Ever wondered what people miss the most about the US after moving abroad? I have answers!
As you may know, I moved to Ireland in August of 2020 and I’ve been here ever since. There are tons of things that I love about living in Ireland, but I still find myself missing specific things about home. I’ve heard from many other American expats, too, and I’ve found that they mostly miss the same things.
I find myself missing the US the most while I’m feeling homesick, but occasionally there will just be something I really want and can’t find. When that happens, I, like any World Traveler, I sit with my feelings for a few minutes and then continue moving forward. Being in a new place comes with new challenges, and sometimes you just have to find a way to accept that, for whatever reason, you can’t buy boxed mac and cheese… even if you really, really want it.
Here’s my list of the top things I miss about America after moving abroad:
Big Stores with Lots of Options
America is a consumerist culture to the max, and that comes with tons of options for anything you might want to buy. Convenience and variety are king in the US, so even in relatively small towns you’ll find a relatively large store with a decent number of options for most items.
This is not the case in Ireland.
I spent over a year living in between two towns in Wicklow, Ireland. Each town had a few pubs and one small convenience store. The stores had a decent selection, to their credit, but they were still rather small shops–not at all comparable to a standard Wal-Mart or Target.
In the US, I lived in Boulder for many years and grew accustomed to buying most of my outdoor gear from REI, a co-op with stores across the US. There are so many reasons that I love to buy my gear from REI, not the least of which is the incredibly generous return policy. REI members can return any item for up to a year, regardless of its condition. Their gear is almost always high quality, and most things I’ve purchased from REI have lasted for years and years.
In Ireland, we do have an outdoors store that I love–Decathlon–but it’s more like an outdoorsy IKEA than an REI alternative.
2. Whole Foods
The first time I went to a Whole Foods after living abroad, I was almost in shock. I remember wandering from aisle to aisle looking at all of the different types of treats and snacks you can buy! I left the store with the following staples I have yet to see in Ireland: blue corn tortilla chips, Little Secrets cookie bars, Little Secrets peanut butter M&Ms, dark chocolate covered pretzels, doughnuts, and small cheese and cracker sandwiches from Late July.
Surprisingly, there IS a Whole Foods in London, but I haven’t been yet. I’ll post about it on Instagram if/when I go.
3. Trader Joe’s
As someone who grew up without a Trader Joe’s, it was easy to imagine life without this store. I do still miss it, though, especially the frozen foods and dark chocolate peanut butter cups. Funny enough, I have a stash of the white and blue Trader Joe’s grocery bags that I have amassed after asking guests to bring a couple whenever they visit. They’re so versatile and easy to wash that they’re usually the only bags I’ll use.
There is something about Target that no store can really replicate. They have basically anything you might need, from headphones to granola. I wouldn’t say Target is something I miss all of the time. However, if I have a day when I need to run errands all over town, a little voice in my head will sometimes say, “This could all be one trip to Target.”
Similar to Target, it’s hard to beat the convenience of drugstores like Rite Aid and Walgreens. Even if you rarely use them, there typically comes a time when it would be SO convenient to buy your ibuprofen, bottled water, granola bar, and toothpaste all at once. This is especially true if you’re wandering around a city.
Nothing compares to Costco. Sometimes you just want to spend an afternoon packing a cart with toilet paper, gallon tubs of cashews, half a wheel of cheese, and a two-year supply of laundry detergent. Simply not possible at any store I’ve ever been to in Ireland.
7. Apple Store
I learned the hard way that not every part of the world has an Apple store. When I say the hard way, I mean that I was studying abroad in Jordan and my Macbook charger suddenly died. I tried to look up the nearest Apple store to get a replacement, but I noticed that there weren’t any Apple stores anywhere in the entire Middle East. So, I borrowed my friends’ laptop chargers every day for the rest of my program.
In Europe it’s not terribly difficult to buy Apple products. That said, they’re much more expensive because of the taxes and it’s less likely that you’ll be within driving distance of an Apple store if something breaks.
American food gets a lot of flack for being full of chemicals and packed with sugar, and rightly so. Still, living in Ireland has given me some newfound respect for the options available in the US. I bring my own hot sauce and Amy’s mac and cheese back from the US, and the latter is a special snack reserved for days that I’m feeling especially homesick.
8. Boxed mac and cheese
I haven’t seen boxed mac and cheese, from any brand, since I moved to Ireland (aside from the boxes I brought here in a suitcase). In the US, boxed Amy’s white cheddar shells were a staple–I ate a box at least once a week. You can’t buy boxed mac and cheese in Ireland, so I usually make due with a more gourmet version that you can buy in the refrigerated section at Tesco. It’s ok, but it’s really not the same.
9. Mexican food
I think if you surveyed Americans living abroad around the world, the number one thing they’d say they miss most is the Mexican food. I’ve tried many Mexican restaurants in Ireland, but only one of them–Republic of Grill in Limerick–has been comparable to the Mexican food I’ve craved since moving.
