Is that a Mars Bar in your pocket or are you just happy to be an Expat? (Moving Abroad Pt 8)

(My) Expat Guide to walking the walk (beta v 1.2)

The eighth of 10 ( + 2) bits of advice on how to “Go West Young (Wo)Man” and keep going until you’re somewhere East-ish.

So you’re moving abroad, trying new things and getting to know a new culture? The proof is in the pudding and, if that’s Jello Brand I see in your cupboard, I think you might benefit from expanding your horizons a wee bit further.

8. Enjoy the adventure and embrace your surroundings. Try new stuff! Don’t try to completely recreate America-away-from-home.

There’s German stuff and American stuff and all the stuff in between. Everyone can argue whether one is better than the other, in the end I think preference is 98% convenience. You like the stuff you’re used to. Period.

Anyone who’s moved abroad can tell you their list of Stuff They Could Not Leave Without. The Stuff that – even if everything else goes wrong – as long as we have that it will all Be OK.

When a friend of mine was moving to South Korea to teach, I helped her pack her ginormous backpack. Several hours were invested in trying to get trim her gear to an allowable weight. The sticking points for her? Red Whips, TEA (what none in Korea? Really?), chunky peanut butter and a chipped coffee mug that weighed a ton. She had to sacrifice a LOT of underwear and socks to keep them, but when push came to shove she was NOT GOING TO FLY WITHOUT THE RED WHIPS.

As for me, I used to get a lot of questions from security about mysterious shadows in xrays that turned out to be bottles of rice vinegar, peanut butter, curly hair gel and deodorant (especially right after 9/11).

Everyone has their Must Have Stuff and this can be really good to have during the first few months. By all means, bring your security blankets, whatever they may be. This will help keep you sane when the other shit goes all pear-shaped. You’ll be able to draw comfort from the thought that you’re not breaking a sweat, the proper tea is in your favorite coffee mug and your hair looks fabulous.

The point of this is post about what happens when the deodorant runs out.

Some are lucky enough to find local sources of their favorite essentials. It’s probably more expensive with a massive carbon footprint but, hey, everyone has their vices and indulgences. But in most cases when you change location, availability (and cash flow) will demand that you change some other things too. The transition will be a hell of a lot easier if you go into it knowing full well that you’re going to have to learn to love another brand of roll-on and that the Coco Pebbles will need to be phased out.

Don’t fight it. Embrace the fact that you’re abroad and try things out with the goal of weaning yourself off dependency on products from home. Free yourself from evaluating whether a houseguest is “salsa-worthy” or not, or having to keep an eye on a dwindling supply of Pirate Bootey.

Along with language, I see this as one of the defining differences between really living in a country and being a long-term tourist. In this case I think you should drink the cool-aid. If you’re in Germany, go out and try some German stuff.

I’m not saying local = good, American = bad. I’m saying freaking out over the last bag of non-fat microwave popcorn is bad. Express shipping over a new supply of hair gel is not ideal either. Find ways to settle in and that includes finding your way around a grocery store that isn’t (or Mom).

Having to go out and find your new ideal hair gel, also forces you to get to know your surroundings. It is entirely possible to survive on express international orders from and the Subway sandwhiches at the train station and in two years still have no clue that in Germany you can’t buy make-up at the drugstore and there’s no aspirin at the grocery store.

But is that really how you want to live if you made the effort to get over here?

Just try.

Keeping your Must Have From Home List to a practical size also just makes good sense. Another practical tip is coming your way next, especially for those fresh off the plane.


25 responses to “Is that a Mars Bar in your pocket or are you just happy to be an Expat? (Moving Abroad Pt 8)

  1. lol! You cannot imagine how often I ponder my next step with regards to my quickly dwindling last stick of Secret.

  2. Its harder than you make it out to be, when the adopted country adds forbidden ingredients to its own versions. I mean, would you have thought that jello here contains pork? As do chicken sausage and turkey sausage? As do any candies with gelatine, like Haribos. That most french fries are fried in pork containing fat? That lard (pork fat) is in many cooked baked goods and meats and it is not so signed? That milk is added to bread? That when you order vegetable soup it often contains a chunk of pig? And so on. Consumer law here apparently allows these things. So if vegetarian, or non-pork eating, or non-MSG eating (at least that is required to be signed) or non HFCS desiring (here called,I think, glucose fructose or some such), it can be very difficult to use German items.
    Strangely enough, in Italy the exact smae products, by the same German company, are formulated without MSG. Because the Italians wouldn’t put up with that type of crap in their food.

  3. Oh no, Sarah… I so know. That’s the one thing I cling to the most.

  4. G – The dietary thing is its own Pandora’s box. You’re right. I think we can draw a line between emotional attachment/dependence and real necessity.

