Ten Things I Miss About Living in the U.S.A., Vol. I

Lake Tahoe, March 2013

Given the understandably frustrated comments on social media, I thought today might be the day to start this series of posts I’d been postponing to whenever I got around to it, when I couldn’t stand talking about writing anymore or posting yet another update about how things aren’t going, etc. etc.

Let me preface this by saying, I’m an American, with no current plans to give up my passport. In fact, I just received a renewed American passport (to include my new married name), though it was done in preparation for my next UK visa, in the never-ending series of £1000-or-more visa applications one must endure in order to not get kicked out of this country.

I wanted to visit the UK all my life, and at 26, finally did. Six months later, I had my first visa and the date I’d become a UK resident. Many people on both sides of the Atlantic asked, “So why’d you leave the U.S.?” rather than, So what made you move to the UK? Wording is everything. Many assumed I left for a reason, rather than came for a reason (which, if you’re curious, was university + I just freaking loved it here).

I miss the U.S. every day in life. Not a day goes by I don’t feel homesick for my family, my friends, driving on the CORRECT side of the road, wide roads, huge grocery stores, entire aisles devoted to cereal, massive State and National Parks, and so much more. On 5 March this coming year, I’ll have been a UK resident for seven years. SEVEN. I can hardly believe it. I love it. But I miss the U.S. more now than I ever did.

I moved around a lot, so it’s not like I hold a fairytale image of one place. At three I moved to Canada from WNY, at six I moved back. At nineteen I moved to Nashville, and at twenty-three I moved to Sacramento. I miss all of it. But of course, I miss WNY most.

I love my new home, and I’ll do a later post(s) about why. The reasons are many (number of annual vacation days, for one). But for right now, without further rambling, here are ten things I sorely miss about the U.S. (family & friends, of course, being a constant given):

1. Weather.

No argument. The U.S. gets all the weather. All of it. The UK is generally grim and rainy, but when the sun’s out, it’s CELEBRATION TIME, even if it’s 45 degrees. I time the majority of my U.S. visits in the summer because there is no better summer on earth than a WNY summer. Sunny days, humidity, thunderstorms, gorgeous song birds and crickets at night, bonfires, camping, sitting out in muggy air without needing a jumper. You get proper summers. And you’ve got Florida and California weather. You can tan without being asked what salon you went to.

2. Shopping & Eating.

Tim Horton’s, Chipotle, P.F. Chang’s, Sizzling Fresh, The Melting Pot, The Keg, Target, Whole Foods, Wegmans, Trader Joe’s, Buckle, Macy’s, Sephora, Frederick’s of Hollywood, just some of my favourites. You are seriously spoilt for choice in the U.S. when it comes to shopping. I will never take that for granted again, when visiting the U.S. I wish I hadn’t when I lived there. You’ve got MASSIVE parking lots, massive parking spaces you don’t have to try eighteen times to get into. You have entire aisles of cereal. The choice is enormous. Restaurants do food I actually salivate thinking about. Proper fresh sushi bars that serve unagi (our one sushi chain here, Yo Sushi, does not serve it, nor does it serve oyster shooters. Don’t get me started.) Food tastes fresh, and burgers taste real. The ease of driving around to all of these places, pulling into a spot in the store/restaurant’s own parking lot, walking in, getting what you need, walking out, and going on to your next errand is amazing. Which brings me to point number 3.

3. Driving.

I got my licence at 17 in the States, barely studied, tried once and passed. Never thought that much about it. I had one nervous day of driving when I practiced for the first time on the thruway, but that was it. I once thought nothing of driving 12 hours solo from Nashville to Buffalo on a semi-regular basis. I drove from Nashville to Sacramento by myself. Driving was as natural as breathing. Wide roads, endless places for u-turns in case you went wrong, shoulders to pull over in case of emergency, patrolling cops who often succeed at popping the bad guys, drive-thru banks, coffee shops, restaurants… So Much Easier. Bigger cars. Mostly automatic. I had to take my UK driving test three times to pass – at 31. I knew how to drive safely, but it’s all the flippin’ street signs painted on the ground here that are worn off or have cars, you know, driving on them so you can’t read them until it’s too late and you’re in the third lane from the right which means you’ll get screwed out of your exit on the roundabout. Just know that driving in the U.S. is bliss compared to the U.K. Trust me. Think about that when you’re sitting in traffic on your way to work. On our last two trips to the U.S., driving around San Francisco and Disney World, Florida felt like floating in the clouds compared to driving here.

