For Americans recently arrived in the UK—probably for expat Americans everywhere—the products and foods we miss from home are an almost inexhaustible source of small talk. At a time when so much is brand new and exciting, sometimes it helps to seek refuge in the familiar. And when homesickness hits, nothing soothes like a taste of home. Ingredients I’ve gone to great lengths to source here include marshmallows and graham crackers for S’mores, which I made with Hershey bars because Cadbury in this context seems sacrilegious; Toll House Morsels for chocolate chip cookies (I tried chopping up semi-sweet chocolate, but the texture wasn’t the same); Nilla Wafers for Banana Pudding… Are you sensing a theme? My sweet tooth is stuck in my mother’s kitchen, circa 1983.
My adjustment from New York to London has had three phases. The first was a honeymoon phase in which everything in London seemed superior, by virtue of being new and different. The second was when the honeymoon ended and everything in London seemed inferior because I was homesick for New York and convinced I’d made a terrible mistake by moving. This was the toughest time, the time when my list of required imports from the US was the longest. It included (but was not limited to):
*Peanut butter (English peanut butter is unsweetened and comes in teeny little jars, when what you want, if you’re me, is a half gallon)
*Tom’s of Maine toothpaste
*Ziploc bags (England has many products like them, but none as reliable for freezing hot chicken stock)
*Jeans (so much cheaper in New York than in London)
*Haircuts (I remained loyal to my favorite salon for many years after moving and still go there whenever I’m in New York, now only once or twice a year. Hi, Ricky!)
I made it back to New York 6-8 times a year back then, since I was still commuting to my publishing job there. So really, I had one foot in my home country for couple of years after moving to London. My list of must-see people, must-eat foods, and must-visit places was only eclipsed in length by my list of must-feel feelings: nostalgia, exhilaration, bereavement, caffeination. Safe to say, I had not really committed to my life in London yet.
It was only when I stopped commuting to New York and lived in London full time that I entered the third phase of my integration—acceptance. I found the London equivalents—or nearly enough—to the things I’d been missing. I discovered Bendick’s Bittermints; the joys of unsweetened almond butter (you can buy it by the kilo, that's 2.2 pounds, people); and John Bell and Croydon (they helped me let go of my Duane Reade addiction). Little by little, I simply forgot the way everything was before as I made new friends, put down roots by starting a family, and got a more balanced sense of my adopted city. Nine years after moving here, I know we made the right move coming here when we did. And the only two products I’m still importing are the toothpaste and Ziploc bags.
But if I were to move back to the US from England, my list would fill a page once again. On brief visits to London, I’d have my must-see people, must-eat foods, and must-visit places, only eclipsed in length by my list of must-feel feelings. This is the funny thing about being an expat: in the end, if you stay long enough in an adopted country, you’ll be just as disoriented on returning home as you were when you arrived.