    Although my husband always tells me that my meat-avoidance is my “selbst ausgewähltest leid”, life is not easy here when you have conditions to your diet.

    Takes me back to fun first days when every salad I ordered came with bacon on top and I would get a blank stare when telling the waitress that bacon was meat. To her the garnish was exempt.

  5. Great post! I’ve managed to pretty much wean myself off of everything except my Aleve and Claritin, and someday I imagine those will go too. I do love me some peanut butter, but the German brand with its red, white and blue label suits me just fine. 😉 Was seriously wishing for a frozen pie crust and/or Stovetop Stuffing for Thanksgiving yesterday, but my homemade versions turned out just fine…

    • I have a colleague who every year like clockwork starts waxing poetic about pumpkin pie. Twice now, I’ve tried to arrange for someone coming over to Munich from our US office to bring cans of pumpkin as a surprise so he can make a pie. Good that I kept it secret, because each time they had to toss it for going over the weight limit. I guess he needs to learn how to cook from scratch, too. 🙂

  6. I fought this one for a looong time. If you’re willing to pay enough, there’s very little you have to do without. But at about the 2 year mark I started caving and either (a) learning to make things from scratch, or (b) accepting that what I could get at the local bakery was every bit as good… scratch that, better… than a cherry frosted pop tart.

    The really ironic part: Now that we’ve moved back to the states there are so many German things I miss. And all those American foods I waxed poetic over (taco bell, sugary breakfast cereals, anything peanut butter/chocolate related), well, most of them don’t appeal to me anymore. Except for the whole peanut butter/chocolate combo… seriously, when are Germans going to embrace Reese’s??

    My primary advice to new expats was always not to visit ‘home’ for at least a year as it only served to underscore the differences and leave you even more miserable/homesick. But this tip is right up there, and it saves you a hell of a lot of €€ in the process.

    • Funny about the fast food, I think I appreciate it more now that I’m away from it and can only eat it once a year. But once is already enough. I’m sure if I am ever back there, that I wouldn’t be craving it every night. I DO miss a good burrito from a local place (no bells, no Chihuahuas).

  7. “rice vinegar, peanut butter, curly hair gel”

    All these can be obtained in any Korean town larger than 20,000 people. It sounds like she has really over-packed for Korea. In most of the major Korean cities there are expat stores where you can get your precious western goods, and if you can’t make it there yourself, they can ship it.

    If she hasn’t left already, you might want to let her know.

    • 🙂 My thoughts exactly. The tea thing was especially nuts, but to be fair Korea doesn’t have ‘Constant Comment’ blend. I can report that she not only adapated, she jumped in whole hog and soon was ordering Kim bap delivery, or whatever it’s called, like a champ, got a hanbok and learned to love kim chee.

  8. I too am a deodorant hoarder. I get my mother-in-law to ship it to me and I always stock up on trips to the U.S. or Mexico. We are fortunate enough to have a friend in the military-industrial complex somewhat nearby who can supply the Right Guard / Speed Stick / Old Spice / whatever from a PX in an emergency.

    I’ve tried locally available stick deodorants. I guess they’re OK. I just can’t afford them. At my usage rate, it’s still cheaper and generally more practical to smuggle a year’s supply home with me. I just don’t have the armpits of a little kid anymore.

    Free yourself from evaluating whether a houseguest is “salsa-worthy” or not

    That made me smile. And cry a little bit, inside, thinking about the shipment of barbecue sauces arriving from Kansas City which will eventually run out. I think we’re planning on sharing them though — at least a little.

  9. I would add this– don’t be afraid to try out German products, while still keeping your faves on hand. For me, still (stuck) in the US, I now hunt down Addias deodorant and save money to order supplies of Speick shower gel & Signal toothpaste. 🙂

    (One of these days I’ll find someone in Germany to run a “supply exchange” with…)

    • that proves that we all have to have a little something from home, perhaps always. But I will keep working on my Asian colleague who only buys his underwear in the store in Hong King where his mom shops…although there may be more going on there than homesickness.

  10. Well, I suddenly don’t feel so bad to be having supplies of ethnic food (impossible to find Mexican goods here), deodorant and fresh roasted coffee being brought over by our stream of friends from the USA now, but German stuff is by-and-large fine, and sometimes better than what we had back home.

    Ever find the Asian supermarket that sells cilantro?

    • In Nberg, I haven’t discovered a good Asian grocery source (some of the places I’ve seen can’t even be called stores). Got a tip? I have found it for sale in the grocery store in Karstadt – it’s neither plentiful or cheap though, and probably unreliable on top of that. Who knows how much longer Karstadt will be around.

