I’m getting ready to head back to Southeast Asia for a bit and whenever I go back and forth I get asked about what I miss from Thailand or what I miss from the U.S. Of course, I miss my family and friends but really, for the most part, I’m pretty fine being in either place. It’s amazing how quickly you can adjust and slip into familiar old patterns or habits.
If someone really pushes me for an answer though, there are a handful of things I miss about living in the U.S. … and several I don’t. Some are superficial, some are more serious, but they’re all things I notice and think about when being back home.
Knowing what’s going on – Even though I find it exciting to travel and live in other countries, there’s an undeniable sense of relief and comfort of being in your home country. In the U.S. I don’t have to second-guess how I act, what I say, what I wear or how things work. It’s easy and sometimes just plain nice not to constantly be having to figure things out or be extra aware of what’s going on around you.
My comfortable bed – I forgot just how cozy my bed in the U.S. is! In Thailand I paid half my rent to buy a new mattress that’s…not completely rock hard. It’s also still not soft and not nearly as comfortable as the bed at my parents’ house.
Being in the same time zone as my friends and family – Even though it’s easy to stay in touch through Facebook, Skype, iMessage, FaceTime, email, Instagram and everything else, there’s comfort in knowing that when I wake up, my friends are waking up and I can shoot them a quick text to check in on their daily life instead of sending long messages back and forth ‘catching up’. I also miss meeting up for happy hour or dinner after work.
Cheese, chocolate and baking – Cheese and chocolate aren’t really worth buying in Thailand and very few people have an oven. I try to get in as much of all three as I can when I’m home.
Wearing boots – Ah, life’s little pleasures. I love boots and definitely don’t wear them in hot and humid Thailand. (I also appreciate finding clothes that fit me, an often difficult task in the world of extra small Thai sizes.)
Buying things that actually work – Most things are cheap to purchase in Thailand. And most things fall apart relatively quickly. I’ve bought bottle openers that bend and break the first time I try to use them and brooms that shed bristles leaving more crap on the floor than what they sweep up. It’s really nice to buy something, have it do its job and not break immediately.
There are so many rules! There are naturally rules everywhere, but I quickly start to feel a little suffocated when coming back to the U.S. about what I can and cannot do, where I can and cannot go, and what restrictions or expectations I have to follow. Normally it’s for ridiculously simple or unimportant things. For example, it sounds silly, but Seattle is infamous for ticketing jaywalkers. People won’t cross the street if they’re not at a cross walk and will patiently wait for the light to turn green to cross…even if there are no cars in sight. Why?? Why do I need to wait to cross the street if there are clearly no cars coming? Why can I not take responsibility for my own actions and safety?
Everyone is so busy – So busy. I’ve been in the U.S. for almost two months now and feel like I’ve barely seen my friends. How is that possible? Between long work hours, commutes, important responsibilities, supposedly “important” responsibilities that really don’t matter in the big scheme of things, and more it seems like many people I know don’t really choose how they spend their time, but are caught up in some sort of momentum that they don’t control. I’m busy – I like being busy – but after leaving my full-time corporate job in Seattle I’ve continually tried to make a conscious effort not to get stuck on the busy-train feeling like I have no control to get off. I’d like to think I succeed more often than not.
There are no palm trees – Well, there are in the U.S., but not in the Pacific Northwest. We’re lucky to have plenty of evergreen trees year round but I always miss palm trees and crazy jungle leaves. Last year when I came home and didn’t know if or when I would be going back to Thailand, I drove past a completely random, unexpected banana tree and cried – cried – because I didn’t know when I’d be surrounded by banana trees again. Clearly I need consistent exposure to tropical greenery to stay sane.
Unrealistic expectations and standards for work and money – This topic could be a whole post in itself, but let’s just say that I now still work hard, but don’t let my work necessarily define me. I also probably make less money yet am still less worried about money than many of my friends…something doesn’t quite add up. And don’t get me started about the number of vacation days American workers get or use – i.e. barely any. I can’t wrap my head around what everyone is working for or toward. It’s like whoever works the hardest or longest gets some sort of prize at the end but that’s not the case – there is no end! That said, I’m also only responsible for myself at the moment and not children or other dependents so have total control over what my time and money go toward. But still, something is out of whack here.
Chain everything, everywhere – I understand the convenience and reliability of chain stores, services and outlets, but I don’t understand why they’re everywhere, all the time. Thailand has chains, but aside from a couple big-box stores and the ubiquitous 7-11s, I usually frequent local markets, corner stalls, independent restaurants and cafes, and random boutiques. I feel like I have options. Often here I don’t feel like I have options, I just see the same things and the same places everywhere. For example, I don’t work from coffeeshops when I’m home because right around where I stay only has a handful of places…and they’re all named Starbucks.
Expensive Thai food – Do you know how hard it is for me to pay $11 for a plate of phad grapow gai, (fried basil, chilies and chicken on rice) when I’m used to getting it for $.75 around the corner from my house in Chiang Mai? It’s painful. (But I can get better cheese for less in the U.S. so there is that…)
Have you spent much time away from your home country? What did you miss? Didn’t miss?
Top photo by Sullivan & Sullivan Studios.
Hey! I'm Alana and I've spent nearly the past decade living in Chiang Mai, Thailand, working as a writer and photographer. I started Paper Planes as a place to share local insight, special places, and how to travel well through a range of experiences — from hostels to high-end hotels, street meat to multi-course meals.
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Tea, marmite, the BBC and roast dinners! It’s a British thing 😉
It’s funny how you miss the most basic things – even if you may not even care about them much when you’re home. I don’t eat much peanut butter in the U.S., but I do when I’m away…?? I don’t get it.
