that are done differently in your new home.  It’s the doctor’s office that wants payment up front before you file with the insurance company. Or it may be the fact that nobody takes a check.  It’s all cash, card, or electronic transfer.  None of these are “wrong”. Life would be easier and more comfortable for you if “here” were more like “home”.  And that, right there, is the enemy of assimilation.  It’s natural to have that feeling.  It may never leave you.  But you’ve got to bind, gag, and throw it in the closet so you can get on with living life with flavor and pleasure.

Moments of flavor and pleasure are far more challenging, and need never be banished.  Smell and taste are powerful things.  The smell of home and the taste of comfort food are enough to make one weep. Moments of flavor and pleasure are memories of a happy life that was.  In these instances you realize that one of your favorite dishes from “the old country” is made differently in your new home.  There is a flash fire of excitement when you see it on the menu.  This is followed by a heady ten minutes of blissful, super-galactic anticipation, followed by utter devastation.  That first underseasoned bite is like realizing your new girlfriend is a lousy kisser compared to your last.

Life is not as sweet.  But in the abject desolation of that moment there is an ember of remembrance.  That glimpse of home is a reminder of how lucky you are to have tasted life in two places.

Here’s an abbreviated list of things we miss from home:

  • friends
  • family
  • good duct tape (there is a difference)
  • hot sauce
  • sausage
  • family-sized bottles of ibuprofen
  • hydrogen peroxide
  • extra long shoelaces
  • a shoe repair shop that does good orthopedic work
  • good pizza delivery
  • good Chinese food
  • not needing a work permit
  • decent sized bags of chocolate chips

Things to look forward to in upcoming posts:

Looking Back On the First Year

About Glenn Kaufmann

I'm an American freelance writer, photographer, and web publisher. I specialize in writing about travel, food, arts, and culture. I also write dramatic scripts for stage and screen. I'm based in Ireland.
This entry was posted in Dublin Life, Friends & Family, Home & A Sense of Place, Immigration & Emigration, International Moving and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to The Flavor Of Home

  1. So I’m guessing you’re not having hot dogs and fireworks today. What a poignant post — and we miss you, too.

    • Elaine,

      Thanks. I miss yo guys too.

      No hot dogs, but there seemed to be lots of awareness of the 4th.

      Ironically, we had to renew our immigration cards yesterday (on the 4th) and the immigration officer ended our interview by wishing my wife “Happy 4th of July’.”

      Say hola to folks for me.

  2. Dale McNeill says:

    I haven’t lived in a new country as an adult, but I did move from Dallas to New York City. To me, the challenge was to find the excitement in a new place, to appreciate what I had grown accustomed to (Dallas was different from an Oklahoma farm), to not let the big things be too frustrating, and to learn the how and why of my new neighborhood–all at the same time!

    While the bigger things were more important and complex (getting a driver’s license), it was the smaller things that were more difficult to figure out (where to buy cornmeal, how to navigate the tiny stores–completely different from supermarkets). I figured out that the foodways of the Caribbean are not so different from those of the American south, something I hadn’t thought about before (I learned that on a quest for hot peppers and okra). I learned that I love food from Uzbekistan (by accepting an invitation from a friend).

    At some point, I suppose I won’t live in New York City. I’ll miss it very much.

  3. zoe0640 says:

    Amen, brother! Things I miss:
    * decent sized bags of chocolate chips (and why do the tiny bags cost more than their weight in gold? Is the cacao harvested at 2:15 am by vestal virgins and roasted in the moonlight?? I just buy inexpensive bars of chocolate and take to them with a hammer)
    * water pressure
    * baked cheetos
    * wheat thins (all flavors)
    * heat
    * disposable income
    * shops open after 5:30 (oops, make that 17:30)
    * 12-hour clocks (I don’t want to have to do math just to figure out what time it is)
    * Fahrenheit
    * gallons
    * ounces
    * inches
    * friends and family
    * buying canned black beans at a normal grocery store, not a health food store or upmarket deli
    * TexMex
    * Excedrin
    * Morningstar Farms corndogs
    * Target
    Things that are better here:
    * baked beans as a breakfast food
    * Indian takeaway
    * Quorn (vegetarian food in general)
    * politics (apparently all politicians are a disappointment and always will be…)
    * crime (or relative lack thereof, but I recognize this relates more to the specific area where I live and not my host country)

    Once upon a time I’d have said the weather was better overall, but we’ve just had the wettest June ever and now it’s July, I’m still wearing cords and sweaters and running space heaters. I have a veggie patch and the plants don’t know what to do with themselves.

