The Taste of Home: What I'm Still Importing, Nine Years After Moving to London
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)
*Cheez-Its (for a friend)
*Toll House Morsels (available at Panzer’s and Partridge’s at a 300% mark-up)
*Cliff Bars (now suddenly available almost everywhere)
*The contents of the J Crew catalog (now available in London, at a 50% mark up)
*Junior Mints and Peppermint Patties (isolated sightings)
*Cetaphil lotion (available in London, but I hadn’t found it yet)
*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.