Living in Ireland, I’ve been reminded many times that we’re very far from Mexico. It’s nearly impossible to get most of the cheeses used in even basic Mexican cuisine–you won’t see queso fresco, cotija, or even Monterrey Jack here. It’s also impossible to find fresh tomatillos and poblanos, so I decided to grow my own. Sometimes you just have to find a way!
To be fair, Cork does have one bakery that serves up great bagels–it’s called Five Points and it’s located in the Victorian Quarter. That said, I often miss being able to quickly grab a bagel on the go. Aside from that one cafe, I rarely see bagels outside of the grocery store in Europe. Further, they’re not commonly used for breakfast sandwiches like we’re used to in the US, so you’ll be hard pressed to find an egg and cheese bagel most anywhere in Ireland.
11. Iced coffee
I recently saw this TikTok about iced coffee and thought it was so relatable. Similar to the bagel situation, you will occasionally see iced coffee while in Europe, but it’s much less common than in the US. Further, you’re not very likely to see cold brew–most iced coffees I’ve seen in Ireland have been iced americanos or iced lattes.
Related Post: The 6 Best Coffee Shops in Denver
12. Hot sauce
In Ireland, I’ve only seen a small handful of types of hot sauce available–not at all like the US where it’s common to see an entire shelf full of options. Since I can’t buy my favorite hot sauces here, I bring them back with me when I visit the US. Fortunately, Cholula is one of the options I can find here, so we never have to go without.
13. Decent avocados
There are lots of places in the world where avocados are just as good as, if not better than, the avocados you buy at the store in the US. Ireland is not one of those places. Here, the avocados never seem to fully ripen, and they have a vaguely slimy texture.
14. French fries
American french fries are surprisingly different from the chips you’ll find in Ireland (local slang for french fries). American fries are crispier, saltier, and served with more sauces and dips on the side. This is not to say that there’s anything wrong with Irish chips, they’re just a very distinct style–more comparable to steak fries and typically not very crispy.
15. Tequila and Mezcal
I’ve never been able to figure out why this is, but you cannot find tequila or mezcal in most parts of Ireland. Accordingly, you’ll almost never see margaritas on the menu at restaurants or bars.
Related Post: My Top 5 Happy Hours in Denver
16. Meat alternatives
For most of the time I’ve been in Ireland, the meat alternatives (veggie burgers and sausages) have been pretty lackluster. As someone who ate Field Roast sausages a few times a week, I’ve definitely missed the delicious substitutes that are widely available in the US. Things here have been improving quickly, though; a few months ago, all of the stores unceremoniously started carrying Beyond burger meat in the frozen section. It’s definitely a step in the right direction!
Iconic American Experiences
Since moving to Ireland, I’ve found that there are some quintessentially American experiences that I miss. It’s less about the actual experience, and more about how it feels; the particular cultural norms, physical space, and infrastructure you find in the US is just different than in other places.
17. Driving on the highway
There’s nothing quite like driving down the highway with the windows down and your music turned up. You can almost get the same effect if you drive on the motorways in Ireland, but you’ll never really feel the same sense of a wide open road.
18. People smiling when they make eye contact with you
This is, admittedly, a small one, but it’s something I’ve missed since moving. In the US, it’s common to acknowledge others on the sidewalk or in a store with a slight smile and/or nod. In Ireland, it’s much more common for people to either say a full blown “Hello” or ignore you completely. I’ve also heard people say that they don’t understand why Americans are always smiling at everyone, so I guess it doesn’t go unnoticed.
19. Yoga classes
I have taken a few yoga classes since moving abroad, and they just haven’t been anything like the classes I used to frequent in Colorado. Specifically, I loved practicing hot yoga to loud music in a packed room where the teacher called out poses over a sound system. Then, at the end of class, they would come around and place a cold, wet rag scented with lavender over your eyes for the last few minutes of class. It was lovely, and I hope I can take a few classes the next time I go back to the US.
Growing up in Colorado and having lived in Boulder, spending time outside hiking was a big part of the culture. On Monday mornings, most everyone would discuss the hikes they’d done over the weekend. The trails were typically packed with people and well marked, with a variety of challenge levels for every ability. Hiking is also very social in the US, and it’s normal to meet up with friends to exercise and catch up.
In Ireland, you will find many people who enjoy hiking, but it’s much less a part of the culture here. When asked, most people will say that they spent the weekend on house projects, spending time with friends, or going to the beach or a nearby town.
Quintessential American Culture
If you’d told me before I moved abroad that I would be sitting around one day writing about missing American culture, I’d have laughed at you. Now, an older and wiser me knows that there are, in fact, a few great aspects of American culture.
21. Dog culture
People all over the world love their dogs, but I’ve never been anywhere else in the world where dogs are treated like full members of the family. Dogs in the US have their own social media profiles, diligently managed by their chauffeur/owners. It can be a little ridiculous, sometimes bordering on absurd, but I miss it nonetheless. In the interest of transparency, I should note that I only know one dog in Cork and that dog does have her own Instagram account.