    I suppose if nothing else, 7 years in the UK has made me appreciate the US more. But not quite enough to make me want to jump back into the political situation.

  4. Kath O'Meara says:

    Hey fellow ExPat!

    Its exciting to see another of your posts! And an especially poignant one to read on July 4th.

    I’m a Yankee living in Ireland (Dublin) for over a decade and aside from the biggies (family & friends), every year there is one thing I miss more than others. At first it was coffee and coffee houses (this was 1995 Dublin, when you could buy a cuppa joe at Gloria Jeans [long closed] in Powerscourt mall, Dunkin Donuts [also long closed] on Grafton St. or Bewley’s). Cafe Mocha (do they exist anymore?) was just coming in. I used to wish for Starbuck’s (being from Seattle and all) but now I’ve just noticed two Starbuck’s across the street from each other on Westmoreland St – be careful what you wish for!! In 1997 what I missed most was American bacon. But now you can easily find Spanish bacon in most shops which is very nearly the same – at least, it does the job for me. In 2010-2011 I missed the US consitutional separation of Church and State. This year I’m missing the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

    When I visit the States, one of the things I miss most about Ireland is wholesome food. I find eating out in the States to be a challenge – everything is so processed. Its been hard for me to order a side of carrots/broccoli/cauliflower that’s just plain and not drenched in cheese or some sauce. It also takes a day or two for me to adjust to the different volume at which people speak. And the uber attentive customer service. I’m not used to it anymore and often feel like saying: “Just leave me alone! AGH!!!.” I have become so accustomed to early closing times and limited opening hours that I miss that when in the States. I’ve come to adore the idea that not everything should be available and open all the time. And I love walking through Dublin on a Sunday morning when everything’s shut and quiet.

    When I need the creature comforts of home I go to Fallon & Byrne to buy Nestle’s chocolate chips, Crisco (buy two tubs at a time, they don’t always stock it), and Aunt Jemima’s pancake mix and maple syrup (the pancake mix kinda kills me cause I know I can make it myself but I can’t resist it). And…now this part I’m embarrassed to admit but…I’m just enough of a food snob that I would NEVER buy the following in the US: Stouffer’s Stuffing, Pop Tarts, A-1 Sauce. But when I see them for sale at Donnybrook Fair? You bet I buy them. I don’t even care I’m paying 3times the price, because its the comfort of where I grew up that I’m buying.

    Now here’s where Ireland makes me a better person. Being originally from the West Coast and all, I’m a total greener hippie. Living in Dublin for so long has made me happily accustomed to not driving a car, not having a dishwasher (although these are common now), not having a dryer, not having a fridge bigger than a college dorm room fridge. My carbon footprint is much smaller for living here. The only thing I miss about of the above is having a dryer to de-lint my clothes from time to time. That’s it.

    And on the 4th of July? I miss fireworks. And watching the Boston Pops with my family.

    Happy travels, happy living,

  5. Jamie says:

    To add to the pity party, here’s my list of what I miss about ‘Merica…
    * Tumble dryers!
    * Optimism / can-do spirit
    * Hot summer days
    * Choose your own produce departments (What’s with the punnets? And plastic wrapped everything? Soooo much plastic wrap)
    * On demand hot water (Immersion heaters? Seriously?)
    * Cheap gas (check that, petrol)
    * Cheap electricity
    * Cheap(er) everything
    * Microbreweries
    * White vinegar
    * The smell of rain (for all the rain we get here, I’ve noticed there’s never actually that sharp, earthy smell of rain in the air)
    * Proper Midwestern thunderstorms
    * Chipotle

    To Glenn’s point, I recognize that many of these items are not strictly better or worse, just culturally/meteorologically different. And I also realize that things like petrol / emission / VAT taxes are largely policy choice differences and perhaps shouldn’t be construed as “better” or “worse” either (though I’m sure we could argue over them all night). Although, come on, surely the technology for hot water on demand could have jumped the pond by now!

