What I haven’t missed about the USA

Living abroad means you occasionally feel homesick and miss things from home when you’re away. I always miss the endless food choices, and my friends and family but while enjoying a Vietnamese lunch of chicken curry and noodles in Berlin, I pondered all the things I haven’t missed about the USA. The differences between Spain and the place I call home.

Considering I’ve only been home a week and haven’t ventured far from the house, I’m sure there are plenty more I think up in the coming weeks.

I’m also curious to hear your opinions and what you don’t miss!

Driving:

I haven’t missed my car. Nor have I missed paying for gas and car insurance.  I loved that I lived in a city where I could walk everywhere- to my job, to private classes, to cafés, to go out at night, and to friend’s houses. And if I wanted to venture out for the day, there were buses to take me there.  I enjoy car rides but being in Spain and Basque Country means any opportunity to go for a drive is   novelty!

Bambus (Bus Almeria Madrid) comfy, has wifi, shows films... 25 Euros each way

Commuting:

I have a vision that one day in the USA I won’t be dependent on my car for getting around, I just haven’t found the right city yet (or maybe if SF was affordable, it would be the place). I’ve been lucky to live in a European city where everything is walk-able- no need to sit in rush hour traffic or commute to work by car or public transit. Hoping I can recreate this lifestyle here despite the big difference in how cities are designed in the States.

Duff Beer, the beer of Homer Simpson!

Duff Beer, the beer of Homer Simpson!

Bars and Clubs close too early:

When I came home last summer, I remember getting ready at 9pm so we could be out in SF by 10:30/11pm to avoid lines and cover charges. The bar dance floor filled up soon after and we were shaking our groove thing until bartenders announced “last call” at 1:30am. I thought, “damn, if I were in Spain, the bar would just be filling up about now and the dancing hasn’t even started.” However, this time around in Spain I danced a lot less because when the dancing got started at 3am, I was usually ready to call it a night an hour or two before.

I love the late nights in Spain but don’t always love the exhausted and recuperating lost Sundays.

 Quick meals:

I’ve been home a week and notice that when I eat with my parents our meals- both lunch and dinner are always 30 minutes or less. It’s customary in the States meals are something that are quick, often an after thought. I’m grateful I grew up in a household that valued meal times and family time. Yet after a year and half in Spain and Basque Country, it’s a slight adjustment to go from (often) lengthy meals/chatting around the table to a short 30 minutes.

 

White wine and a mini pintxo of cheese

White wine and a mini pintxo of cheese

Alcohol is expensive:

I’ve never been much of a drinker but have found when I travel or am living abroad my habits change. It’s not that the USA doesn’t have a drinking culture- we do- but I find for me it’s a mix of cost and driving. Whenever I go out with my friends, one of us always is the Designated Driver (DD), since we don’t have the flexibility of walking home and cab-ing it just doesn’t make sense unless you’re in SF. The benefit of this, is I not only feel better in the morning and my wallet doesn’t’ take a big hit. Half the time, I find it hard to justify spending $8-10 on a glass of wine or a mixed drink when lunch costs the same. If I have to choose, I prefer eating over drinking.

After two years on the Iberian Peninsula, I have a new appreciation for beer and drinking wine. I’m no expert but give me a crisp, slightly fruity white wine and I’m happy. Wine is cheap. Beer is cheap and while the glasses are certainly smaller than half pints and pints that we’re accustomed to in the States and in other areas of Europe, the price you pay is substantially smaller. When a Coca-Cola costs 2.20 and a glass of wine is between 1.30-2 euros, which one are you likely going to choose?

Higher cost cell phone service:

I realize just how spoiled I’ve been to be able to have data on my phone for about $12 a month. With all the apps that allow you to communicate with your friends back home, such as Whatsapp, Viber and Skype, the need for text and talk time isn’t as necessary. Or if you had a “half an iphone” that had an old operating system that you couldn’t upgrade due to unlocking it and couldn’t’ download many apps, I relied on the landline phone that is very common in Spain, often free landline service is included when you have internet. Now I’ve been overwhelmed with the latest smartphones that would be more aptly named super mini tablets with a laptop price and $50-70 plans you can’t really escape. The pay as you go hasn’t really taken off in the States like it has in Europe and despite all the cool apps to allow you to chat for free to wherever your friends are in the world,  I find those apps seem to mean less in the States.

Darn it.

Health Insurance:

Welcome back, you’re country doesn’t care about you that much, pay up! Is the sentiment I feel in the States about health care. …). Like any country, there are great things and not so great things and I can’t comprehend how a country as powerful as the USA doesn’t take care of it’s own citizens and has made medical care profitable and privatized. Sure there’s this Obama health care plan but is it really going to help me? Or force me to pay for something that may not meet my needs?

Before I left for Spain I was without health coverage after a mix up with my insurance company that left me annoyed and angry, I took the risk of not being covered for 2 years. Knock on wood. I was grateful for having coverage while in Spain and I can’t tell you much about how their medical coverage compares because I never once went to the doctor. I likely should have taken full advantage.