22. Unlimited ketchup and other sauces
Before I started traveling to different countries, I never would have guessed how many opinions I’d have about ketchup. In the US, most ketchup tastes more or less the same, regardless of where it comes from. This is not true throughout the world. In Colombia, the ketchup was essentially tomato sauce, with no discernible taste of vinegar. In Ireland, the ketchup is often Heinz brand, but it’s rationed by pubs and restaurants.
If you go to a McDonald’s in Ireland and order a hamburger with fries, you’ll likely receive one or two ketchup packets. If you ask, they’ll give you more. There’s technically no limit to the amount of ketchup you’ll be able to ask for, but at some point it starts to get weird. American ketchup culture is not universal.
23. Liberal return policies
I mentioned return policies earlier in this post when talking about REI, but it bears repeating because it’s such a uniquely American concept. Many companies in the US will accept returns for much longer than European companies, and they’ll sometimes even take returns of used items. At Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, for example, you can return foods if you simply didn’t like them–often for weeks after the initial purchase date. I don’t think you’d ever see that in Ireland.
24. Feeling like you’re in the center of the world
I wouldn’t have known how true this is before moving to Ireland, but living in America really can feel like you’re in the center of the world. It wasn’t until months after living in Ireland that I started to find myself following European news more closely and, in turn, noticing the way that American events were covered.
It really isn’t a positive part of American culture, but the (false) sense that you live in the society at the center of global politics is sort of psychologically comforting. American politics become a lot harder to stomach when you’re hearing about the progress and thoughtful debates taking place in other countries.
25. Cowboy (Western) culture
On my first trip to Ireland, I met a man named Peter because I was walking across the front portion of his property. He looked at Jake and I and exclaimed, “Americans!” then asked where we were from. When I said, “Colorado,” his eyes got wide and, with a huge grin, he said, “Ah, COWBOYS!”
When you’re in the US, it can be easy to overlook the western or cowboy culture, but it’s special and uniquely American. If you want to experience western culture, visit the National Western Stock Show, an event that takes place every January in Denver.
26. Knowing glances with strangers
You know that moment when you’re checking out at the grocery store and the person in front of you is being rude to the cashier and making a scene? What do you do? Normally, assuming the situation is mostly under control, I will look around and try to make eye contact with someone as if to say, “Can you believe the nerve of this person?” That moment–when you lock eyes with a stranger at the utter ridiculousness of a Karen–is something I’ve missed since moving abroad.
27. Commiserating and debating about American politics/news
The tribalism of American politics is generally an awful phenomenon, but one aspect that I’ve found myself missing is commiserating and debating with people who (largely) agree with you. You feel bonded to the people who share your views, and together you learn new aspects about how the government works and have interesting political discussions to try to strengthen your arguments.
It’s a sort of confirmation that other people actually care and are watching the news and responding to the same things you are.
It can easily slip into feeling overwhelming or hopeless, but so long as you can avoid those pitfalls it’s often a great and lively discussion. I haven’t had any conversations since moving to Ireland that resemble the lively and lengthy debates I used to enjoy while living in the US.
Uniquely American Places
Just like there are specifically American experiences that I miss, I also miss a few uniquely American places. There are countries with great national parks, but the American National Park system is world renowned (and for good reason).
28. National Parks
When you meet someone who has traveled to the US from Europe, they typically will have made a point of visiting at least one of America’s National Parks. With incredible and varied parks throughout the country, there’s so much to see and do. The National Parks system has hikes and activities for all ages and ability levels, which greatly enhances everyone’s ability to experience and benefit from the great outdoors.
By contrast, most of the land in Ireland is privately held. Most walking trails and hikes will pass through private property, and there’s not always a government entity responsible for maintaining trails–even popular ones.
29. Big, open skies
Someone pointed this out to me once and I’ll never forget it: the sky is just bigger in the western US. Once you notice it, it’s hard to unsee. In Colorado, the sky stretches out almost as far as you can see in all directions, like you’re on top of the world.
30. Giant, sprawling parking lots
In Ireland, the cars are much smaller and therefore the parking lots tend to be rather compact. Compared to squeezing your car into a tiny space in the lot behind Dunnes, parking in the US is so much easier. It makes sense when you think about it–if many people have large trucks that need to find a way to squeeze into a spot, it’s bound to be roomier for your small sedan.
Final Thoughts: Things I miss about America after moving abroad
I could write a post (or two) about the things I’ve loved about living in Ireland, but I hope you enjoyed this list of the things I’ve missed the most since I moved. It’s also interesting how moving to a new culture changes you; I never used to eat at McDonalds, but now I go every once in a while just to have a familiar experience.
If you’re curious about another woman who moved to Ireland during the pandemic, you can read my article about Ayuko Moriya. Ayuko moved to Ireland while retracing her great, great grandfather’s footsteps and fell in love along the way.
Did any of the items on my list surprise you? Have you moved abroad or spent a prolonged amount of time away from home? What were some of the things you missed most?