24 March 2012

Things I miss about the U.S.

Yesterday Walt and I talked about the things we miss from all the years we were "America-based," and we talked about the subject with two other ex-pat friends we happened to see yesterday for the first time in a month or so.

We decided the bigger difference between America and France for us is the difference between living in the country vs. living in the city. We miss the convenience of having almost everything available and close at hand. I mean shopping. But we don't miss the noise and traffic and high cost of living.

The primroses of springtime in our yard —
they come up spontaneously every year

Walt said he misses being able to find good quality clothes and shoes for reasonable prices. It's true that clothes out here in the French countryside are hard to buy and usually expensive. I buy most of my clothes in North Carolina when I go back there for my annual visit. Since we don't work now, our clothing needs are much reduced compared to the days when we worked in California.

Sometimes I miss the ocean and the salt air. It's because I grew up on the coast. I remember the first time I went to San Francisco, the thing that attracted me the most — even more than the mild weather, beautiful hills, and old-fashioned feel of the place — was the smell of the sea I got there. It reminded me of home in North Carolina.

Early spring days in the vineyard

When I miss the ocean now, it's N.C. that I miss, not California. Luckily, France has a very long coastline and we've been able to enjoy trips to the Normandy coast and the Atlantic island of Oléron (which really made me feel at home so much it resembled the low, sandy N.C. coast).

I miss being able to get a good, juicy American hamburger. Even making them at home isn't completely satisfactory, because the meat — grass-fed rather than grain-fed beef — is just different. In general, I prefer the grass-fed beef. I also miss Eastern North Carolina barbecued, pulled pork, but I can make that here with satisfactory results.

I miss Asian food as we knew it in California, but that's one of those city vs. country things. If we were in Paris, we'd have Asian food the way we did in San Francisco. (By the way, our lunch today will be Szechuan Eggplant with Ground Turkey, home-made.)

It's nice to get the plants back outside in spring.
My jade plant had a good winter indoors.

I never felt happy living in California the way I feel happy about living in France — even though we spent nearly 20 years in California. Maybe if I had been able to spend more time in San Francisco the way I spent time in Paris — as a pedestrian rather than a commuter stuck in traffic — I would have liked it better. I miss California friends, but many of them have come to visit us in France over the past 9 years.

Sunrise with clouds a couple of days ago

When I felt homesick in California, it was mostly for France (my "cultural" home), and partly for North Carolina (my "biological" home). The other two places where I've lived — Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, and Washington DC — are completely tied up with France, because at the first I was a student and teacher in the university French department, and in the second I was a translator and writer working in French (with CHM).

Another plant that spent the winter in the house and
is happy to be out in the fresh air again

I can't say that I've felt homesick at all since we moved to Saint-Aignan. However, I really enjoy my trips back to the U.S., especially to my home town in N.C., and I'm happy that I might have two American trips in 2012. More about those as the times approach.


  1. Thank you Ken... now I know what to call "My Mother's Plant"... a Jade Plant... they seem to like it here.
    But we can't get rid of one of its offspring on you two though... you've got one
    The house leek looks magnificent... but that should be able to winter outdoors... even with a winter like we've just had.
    What I miss most from the UK, is a good hoppy pint. But there are two very good breweries up between you and Tours... and the Descartes Intermarche and Perrusson LeClerc both sell English beer at a cheaper price than in the UK... Spitfire at 1.45€, against £2.20 in Sainsbury's in the UK... and the Munster from Simply Market/Auchan is a northern style beer so nice and hoppy.
    And we miss our allotment friends and associates.

  2. Tim, in San Francisco the jade plants could stay outdoors year-round, because it never freezes there. We had a gigantic one in a gigantic pot right by our front door.

    As for the sempervivums/house leeks, I have some that spend the winter outdoors and others that I bring in. They do tend to multiply. The ones I left out during our deep-freeze period seem to be doing just fine.

  3. Is this the “traveling” so-called Desert Jade Plant that originated in Salton City, came back home after a few years in San Francisco and traveled again to France as a cutting? Or another kind?

    Unfortunately, I will leave behind the one you brought back to Salton City. It is doing well, and survived neglect in summer when I’m not here. I’m going to give it to friends in what I hope will be a good home. I just took pictures of it with the flash because it’s pitch dark outside at four in the morning. I’ll sent it to you later today.

  4. No, CHM, the jade in my photo is not that one that came from Salton City. It's one that I bought here in the Cher Valley 6 or 7 years ago. Today I took the "desert jade" outside and watered and fed it well. It looks pretty good too.

  5. I love your list, Ken! its a lot like mine - city vs country life. i miss the ocean and being able to get asian food any time i want it. the best gift i gave myself was to learn now to make potstickers and eggrolls. but its hard to find the ingredients for thai food. i'm working on it tho.

    in the next several weeks we'll make our pilgrimage to Trader Joes and load up. the last time i was there the man in front of us in the check out had about the same stuff as we did. we joked because he came from even further away than then hour+ that we drove.

    the ocean tho.. there's just no substitute for watching the sun sink into the pacific.

  6. Oh, geeeeze, I do miss the salt air and the ocean breeze of the New Jersey shore. That was the biggest thing that I missed moving out here to St. Louis. And, whenever I'm in New England I feel a huge tug at my heart, because I think I feel attached to it the way that you do to North Carolina, Ken. It's funny how the idea of moving around this country doesn't feel as challenging as moving to another country... even one that I absolutely love and yearn to spend more time in.

    That sunrise photo is especially stunning!

  7. I'm intrigued by your last comment about trips to the U.S. It's good to reflect and find what you appreciate and miss about all the places you've lived. And it's nice to know you've found your forever home and can visit the places you once loved and missed.

    I still miss the Atlantic ocean, too. The East coast is also home to my biological roots. Love the Pacific, but it's so dang chilly!

  8. The internet has eased a lot of the pangs of missing elements of a former culture. For instance, when I first moved to the US in '86, I desperately missed BBC radio. When podcasts arrived, that was such a joy. Similarly, I used to relish my trips back to the UK to stock up on Brit English books, biscuits (cookies), and tea. Now, all of those can come via my laptop, and are more available anyway.
    Now I'm living back in France, I relish not having to queue for my coffee before sitting down!



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