4. Social Interaction.

You can find friendly, lovely people anywhere in the world. And there are lots of unfriendly people anywhere in the world, too, so I’m not wearing rose-tinted shades, here. But on average, more strangers will spark up friendly chit-chat in the U.S. than the UK. Many more. Nashville was one of the friendliest places I’ve ever lived or visited, but most of the people in Western NY will give you the time of day. The Scotsman notices this every time we visit. Some places aren’t so friendly, but many are. So much easier to smile and say hello to someone who doesn’t think you’re nuts for doing so, because they do it, too.

5. Choice.

This ties in to point number 2. It’s in the store names. Bed, Bath and Beyond. The Container Store. An entire store, JUST for containers! It’s amazing! Now that we’re buying our own house, I’d give my right pinkie for a neighbourhood BBB and Container Store. No matter what you’re looking to buy or eat, you’ve got thousands of choices. You want peanut butter? Here are fifteen different kinds. I could visit Waitrose, Sainsburys, Tesco, Asda, Morrisons, and Lidl and find maybe three brands.

6. The Spice of Life.

Variety. Less about purchasing power and more about people. This is only my experience, but in 6.5 years in the UK, I’ve come to realize that the majority of my opinions are unpopular. I stick out like a sore thumb because I’m not an atheist, don’t like football (soccer), don’t follow Strictly Come Dancing, X-Factor, or Big Brother, I’ll wear sunglasses if it’s sunny even though it’s 40 degrees out, and when I ask someone, “You alright?” I actually expect an answer. I’m not being negative towards my adopted country, I’m just saying that believing what you want and doing your own thing seem much more popular in the U.S.

7. Enthusiasm.

People in the U.S. are unabashedly passionate about whatever they love. Unafraid to wear their heart on their sleeve. Love Star Trek? No problem – here’s my Deanna Troi costume and the list of the last ten conventions attended. Morning person at Starbucks wishing everyone on your way out the door an awesome day? No problem. Willingness to gush with pride over who and what you love? No shame.

8. Opening Hours.

One of many reasons I love Scotland is they don’t adhere to the ridiculous Sunday trading laws that England has. Places of business, based on size, can only be open for six hours on Sundays in England. No 24-hour grocery stores. Things are so much more accessible in the States. You can get that container of Bison chip dip you’re craving at 9 PM if you want it. England did suspend this outdated law temporarily for the 2012 Olympics… because they know citizens of other countries aren’t used to such an old-fashioned idea.

9. Accessibility.

Building upon the last point, it’s just so much easier to get your hair cut, your doctor appointment, your prescription filled, your mail posted, your car parked in the States. As I said earlier, you can drive into a parking lot for the post office, send your mail, then drive right up to the salon to get your hair cut. Imagine that! Not having to park in a claustrophobic city centre car park, walk three miles to one errand and then two miles the other way to the next. I can make an appointment with my family doctor in the States and see him next week, no problem (at least, right now I still can). I’ve had untold problems with the level of service the NHS offers. My husband had to wait about 4 months for a simple appointment with the GP over a problem that couldn’t be treated by the time the appointment arrived. Healthcare in general is still preferable, easier accessed, and more professional than elsewhere.

10. Connections.

Meeting people. As an adult, it’s always harder to meet new friends when you don’t go to classes. But in the U.S. I found it so much easier to join a new class, not at university, but a fitness or yoga class, or try out a new hobby, or a new church, or whatever. For many of the above reasons and more, finding such opportunities and being able to join them here is more difficult. There are all sorts of special-interest groups available in the U.S., and I’ve always found it easier to meet people with shared interests in the U.S. than here, probably due to a mixture of above points 9, 8, 7, 6, and 4.