    Also, so as not to sound like a complete hater, I do have a list of things I really like/prefer about Ireland somewhere inside me, too, but that list is a bit more nuanced and it’s harder to come up with it off the cuff. But rest assured I think this is a great country and I’m grateful to have the opportunity to live here, even if I do miss some things from home from time to time.

  6. lorraine says:

    Hello. Hope you had a great 4th. When I saw “hydrogen peroxide” in this post, I shouted “yes!”, and I am alone at the moment so that is a little frightening. Why don’t they have that here? Or rather “we” have that here as I am a returned ex pat. Another missing item here is Aspirin. WHY don’t they have giant bottles of that in the supermarket? Sigh. By the way thanks for the name of that moving company you sent me some months back. Planning on using them to get some last items over.

  7. fireflynn says:

    Hello. Hope you had a great 4th. When I saw ”hydrogen peroxide” in this post, I shouted ”yes!”, and I am alone at the moment so that is a little frightening. Why don’t they have that here? Or rather ”we” have that here as I am a returned ex pat. Another missing item here is Aspirin. WHY don’t they have giant bottles of that in the supermarket? Sigh. By the way thanks for the name of that moving company you sent me some months back. Planning on using them to get some last items over.

  8. A wonderful and wise post – including the additional expat comments!

  9. Steve Myers says:

    Um exactly where in Bloomington did you find good chinese food? Passible chinese food maybe, but good? I’m not alone in this opinion…. I think I will just avoid “Irish” chinese food indefinitely. Just for irony, I really think you should have included “Lucky Charms”.

    • Steve,
      I wasn’t thinking of Bloomington in particular for Chinese food.

      BTW – When we first arrived in Dublin, a nearby gourmet foods shop had Lucky Charms in the American section of the foreign foods isle. Yeah, it was quite amusing.

  10. Hello Glen,
    My hubby and I spent the day chasing promises of 4th July style entertainment in Wexford.
    We started out at the Hook Lighthouse where promises of an “american style” barbecue had not materialised by 1.00 p.m. This after having spent 12 euros on the ferry from Waterford. Made our way back to Dunbrody Castle, and that plain sandwich and apple pie with cream tasted delicious. From there went to J.F.Kennedy Arboretum in New Ross where we had seen an ad for the first ever concert, AND BARBECUE, in the gardens. That didnt start ’til 8.00 p.m., so having to catch the ferry, a half hour ride away, by 10.00 p.m., the concert, and ribs? was out of the question. The entertainment by the way was the three Irish tenors. The big break for the day, however, the entrance to the park was free on the first Wed. of every month.
    We are Anglo, Irish, Americans, and we love and miss the way Americans sure know how to throw a party. My desire to have a song and be enthusiastic with my fellow Irish Americans had been thwarted on this particular Independence Day. Later on, a much needed conversatiion with my family in Virginia was much more rewarding.

  11. Enda H says:

    I greatly sympathise with your post on this, albeit in the mirror image. For example, I spent a long time wondering what the hell ibuprofen was, and I don’t know how long it took me to find out that Tylenol = Panadol. (Point taken about the usefulness of hydrogen peroxide but there are mirror images there too. If your gum is ever sore, get some Bonjela. Available over the counter in Ireland; not available in the US at all as far as I can see.)

    My local supermarket here has started importing Ballymaloe Relish. This is a big day for me 😀

    • Enda,

      I’m glad to hear that they’re getting your relish in the U.S.

      As for a Bonjela substitute, look at Anbesol or Orajel.

      And, as for the hydrogen peroxide replacement, I’ve discovered Dettol 🙂


  12. For the record, we miss you, too! And who can believe it’s been almost a year since you two crossed the pond? Now, remind me one more time why you’re there, and are you coming back?

    • Rebecca,

      Thank you.

      we’re here because Kalpana got an offer to teach at University College Dublin (UCD). Not sure how long we’ll be here. We’re thinking at least five years. But, who knows?

      Kalpana’s parents keep talking about moving back to India (even after 45 years),but it’ll never happen. They made America their home. I can easily see that happening for us in Ireland.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *