The Perks

When I was asked to give some advice for living abroad last year, one of my pearls of wisdom to a future expat was to wean yourself off the stuff from home. Cut the American umbilical cord and shop local. Like learning the language, I told them, it’s one of the key differentiators between living somewhere and being on an extended visit.

I said this with certain examples in mind, people who were still so dependent on their hometown favorites as staples necessary for their daily lives. Like, the housewife from my German class who took nothing but empty suitcases when she went home so she could cram as much mac n’ cheese, hamburger helper, instant pancake mix and maple syrup into her luggage as possible. If she ran out in between trips, she would go to WalMart and pay three times the price for the luxury of keeping her life as close to ‘home’ as possible. And the Chinese co-worker of mine who refused to even try shopping in town, using business trips to Taiwan to stock up on clothes, in particular socks and underwear, and seemed to exist solely on instant noodle packets, refusing dinner invitations that might force confrontation with ‘weird’ food.

True, finding substitutes for your hometown favs is more ‘green’ these days, may help you assimilate a bit and will certainly lower anxiety levels about running out and having to get more. But as my husband walked through customs today, with a suitcase packed full of contraband from New York, I realized that I have to admit that although I often give good sound advice, that particular piece of advice was absolute total crap.

And although it may be greener to buy local, with the current exchange rate for the euro at $1.52, it’s just plain silly.


4 responses to “The Perks

  1. I am packing up suitcases here at Disney, ready to transit through NY (seeing relatives) and then pack to Berlin, and we came over with 2 suitcases half packed and 3 empty- some things you just have to bring back. I have a 49.5 lb case filled with decaf, jamaica blue beans and otherbaking esoterica alone.I just wish I could bring the plentiful and cheap fruits and vegetables back, but at least I can get those in Berlin (at the KaDeWe, if no where else). One suitcase has outlet clothes (including Boss suits for the German- at25% the cost in Germany!) and, I must say, underwear from Costco. It’s a beautiful thing to visit. I sortof wish I had the room for hamburger helper, but I need that space for the molasses and brown sugar!

  2. I do shop in the USA for select things and have my “to eat” list ready, but I’ve weaned myself off most things since it simply isn’t available here. I don’t count paying 10 times the price for something as “available” because our salaries are so low that we’d be bankrupt in no time. i.e. A box of minute tapioca costs 17 euros. There’s not even a Wal-mart here.

    A second option I use is to create things from scratch using a good restaurant clone cookbook. Cheaper, I can usually find the ingredients, and I can control the amount of salt and sugar. It’s silly to go through this trouble I realize, but sometimes I’m nostalgic.

    We would eat out more if we could, but we spent 250 euros (1/4 a month’s salary) on a Japanese dinner for two that was substandard, didn’t include any unagi or sashimi and didn’t leave us full afterward, not to mention the crappy service. I had more and better quality food in CA for 50 dollars. It’s hard to justify wasting our money. I suppose that’s why we eat like hell when in the USA.

  3. You know, there’s nothing wrong with wanting stuff from your home….but you manage to go by without it.

    There are some “friends” of mine here that really got on my nerves, because they totally refuse to even try to integrate and just try to come up with some stupid reasons for them not to.

  4. When I am in Germany, I am fine and don’t miss much. But I never can resist on the day before the flight home walking through the giant american supermarket and buying a few goodies. Always on the list – Bisquick, maple syrup, peanut butter cups (‘tubs’ as M. calls them), and ground black pepper. I find for some reason when I am in the US I end up eating all this stuff I normally wouldn’t just because it is ‘my last chance before I go back’. Trip to US = 10 lbs.

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