The grass is always greener. Oh, the age old quote (is it a quote?) will always ring true. Regardless of where in the world I am.
Well … even as an expat, there are times I long for some of the things I miss from my American life.
I felt the need for privacy more so when I lived in an apartment and everyone could see my comings and goings. But, even now, privacy is difficult to achieve in my life as an expat in Chiang Mai. Walking down the street, more times than not, I see someone I know. It’s always nice to see people, but sometimes I just don’t want to be bothered. Sometimes, I want to have a bad day, or not smile, without everyone knowing about it.
Living in Vegas, it was easy to hide out. To escape from people. To be intensely private when necessary. Sure, Vegas is a small enough town where heading out to Town Square likely means running into someone, but it is far easier to avoid people there than it is here.
Granted, I am not a cook, but I do miss the ease of being able to run to the grocery store, know exactly what I need and find it, then go home and pop it in the oven. Here? Well, if I know by photo what I want and use my translate app, I can sometimes find what I need. But, more often than not, I get frustrated and head out for street food instead. Oh, and while we are talking about food — dammit, I miss real chips and salsa. And Papa John’s garlic sauce. Don’t judge.
This goes without saying, but I dream about Mom Hugs. The family I have created here is wonderful and supportive, but nothing can ground me more than time with my real family. Nothing can erase Sad or Lonely more than my family can. And, with them so far away, it can get difficult. Often times, I find myself losing perspective and only an e-mail from my mom can make that dissipate. Friendships as an expat are not always easy, and there are definitely moments when I just miss comfort only my family can provide.
The ease of communication
Language barriers aside, there are communication issues that make life here interesting at best and a struggle at worst. It is important to keep in mind my Western ideas and ways of communicating are not the same as the Thai way. I haven’t had huge problems with it, but there are moments when I wish I could express myself better … or at all. A smile goes a long way here, but even that can be misinterpreted.
Shopping/buying what I need
There is nothing worse than knowing I want to go and buy, say, a cleaning agent to wipe my counters with, and knowing what it is called in America, knowing what is should look like, and then hitting a store here and being totally unsure of what it is I am actually buying. Here, what I would imagine to be in a pretty little plastic spray bottle comes in a squishy cardboard container with a screw-off top. It’s got a photo on it — sometimes — but hell if I know what is actually is I am buying. Case-in-point: I purchased a bottle of shampoo, thinking it was deodorant. Yeah. No. Clue.
Clothing that fits
And, while we are on the topic of shopping, let’s talk style. Clothing. Good grief, it is hard being a not rail thin woman to get any sort of cute clothing here. Or being super size-shamed. In America, I’m a medium, in Chiang Mai? Oh, 2XL. I can’t shop at department stores because my legs cannot squeeze through pant legs. Shirts? Ha ha. Not with these American boobs.
Sometimes, I find myself longing for a Dillard’s. Sweet, normal-sized clothing-filled Dillard’s.
Thankfully, I have Thai friends who can help me navigate the flowery Thai writing to determine some items I need. Others? Well, that’s when I enlist my friends and family to bring stuff over like Febreeze or a pair of size 10 Old Navy jeans.
A car … sometimes
When I sold my Prius back in 2012, it was freeing. And, in true D form, a bit dramatic. Living in Chiang Mai, I don’t need a car. I often don’t even get in cars as most of my friends simply have little motorbikes to zip down sois with. But, seeing as I am far too chicken/know myself well enough, I don’t drive bikes, and since the traffic here scares the crap out of me, I won’t ride a bicycle either. Every now and then I long to be able to just grab keys and hop in a car and go explore.
There are so many little towns and villages and places around Chiang Mai that I have yet to tackle largely because transportation isn’t easy. Sure, I could take a songthaew, but I love to look out the windows and see life whirl by.
A good haircut
I was a hair snob in my former life. Hair. Snob. Every six weeks, I’d go and get my split ends trimmed, my roots touched up. Here? No. Way. I’ve gotten my hair cut four times since I became an expat. The first was a simple bang job, which resulted in a thick splay of bangs running parallel across my face. The second in Cambodia where I chopped it off and ended up with a mushroom head; the third was to fix that; the fourth was at an expensive more Western salon in Bangkok, which took off inches (at my request). However, when I returned to the States in September, my go-to stylist wanted to take a “before” photo to show me just how wrecked the cut actually was.
Living in a jungle climate has it advantages. The weather (except in the winter for a few brief weeks) is always warm/hot which means most days make me smile. It’s all wonderful — except my feet. My poor, poor feet. Because of the heat, wearing shoes and socks is normally a big, fat no. Therefore, I wear Crocs (yes, Crocs) or flip flops. The result? A constant layer of black on my feet. Dirty feet, that even a pedicure cannot fix. Although, trust me, I try.
I live in the jungle. We get cold (on occasion), hot and rainy. When I get to wear long sleeves here, I relish it. I look on Facebook at feeds of those living in America or Europe and get a tinge of homesickness when I see people bundled up in the winter … wearing light airy clothing in the spring …
Being a western girl in an Asian world is not easy. The Asian men normally don’t look twice, the western men are interested in the Asian women. Where does that leave me? Perpetually single and most likely, rolling my eyes at the ridiculous antics I am witness here on a daily basis. More about this coming soon. So, for now you’ve got a teaser.
Are you an expat? What do you miss about life as a non-expat? Be sure to leave your comment below!
28 thoughts on “The things missed as an expat”
I’m not an expat but it is a possibility in the future, most likely in Taiwan or South Korea. One thing that gives me anxiety? Not being able to buy shoes. Seriously. At H&M in Seoul I was able to find some shirts and, after hunting, jeans that fit me but finding a size 9.5 shoe in Asia? Forget it. I saw so many cute ones in Tokyo too but they just didn’t fit, despite my shoving and squishing. I felt like Cinderella’s ugly step-sister.