      • Try the Asian grocery store on Kirchenweg, due west of the Rewe on the corner of Bielingstr. (across from a not-bad Vietnamese restaurant). They don’t always have cilantro/corriander, and the stuff they do have is dried, so be prepared for a letdown. The younger girl that works there speaks German, very good English and a bit of Spanish to boot. There is a not-that great Asian grocery on Vordere Sterngasse in the Altstadt (sort of across from the comic book store) Called the Hong Kong shop– mostly dry goods, but also mostly meh selection as well. The BIG Asian grocery is in Frankfurt.

      • I’ve been to the one in the Aldstadt, it’s ok for canned/jarred goods. If there’s only hope of dried coriander if I’m lucky at the other one, then it looks like I have to stick with bringing in fresh produce on my weekly trips to Munich. There’s several stores on the Sbahn line on the way to the train station.

        It’s kind of ridiculous that it’s so hard to find. Maybe I need to make nice with a restaurant owner and secure my supply that way…

        Thanks for the info!

  11. I just found the best jars of pickled jalapenos at the Lebanese market near me. They are better than the last jars that I picked up and brought back from Pennsylvania (hey, never said Hershey was tops in Tex-Mex staples). Cilantro is easy to get as well. But the hot sauce that my friend sent 1 gallon of over- that’s broken down in jars in the fridge. And the best cereal I have found in Germany is the great cereal I brought back from Italy- as good as Kashi. Now I need to have Italian friends ship that over because that’s so much cheaper than cereal from the US. And we are driving to Bruge over the holiday break just to visit a supermarket on the way back:).

    • Funny how the jalapeños here are usually so terrible. Why do they like them all squishy like that? My Edeka has started selling bags of fresh jalapeños and I was thinking about trying to make my own, but now I’ll have a look at our local Arabic market, maybe I’ll get lucky. I recently found ginormous bags of pseduo-Cornnuts there – tasted just like the ones back home, but no ranch dressing flavor (which is ok, because I think I outgrew that flavor in high school). As much as I’ll complain that stuff is hard to find I do have a lot of fun visiting the different stores for ingredients. I don’t miss grocery stores at all. It takes longer and sometime I don’t have time, but I still like having an Italian source, a cheese source, fishmonger and butcher…now I just hope that i find a good Asian source soon and I will be all set.

  12. Got a tip, but haven’t investigated it myself to see if it checks out: According to the friend-of-a-friend, you can get green jalapeños at a place that may or may not be called Asiatischer Lebensmittelmarkt Nürnberg. The address is Färberstrasse 58

    The shop is set back behind a mattress store. You would walk right past it if you didn’t know it must be there.

    Good luck.

  13. Thanks for the tip. I’ll check it out!

  14. Hey, I’m not exactly sure how I got here but I thought I’d leave a comment and tell you that I absolutely love your blog. I’m German and my boyfriend is American. We are trying to figure out where we wanna live. I would love to stay here but my boyfriend woul havd to learn German. I know it’s gonna be hard but I know it is going to work out. Am I right ? 🙂

    • Hi Tinka,

      It sure isn’t easy being in an international relationship. My husband and I managed long distance for 3 1/2 yrs traveling between Munich and San Francisco before we figured out a way to be together that we could both live with. And it took at least a year once I got over here before I reached a point where I really believed that I could stick it out long term.

      I did have to learn German, and you’ve probably read in my blog why I think it’s so important. If your boyfriend plans to live in Germany, his German doesn’t necessarily have to be perfect, but he does need to learn it.

      The good news is that it’s easier to learn something when it’s a must, so if he’s saying he stunk at Spanish in high school, don’t let it worry him too much (I did too).

      Long distance relationships are hard, but I found it also had the great advantage of forcing things to get very honest, very fast. It’s too much work for playing games or staying together just for fun. I hated being apart and missed my boyfriend so much, but I knew at the same time that we were both working hard to stay together because we both really wanted the same thing.

      It is hard, no matter where you end up, but yes (of course!) these relationships can work out.

      My best advice is to take it a few months at a time. Sometimes looking too far forward can be too intimidating. Just ask yourselves how to get through the next six months and keep going forward.

      Best of luck!

      (sorry for the vacation-delay in replying)

  15. This post is so funny. I am not a long-term tourist but an expat. But I am very guilty of having my grocries shipped by mom! I am here in America now getting ready to go back soon and my husband and I both got Costco sized boxes of our favorite deodorants to take with us.

    One thing I know now to take is a bunch of packets of Hidden Valley Ranch mix to make ranch dressing once back in Europe…something that I cant live without and does not exist in Norway.

    This American girl needs her ranch!

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