Things I Miss About the US: #1-5

One of the most frequent questions I get about living in Italy is, “What do you miss most about the United States?” Obviously, I miss people who are far away the most; that’s an easy one. But I’m always surprised by the other stuff I miss– the little things I took for granted or didn’t expect to crave from afar.

When I lived in France, the country that is sort of famous for its cuisine (in 2010, UNESCO added French gastronomy to a list celebrating the world’s “intangible cultural heritage,” along with Chinese acupuncture and Spanish flamenco… no big deal), I would get insane cravings for foods from back home. I had Brian send me care packages with Cheez-Its, peanut butter and French’s mustard (not actually French, so it should really be called “freedom mustard” to avoid confusion). I smuggled cheddar cheese back in my luggage when I visited a friend in Scotland. I even sought out the French version of tater tots– little frozen fried mashed potato balls — so breakfast for dinner would feel more complete. I swear my eating habits weren’t this bad when I was in the States.

tater tots

Mmm, tots.

In Naples, we do most of our grocery shopping at an Italian supermarket because I think it’s ridiculous to drive to the American Navy base to buy New Jersey olive oil and Kraft mozzarella. However, about once a month, we do hit up the commissary to buy the items we just can’t find in the local market: Tapatio and Sriracha hot sauces, sesame oil, Tony Chachere’s. It feels like we’re cheating by having access to a very American supermarket while living in a foreign country, but I’ll take it. MINE.

What I Miss, Volume 1

1. Food variety

Southern Italian food is really, really delicious. I am obsessed with mozzarella di bufala and real pizza napolitana and risotto alla pescatore. It is all excellent, and you can get a fantastic meal here for a good price at a little trattoria or pizzeria. However. It is very difficult to find any other cuisine besides Italian food in the Naples area. I love food, and I desperately miss having varied restaurant options: Mexican, Japanese, Indian, Thai, Chinese, Spanish. Italy is actually really close to Spain and France and Greece, so why is it so freaking hard to find those types of food here?

2. Coffee shops with free Wi-Fi

This is a big one. I have worked from home for the last four years, and I love it. Really, really love it. I set my own schedule, I have the flexibility to travel and I can write emails in my underwear and no one will ever know (note: not recommended; I try to uphold basic social norms, at least during my workday). I do miss the social contact of working in an office, so when I lived in the US, I would work at least half of every day from a nearby coffee shop to avoid becoming a crazy hermit.

Sadly, coffee shops with Wi-Fi are not a thing in Italy. Yes, they have five coffee bars on every block and their espresso is like crack, but the coffee experience here takes about two minutes. Pay 90 cents for a caffè macchiato, drink it in two sips, down a glass of fizzy water, leave a 20-cent tip and be on your merry way. I haven’t yet seen the equivalent of an American coffee shop, where you can sit at a table for hours, mooching Internet and working away for the cost of a latte. I miss you, Morning Brew hipsters.

cappuccino

Due cappuccini

3. Automatic transmissions

We sold our trusty ‘98 automatic Honda Accord when we moved, and I miss that car every single day. It was smart to sell it — Honda parts are hard to come by, cars get super banged up here and driving an automatic makes you stand out as an American with things to steal — but I wasn’t thrilled at the idea of acquiring a “Naples beater” with a manual transmission. I know how to drive stick, but I was really rusty when we moved here, and this is a darn stressful place to relearn driving skills. I have nightmares about stalling out at a busy intersection and incurring the wrath of Fiat drivers. STOP YELLING AT ME!

I actually do like the very beat-up ‘93 BMW I now drive, and it’s a lot of fun when I’m cruising down the Autostrada at 130 kilometers per hour. It is considerably less fun when I’m trying to avoid a collision with the two teenagers alternately fighting and making out on a Vespa or when I’m stuck in 40 minutes of stop-and-go traffic with Italians who are trying to make seven lanes out of three.

4. Things being open in August

The better part of Italy shuts down for the month of August. I don’t know where everyone goes, but no one invited me. While I’m happy for people who can take off for five weeks, it’s pretty inconvenient when you want to get anything done, from dry cleaning to car repairs. Plus, I’m jealous.

5. Air conditioning

It’s August. I want businesses and restaurants and hotels to be air-conditioned. I think the phrase, “It’s hot as balls” loses something in the translation.

What do you miss about home when you are traveling or living abroad?

Photo credit

8 comments

1 el dk { 08.12.11 at 9:32 am }

Bella!
Cool post and, yes, I have thought about this umpteen times myself!
1. Foods not of present country borne. Peanut butter, sundry hot sauces, international fare, eating fries with ketchup (it’s not that hard, guys.).
2. Wide streets, big enough for two sensibly driven cars and two bikes on opposing lanes.
3.Things being open a) in the afternoon from 1-5, b) on Sunday and c) at all in August. I hear ya on the August one, big time.
4. Polite checkers at the grocery store. A smile, eye contact, signs of life, anything would be better than the on-edge, grumpy, inefficient, zombie ladies who ring you up at the market.
5. The company of other Americans who really get me when I say stuff like, “Taking two outta three in Philly even when Timmy wasn’t showing his best stuff is HUGE.” Blank stares sometimes hurt.

2 Gillian { 08.12.11 at 9:45 am }

It’s like you’re inside my head, DK. Yes, yes, yes. International foods, wide streets, normal business hours, polite checkers, Giants fans. We don’t ask too much, right? Can’t wait for y’all to visit us! We’ll take over the joint.

3 Heather { 08.12.11 at 3:23 pm }

Well, I have never lived abroad but what I miss most is Gill. Just saying.

Also, I just read you “about” page and it is brilliant. I am totally LOL laughing over here. (That was for you, Brian.)

4 Gillian { 08.14.11 at 3:58 am }

Well, I think Italia could definitely benefit from a little more Heather. So maybe we should work on that.

Haha, LOL laughing. Awesome. Thanks, love :)

5 Melia { 08.14.11 at 6:29 pm }

This is hilarious and resonates with my memories of living in Spain. The biggest thing I missed was good ol’ American customer service. I don’t think there’s an expression for “The customer is always right” in any European country. In Salamanca, I waited in a 45-minute line to buy a cell phone, and when I finally got to the register, the teenage employee shrugged and said, “We’re closed.” If my Spanish had been good enough at that point to cuss him out, I probably would have.

6 Gillian { 08.15.11 at 9:25 am }

Haha, yes, that is an awesome example. I sometimes wish “the customer is always right” would make its way across the pond. I definitely had a lot of those ambivalent/infuriating shrug moments in France. So far (fingers crossed), we’ve been doing pretty well here with people at least being nice when they can’t help us. Even Telecom Italia seems to be behaving right now, so I hope we can keep it going.

7 Shannon { 12.10.11 at 9:05 pm }

I was just talking on Thursday about the lack of cuisine options in Italy. I find it amazing that you can’t even get other Mediterranean options there. My econ prof, who is from Rome, says there’s one Chinese restaurant there and it’s absolutely abysmal. I guess when your national food is that crazy delicious you really should just stick with what you’re good at.

8 Gillian { 12.12.11 at 2:23 am }

It is pretty crazy, right? And Rome is where we go to try to get more restaurant variety because it has so many more options than Naples. You’re probably right — Italian food is so awesome, so why would they mess with it? But for serious, I would kill for some really good Thai or Mexican or Indian food. We’re just trying to learn how to cook more of the things we miss!

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