I would also miss almond milk, oatmeal and Tetley tea.
I had the same problem. My feet are an 8.5 and wider than Thai, so it is difficult to buy shoes that don’t rub my feet and cause blisters. It’s Crocs all the way for me now!! I had my parents ship me some stuff last year to remind me of home, and the care package cost me almost $80 to get out of customs because of the import tax. Expensive lesson learned. Now, I just ask people to please bring me stuff when they come over.
The longest I ever lived abroad without returning to the US was a year, and I would echo every one of those things you mentioned above!
I can’t believe I have lived abroad for as long as I have. Although, I have no desire to go back to America.
I can see that once you’re over there (I felt the same when I lived abroad). And once you’re back long enough, you’ll have no desire to live abroad again =) Ever since buying a house and moving somewhere that’s “permanent,” I’ve soaked up that sense of community of belonging to a place vs. simply passing through.
I totally understand that. When I came back the first time, I enjoyed the community, but there was always a longing I had. Now, living here, while there is a community, it isn’t exactly what I had in mind. Maybe it is just being an expat in general, or perhaps more specifically being an expat in Thailand. It does sound nice to have something more permanent though@
I lived in London for 1.5 years and while I did not miss the cooking (London has more Indian restaurants than perhaps NYC), the others definitely ring true. A car would have been handy.
Yeah … sometimes I really want a car. Particularly right now when it is super cold in the mornings and I have to walk even to get a songthaew!
Grocery stores, Mom Hugs and haircut are my 3 main ones.
When I was an expat in Australia, I tried a first hairdresser and cried so much they offered me not to pay. They had cut so short!!!
The next time I tried another one and told them not to cut too short… Well, it looked like they hadn’t cut anything at all!!!
Apparently the base of the neck is not the same in different countries 🙂
Oh no!! That is one of my hair fears! If you need a good reco for next time you are in Bangkok, let me know. I have a great salon there.
I understand what you mean! The ability of communication, gets me sometimes. English is not my native language, but I’m handling it as well as I can. But when I was in a place like Southeast Asia, not just the language, but the culture, and everything sometimes tired me a lot.
I can absolutely understand that! I am exhausted living here sometimes!
This post makes me want to wave my hands in the air and bellow out “Amen!” I’m not even an expat but the number of things you’ve pointed out on our list that I’ve found myself struggling with after 18 months traveling through Asia is high nonetheless. I’ve actually lost a lot of weight since leaving on my travels and yet I’ll always remember being in Chiang Mai and struggling to pull a size 12 pair of pants over my hips and bursting into tears. No matter how much weight I lose, I’ll never be built like a boy so Asian clothing just doesn’t fit me. And who can forget when I went and got my hair cut at a mall in CM and then wound up having it styled like I was heading off to a transexual beauty pageant? It’s incredible the things we take for granted, but moving abroad and having them all thrown out the window definitely makes you realize how important life’s little overlooked blessings can be!
Oh my goodness!! I can only imagine! I actually head to Bangkok to get my hair done. Just had it done Monday and really, really pleased with how it turned out. Western prices, but don’t care! It is interesting the things we take for granted that I never imagined!
Ha! You had us up until the very last point! Great post 🙂
Ha haaaa!!!! Thanks!!
I always say ‘there ain’t no hug like a mumma hug’. When I go travelling I think that’s what I’m going to miss the most, my mum’s hugs, and my family in general.
There is NOTHING like a mom’s hug!!
A very good friend of mine had the men issue when she was taking classes in Japan. Not only did they not want to be friends with her but wouldn’t even batt an eye. I get it. She couldn’t hack it and came home. Granted, I’m already a special “flavor” for most. 😛
Apparently, because I am not super skinny, so am I!
I could totally see where you’re coming from on the privacy. Some days I just want to be left the hell alone though I am normally a very talkative person. I’m sure the communication level would be extremely frustrating and the shopping as well. I have a friend in Japan and she is constantly telling me how she can’t fit into anything in the stores there. She is constantly ordering clothing online. As for the car, I would definitely miss the freedom a car gives you. I could probably only last a little while before giving into to some type of automobile. As for the dirty feet, this would be a love hate situation. I HATE shoes and LOVE being barefoot but the dirty feet thing is legit. Have you ever looked into trying out vibrams? –>http://www.soiwillrun.com/2013/06/vibramsthe-love-of-my-shoe-life.html
Yes – there are some days I just don’t want to be social. I want to retreat to my bed and just chill out and not have to smile or engage in conversation. It’s hard to do here because where I live is such a small community and we all know each other. Never checked out Vibrams. Will do!
No matter where you live, there are always things you miss about home! Food is a big one and while Thai food is awesome, I can totally relate about just wanting to make yourself a sandwich or something simple.
When I was living in Australia for a year, which is certainly a lot closer to Canada standards than Thailand, there were still lots of things I missed from home – especially snow! Christmas is just not the same in a tropical destination.
My Round up list from Down Under: http://girlgonegallivanting.com/top-4-things-i-miss-about-canada/
Great blog! Keep up the writing 🙂
Thai food is awesome … but sometimes I just want good ol’ Western dishes!! Thanks so much for checking out my site! I hope you enjoy!
There are definitely many adjustments one has to make when you spend a lot of time overseas … hope I don’t get too homesick while I’m in South America!
Just remember, no matter where in the world you are, you have people who care. 🙂
In Seoul, it was nearly impossible to find womens shoes that were a size 10 (41??) or bigger. You’d basically have to have them custom made. I ended up just having my mom ship me over some shoes
I cannot imagine! Here, I just go to the Crocs store because those are the only shoes I wear! 🙂