Every summer since we’ve lived abroad, I come home. For a few weeks, I get to eavesdrop on conversations in my mother tongue, shop ’til I drop, eat copious amounts of chain restaurant food, and indulge my love of a DQ Peanut Buster Parfait. There are things I look forward to (Rold Gold pretzel rods) and things I make lists to buy (new shoes for the boys, Goya black beans). But every year, there are things I forget how much I miss until I’m back, padding out my flesh and filling up my suitcase. Little things, big things, tangible and not. They are the things I forget how much I’ve felt their absence until I am surrounded by them again.
Iced Coffee. I like my morning coffee black/no sugar and just shy of blow your head off strong. Iced coffee is the opposite. I like it light and sweet, like a cup full of melted ice cream. I’ve never managed to find it the way I like it outside of the US and in fact, I’ve never been able to find it all in Denmark (Europe isn’t big on ice.)
Customer Service. Never again will I shake my head ‘no’ when an overzealous salesperson asks if they can help me. Never again will I look surly when a cashier asks me “paper or plastic?” I will look them straight in the eye and say, “Why yes, yes you can help me” or “thank you, but I have my own bags.” And just because I can, just because no one looks at me funny, I’m going to say “I’m fine, how are you?” when someone asks “How are you?”
Drive Through ATMS. I don’t know why these thrill me, but they do. I pretty much bleed Kroner when we are in Copenhagen and whichever shop doesn’t take blood money takes debit cards. I don’t often need an ATM. But I love the idea of driving up and getting a few crisp twenties to throw into my bag. Think of all that Goya! All those peanut buster parfaits!
Bathroom outlets. Oh, the joy of drying my hair in the bathroom, electrocution hazards be damned. Curling iron, straighteners, toothbrush charger. It annoys me to no end to have to charge my toothbrush in the bedroom.
Consumer Choice. If there’s one thing the US excels at, it’s consumerism. Yes, yes, I know it’s gluttonous. I know it’s unnecessary. But man, it is nice to walk down an aisle and choose from more than three different types of shampoo. There is something distinctly sad and Cold War like about seeing the same four products on offer at store after store after store. Americans are spoiled by choice. Americans are spoiled by inexpensive goods. But 48 weeks out of the year I’m not. So for those 4 weeks a year I am, it’s bliss.
Good Samaritans. Yesterday at the beach I watched several people rush to aid of a young family whose umbrella had taken flight in the wind. Among these were two elderly-ish men, replete with tools, eager to help. They didn’t want to show off, they didn’t want to say I told you so. Maybe they wanted to be seen as useful in a society that may not see them that way, but mostly, they just wanted to help. I miss that.
Cheap eats. Copenhagen may have the best restaurant in the world for a few years running, but even if you can get a reservation, be prepared to drop a few hundred US dollars…without drinks. Even going out for burgers costs us around 100 USD for the four of us. Chicago Uno Grill you say? I’m all in. We had dinner for 5 the other night (with two glasses of wine) for 41 dollars. Apparently kids eat for free on Tuesdays. Guess where we are going next Tuesday?
Bookstores and libraries. Our little neck of the Copenhagen woods has a lovely independent English language bookstore. Amazon delivers worldwide. But there is something magical about going into a bookstore and being surrounded by shelf after shelf of books in your own language. The only thing better is the library, because you get it all for free.
Mindless television. I’m not a huge television person, but even though I’m not a slave to serials, there is something relaxing about sitting down and watching mindless television from time to time. I’m partial to So You Think You Can Dance, but you can get anything, from reality programming to the classic shows I grew up with to mediocre crime dramas. Not to mention seventy-two incarnations of CSI and Law and Order.
Scope. I forget just how big everything in the US really is sometimes; a country where you often calculate driving time not in hours, but in days. It’s a grand place, a majestic place, and that size is part and parcel of everything that makes up America. From superhighways to super sizes, it’s go big or go home when you’re here. I don’t think that bigger is always better, but sometimes, it’s nice to have a little bit more breathing room, a little wiggle room, and a large size order of fries.
So for the next two weeks I will indulge. I will stuff my bags with cheap goods and products I can’t find abroad. I will eat, drink, and be too bloated to be merry. I will nod and say “Thank you very much” and “Have a nice day” to my heart’s content. Most of all, I’ll just store it all away the next time I’m hankering for a Dunkin’ Donuts ice coffee and a change of shampoo.