I have been back in Canada for a few months now, for the usual hockey off-season, and I can’t help but continually make comparisons between my two homes. When nearing the end of the season in Europe, I start fantasizing about things at home in Canada: all the foods I’m going to eat, activities I’m going to do, people I am going to see.
Once here however, and all the Canadian foods have been devoured, summer festivals have been attended, and family have been visited, I start doing the same romanticizing about all the things I miss overseas. Read on to see what it is I adore and miss about Germany and Switzerland when home in North America, and those things I long for in Canada, when I am living the expat life in Europe. How many of the same would you include on your own list?
First and foremost, food tops the list of what I miss most, or more specifically, food shopping. In Canada, the food is familiar and comforting, I can read labels, seek out childhood favourites, but most importantly- it’s easy! We all know that North America is the fattest place on earth, and I can certainly understand why. Food here, in its pre-chopped, pre-washed, premixed, pre-cooked glory, makes meal prep almost non-existent. The inner-isles of grocery stores, where all the processed foods are, take up twice as much space in NA grocery stores as they do it Europe. Triscuit crackers, Macaroni and Cheese, cake mixes (you may remember my rant about that one in a previous post), are available in abundance and seem to be constantly calling my name. That said, what I miss most about Switzerland is also the food . . . and my figure! Taking my basket and walking to the small market down the road on a daily basis, picking up the fresh veggies and meats needed for that night’s dinner, really helps keep the bulge at bay. Even when partaking in rich traditional Swiss foods, full of great cheeses and carbs, somehow it seems that the body just knows it all came from the farm down the way, and directs it to different, more flattering places. A lot can also be said about the difference in portion sizes in restaurants, but that’s a whole blog topic of its own.
Speaking of food shopping, what a relief it is when I return each summer to a land where shopping for groceries, or just about anything for that matter, can be done at virtually any hour of any day. If I have a busy Saturday, I won’t go hungry on Sunday. If I work a long day, I can still pick up breakfast for the next morning, even at 11 at night. Sundays can even be spent actually shopping, rather than just window shopping. And best of all, I can go to the bank all day long.
Rules and Routine
What Europe lacks in flexibility however, they sure makes up for in conformity, and I like it. Being able to buy milk at midnight can often lead to you needing milk at midnight. When living my normally scheduled life in Switzerland, I would never forget to pick up things like bread or milk during the busy hours of the day, because life is just that much more structured and regulated. Although it took some getting used to, I learned to like the way people in Germany wait at cross walks, never daring to jay walk. I now appreciate being told that I am not allowed to vacuum or do yard work on Sundays. And you know what, you’re right, it’s not good for the environment or our health to let my car idle outside my house anyhow.
I can credit moving to Germany with forcing me to learn how to create a well-behaved dog. Allowing dogs into pubs and restaurants has encouraged the people of Europe to do the work required to make their dogs well-mannered. Surely, dogs in Germany and Switzerland are very thankful for having owners that care so well for them, providing them with all of the attention and enrichment they need. So many back-yard dog owners in NA could really benefit from gaining the perspective that the Germans and Swiss have regarding pets. That said, as the owner of three “work in progress” pups myself, it is a nice relief to come back to Canada and be amongst the many other dogs with yapping problems, leash pulling issues, and anti-social tendencies. Around here, having a chihuahua that can sit and stay (on the ground rather than in a purse), really makes us look like pros.
This point may surprise you. For any of us returning to our home countries it is always a wonderful feeling being able to speak and read in our native language. For myself however, I don’t get much of this treat. When I return to Canada, it is to my husband’s hometown of Montreal, in the very French province of Quebec. While I did learn some French in school while growing up, I am very far from fluent. In fact, when my mind now wishes to attempt a second language, my mouth nearly always goes right to German. Being able to work at learning a second language when in Europe gives me a great sense of pride, and to switch from German to French for only a few months each year makes the learning process quite complicated. Being applauded by Swiss friends when I say something with just the right dialect, is satisfying and validating. While in Montreal I often just revert back to being that outsider that appears too afraid or unwilling to try.
Doing such comparisons is a natural part of life as an expat. Seeing the good as well as the bad in each unique aspect of our lives helps us to appreciate both our homeland as well as our new home. If you like, please take a moment to comment below, detailing what you miss most from your home and/or your expat home.