* * *

That’s it for now. I am still as in love with the UK as ever, and so, so grateful for my opportunity to live in this beautiful country. Read Bill Bryons’s NOTES FROM A SMALL ISLAND and you’ll know just what I’m talking about. This country is amazing. I am blessed to live in a country I love, and come from a country I love. But I wanted to take today to celebrate some of the things I love and miss about the U.S., plain and simple.

Here’s hoping for some better news on the current state of affairs soon.

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3 thoughts on “Ten Things I Miss About Living in the U.S.A., Vol. I

  1. I’ve lived many places throughout my life and I understand completely how you can love where you live yet miss the states incredibly! However, I’d like to point out just a few things that made me do a double take, or I just wanted to comment on. 🙂

    When I lived overseas back in the 70s and 80s, we did not have the luxuries Europe now has. But honestly, I actually loved the quaint small town feel to everything. The milkman who delivered our eggs, milk, butter every morning. The corner store that sold the sweets for a few pfennigs or pence. In that same store you could post a parcel/letter. The hospitality of all those who lived in the same village (although, some despised Americans, there were those who welcomed us). The weekend markets.

    I remember going to school in the 80s and all we had to choose from for our clothing options was the BX. Everyone had the same clothes, unless you could afford to buy on the economy. There were a few outfits I managed to get at the weekend markets. But the majority of everyone’s clothes were the same. We had to travel 4 hours, to London, to get to a McDonalds. Very little changed when I made it back overseas in the late 90s, although there was more variety.

    Having to deal with the VAT exemption forms if you wanted to buy off base was a definite pain. Most times, if it was a little purchase, it wasn’t even worth the effort. Calling stateside was outrageous. Now, you have the Internet. I did not. 🙂

    Yes, I did miss the convenience and the variety. But, because I lived on a military installation and we had some American products, especially when it came to food (OREOS!), I wasn’t completely removed from America. 🙂

    Your point about “unpopular opinions” though, I don’t completely agree here. The majority of people here have the same mentality when it comes to what’s popular and what’s mainstream. And if you don’t fit in, they diss you for it. I’m so much more like you in that I don’t watch reality TV, I’ll where sunglasses whenever the heck I need them, I don’t like sports, I’m not atheist, I’m not a “democrat”. To me, here in the states, if you don’t follow what’s popular (and whoever decides what’s popular) you are ridiculed, a label placed on you, called names, and shunned. I think this happens no matter where you live.

    I’m afraid to voice my opinions, here or anywhere, for fear of the repercussions and the loss of friendships. I’ve had that happen to me so many times before. To me, those who voice their opinions here in the states, are the ones who have the majority of the popular vote. :/ This is not the way we should ever be.

    Another thing I wanted to bring to light was about when you spoke of the NHS. Your tell about government run healthcare is so spot on. I’ve not been in the civilian systems in the countries I’ve lived. However, I’ve been a part of a government run healthcare since the day I was born. It’s called the military health system. Now, we are dealing with the Veteran’s Health System and it is so much worse than I ever had while under the care of military healthcare. I just don’t understand why, WHY? anyone would want to go that route. Yet, here we are.

    Seriously, it’s all a matter of perspective. And the problem with most Americans is that they are selfish, egotistical, and rude. They don’t think. I believe that living abroad for a time makes a person understand the world we live in just a little better. Maybe it even made me a better educated person, more compassionate and tolerant. Those stuck in a small town for their entire lives have no clue how the world works, how things affect people/places differently. They just can’t see past the end of their nose and it makes me sad.

    1. Wow, what a response!

      You hit on an important point – there are good sides and bad sides to anywhere you live. I think the UK has gone through some significant changes since you last lived here, but yes, of course, there are endless things about this country that I love! I do love walking through historic villages, perusing independent shops, and the neighbourhood feel they can have. But as you pointed out, that same small-town mentality of those living there for their entire lives, unaware of the greater world, happens just as much abroad as it does in the US. So it may be a postcard village, but that doesn’t make it immune to the same sorts of issues you bring up.

      And as far as the variety of opinion and interest, I’m simply stating what *I* personally miss about the U.S. in one small regard. Of course it’s easier for me to spot the things that make me an outsider here because, well, I am one. That doesn’t make me love it here any less. Just one thing I find different to the U.S., though I’m sure other people have different opinions.

      Thanks for your comments! 🙂

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