Tipping:

I know this is a complicated and controversial topic in the States.

It took a few weeks for me to get used to the idea of not tipping in Spain. Waiters receive a monthly salary that is mandated by the government. Culturally, it’s not customary to leave a percentage of the bill as a tip like it is in the USA. Occasionally Spaniards leave a little change, often if it’s a group and the change isn’t worth dividing among everyone or they feel the server did a good job.  But… it’s not obligatory.

I’ll admit I’ve never been a server but I have worked as a hostess. It’s crossed my mind several times when I’ve known folks who’ve made more as a runner or a server than I made with my 32 hour after-school program teaching job. No one gave me a “tip” for doing my job so I find difficult every time I go out to eat in a restaurant or even semi-fast food style eateries  where there are plenty of subliminal and obvious messages that a tip would be nice and expected. You know the it’s  “not-obligatory but you feel like you better leave something or you’re a fill-in-the-blank and not following customary rules” type of feeling. The feeling where workers now expect if they have a food service job, whether it’s making a latte, a rum and coke or taking your order, that a tip will be left for them. Then again, I’m reminded I live in a bubble. California is one of seven states that requires restaurants to pay minimum wage  ($8hr state or if you live in SF, $9.14). I think all states should require restaurants to pay workers a minimum of minimum wage and tips should be something earned for good service not expected with mediocre service. (I get it, even at minimum wage, it’s near impossible to survive in SF and it’s  certainly a different story for the other 43 states where restaurants are allowed  to grossly underpay their servers with the federal minimum wage of $2.13 and rely on patrons to help pay the rest of their earnings. A little research makes me realize this issue is quite complicated and not so simple.

However, I still find it difficult we have such a tipping culture for “service” jobs where we’ve stepped it up and tip out of obligation rather than rewarding excellent service. Excellent service isn’t as common these days and when I experience it, I notice it, always reward it and compliment the person.

 

What are things you don’t miss when you’re abroad about your country?

 

 

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11 thoughts on “What I haven’t missed about the USA

  1. I completely agree with most of those! Driving and commuting? Love not having to worry about it when I’m out of the country! Ditto cheap booze and being able to stay out late. Like you, I don’t go out much at home because it’s too damn expensive. But abroad, I can get pretty spoiled by it.

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  3. Pretty much everything on this post I agree with except the bars closing too early. I’m not a huge bar/club person (more bars though) and I usually like to leave after about an hour. We don’t really have that problem though in NYC of clubs closing too early (typically they close around 4-5 AM).

    I remember the summer I came home in between my master’s and teaching English. I forgot to tip at the restaurant because I got so used to not tipping! The waiter was also a jerk about it too and demanded the tip telling us “You forgot to include the tip.” And basically stood there as I rifled around in my bag looking to give him a few extra bucks.

    You won’t get one from me if you ask it like that! Next time I will be more aggressive about it.

  4. Welcome Home Lauren! Unfortunately, I have not traveled like you, but these are probably things most people would not miss! So, what did you miss?

  5. Those are all definitely things I don’t miss either! Tipping in California drives me crazy, because the waiters DO make minimum wage there. I get it in other places where they make like $2 an hour, but I agree with you that the simplest solution is just to stop paying people an illegally low wage and trying to justify it. Actually, I’m not sure how that’s even allowed.

    I also hate how the tax isn’t included in the ticket price. If you’re going out for dinner and have to add in the tax plus the absurd 20% tip, your meal suddenly gets a lot more expensive! (Not to mention any wine or beer costs…).

    Hope you’re readjusting well to California life! 🙂

  6. #1 thing i don’t miss about the states – the health care system! and i second the food stuff – i get fresh, affordable food in ecuador. also, traveling in the states is a pain in the ass.

    • Love your honest response about what you don’t miss either. Though there is plenty of fresh food in California (I’m spoiled), it’s often pricey, especially when you want to support your local farmers. And true, you need a car to travel in the states!

  7. Great post! Exactly the things that I don’t miss, too! The Spanish lifestyle was an adjustment at first, but after 11 months, I think it will be an adjustment to get back to the States. Another thing that I don’t miss is more unhealthy foods and preservatives. The food here just makes you feel so much better inside.

  8. Very thought provoking post. I haven’t lived anywhere else and the Health Care issue here is driving me insane, so much so that I can barely tolerate discussing it. Hopefully over the next several years positive changes will come about. Fingers crossed. Albeit that, I love living in the States.

    I enjoyed reading about the other things you don’t miss about the States but also read them from the perspective as things you loved about Spain.

    And yes, I very much appreciated the inexpensive delicious wine in Spain during my visit. I miss that!!!

  9. Another thoughtful, insightful post Lauren! Yes, there are so many wonderful things about the states and also a few elements that seem very unfair and backward, and I think you nailed it with healthcare and tipping! So you pay tax on your income, with no public health system and an economy that asks its customers to pay the wages of customer service staff. Hang on?! The good thing is change is coming, however slow, people are waking up and that is a good thing. This is not a country bashing btw, I do love visiting your country!!

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