I lived abroad (in Russia, so not such a huge difference as in SE Asia) for five years and I really found myself missing the small things the most. Huge differences like language? Eh, not so bad. But spending $30 for a block of decent Parmesan or $15 for a six-pack of ginger ale? Nooooo.
Haha…we sound quite similar…
I would feel sorry for you not having any chocolate but you have mango sticky rice! 🙂 Ok, I admit I would struggle without chocolate for a long period of time. I’m sure I’d get over it of course but I’d probably have withdrawal symptoms first. 🙂 Do you have anything that you eat instead when you fancy some chocolate?
I haven’t found any decent Thai food here yet. Or decent Chinese food. Everything tastes like it has 3 bags of sugar in it! There is some really great Mexican food though so can’t complain. 🙂
I definitely take a variety of chocolate chips and bars to Thailand whenever I go…I like mango sticky rice, but don’t consider fruit a satisfying dessert 😉 On another note, if someone told me to choose between being able to have Thai food or Mexican food for the rest of my life, I don’t know what I would do…
Haha yeah when I went back to the states after living in Thailand, I would laugh at the prices of the food. I’m not paying $15 for Chicken Pad Thai! Great post!
I’m kind of okay with paying more for curries or specialties, but $10+ for simple everyday dishes I can’t handle!
I’m the same way about the prices! Items that are considered snack food in India and cost me $.60 here will set you back $8 in the States…and that’s just in Memphis! I can’t even imagine how much it would be in NYC or Chicago or another big market city.
And I definitely feel you on the cheese and the baking. I love using ovens, for brownies or shepherd’s pie or roasting vegetables, and I actively miss my mother’s oven at least once a week.
I LOVE roasted vegetables…that is what I’ve been eating the past couple of days before I head back to Asia!
You’d think that the whole UK/US thing would be a cinch. But no. I miss – cheap clothes (i.e. DSW for shoes, Target), ‘plain’ coffee, feeling comfortable driving a car and the Food Network. I don’t miss – harsh winters, Wal-Mart, depressing news stories, so much junk food!
I think Target is on most of expats’ “Miss List” 😉
After our last visit to the US, which was well over a year ago, I thought a lot of the same stuff. Particularly related to how busy everyone was, and how there seemed to be a theme that everyone was chasing something. Although, I attributed to over consumption, and the disease of more. That, combined with a level of fear that everyone seemed to be burdened with. It’s one of the main reasons why I can never see myself living in the US again. I don’t want to live that life any more. I make A LOT less money now, but am happier and feel more secure!
So busy! I’m busy too, have been more stressed for time than I would like, but overall I’m much less stressed or tightly wound than many people that I know. I was like that though…and I never want to be again!
Honestly, after 5+ years abroad, I really don’t miss much from the US aside from family and friends, of course. Good Mexican food is probably the main thing I miss as an expat. But otherwise, I’ve learned to adapt and discover so many other cuisines along the way. 🙂
That sounds about right 😉 I always bring refried beans back to Thailand with me…
Or quality Mexican food in general.
It’s incredible to me what other countries count as “Mexican food”…
Last time I went to Paris I had a really crappy pillow. But I was in Paris, so I didn’t get too upset lol.
A small sacrifice for being in PARIS 😉
I guess there are always pluses and minuses of living anywhere.
About wearing boots, a lot of the stylish girls in Jakarta love it when the rainy season comes because that’s the only chance they get to wear their fall/winter collection (usually boots & overcoats)and not looking so strange because it gets quite cold out there (to our standard). And why they have fall/winter collection in the first place, usually from their overseas holiday in the cold seasons..
I did spend a month away from my home country, in Greece last May. Two things I missed after about two weeks were: the warm sea water and chili sauce! But I did not miss the humidity and the polluted air 🙁
Ahh….you can carry chili sauce with you 😉
I miss boots too! And baking. I was just thinking this morning how I miss baking cookies. I used to make them and give to friends back home. I don’t have an oven most of the time or the ingredients so… yeah. I miss warm chocolate chip cookies out of the oven. I really, really miss my awesome bed back home and my two little cats that curl up with me on it. I also agree on your statement about chain stores. Ugh! I’ve been following your instagram and am checking out your blog today. Great stuff. If you’d like to hang out in Chiang Mai, let me know. I fly in on Monday and will be there for 16 days. We could have a photo day or something. 🙂
I used to bake a lot and take goodies to friends and coworkers! I’ve found a couple stovetop desserts to make…but it’s not the same… 🙁 I’m in CM – shoot me an email!
Lately I have been thinking about exactly these things, the comfort and convenience of living in the US versus the adventure and freedom of living overseas. Your article is for me apropos and insightful.
Comfortable seating at restaurants, great Mexican food, the NFL, drivers who stay in their own lanes, and Coors beer. ? The truth is you cannot find more comfort and convenience anywhere in the world compared to the US. Too bad it has become such a stressful and expensive place to live.
Mexican food is the big one 😉 Funny that the most convenience and comfort is found in one of the most stressful places…
Oh… totally understand what you mean with the cheese. When travelling and working abroad (currently in Indonesia) I soooo miss great cheese. And chocolate, the delicious Swiss chocolate that melts in the mouth 😉
Have just stumbled upon your website and just love when I find other ‘crazy’ people who have chosen to live nomadic lives. It helps remind me that living and working in foreign lands for an undefined amount of time and leaving the comforts of home behind is okay.
Hehe – you’re not crazy…as soon as you leave home you realize how many people are doing it 😉
I’ve noticed the same thing with the amount of busy I see here.
While I’m still living and working in the states I can’t wait to embark on my first trip to southeast asia! Well, I better get back to being busy. 🙂
Thx for this write-up, I enjoyed.
30 Comments on 6 Things I Miss About Living in the U.S. …and 6 I Really Don’t