I’m American. As an American who spent 11 years learning Greek and doing everything else humanly possible to flee the United States permanently, “my fellow Americans” don’t usually think of me as a particularly patriotic specimen, and they’d be right. But just because I spend my time in the US whining about how much better things are in Greece (even when that’s blatantly not true), it doesn’t make me any less American. Because you either are, or you aren’t. I have a US passport, I was born in Washington, DC, and I pay taxes to the IRS.
I much prefer living in Greece. I didn’t do this for any other reason than that I like it here. But there are a few things that I genuinely miss. Some of them can be sent over or brought over in a suitcase, some of them I just have to live without. I decided to come up with a list of them, for your amusement. Ask yourself: could I live without these things?
-Ziploc bags. All sizes and varieties. They are not sold in this country.
-Saccharin sweetener. I can’t use aspartame (which we do have here), because I lack the enzyme to detect its sweetness (or something like that), and saccharin, the oldest and most harmless of sweeteners, is classed as an illegal carcinogen here.
-Cellophane / plastic wrap. Yes, you can buy it here, but it’s crap. It sticks to itself when you don’t want it to. It’s like the plastic wrap we had in the US 20 years ago, that always left you with a weird feeling of angst and struggle.
-Tampons. Again, they are available, although they only represent about 2% of the “feminine care products” in any typical store’s selection (the 98% being made up of the old pantyliner thingies that we American girls have been shunning for at least two decades). The ones they sell here are the really old kind and are yucky.
-Fake maple syrup. You can get real maple syrup (it’s expensive, though) but sometimes I just want the fake low-sugar / low-calorie kind.
-Whole-berry cranberry sauce. I think I might start to cry if I don’t just move on.
-All those over-priced but low calorie and easy to prepare premade foods like VitaMuffins, BocaBurgers, and so on. I can’t even buy a frozen veggie burger here. I may need to get my mom’s 35-step veggie burger recipe.
-Bagels. Especially raisin bagels, but really, any bagels. They started selling chive and onion cream cheese and now I just put that on bread or crackers and pretend I’m eating an everything bagel with chive and onion cream cheese, and it’s okay.
-One-piece swimsuits. I had a severe sunburn on my stomach a few years ago, and that, combined with my surgery scars from this spring, make me happier covering up my midsection on the beach. But one-piece swimsuits, or even two-piece swimsuits with any kind of boob support, are not sold here. However, your triangle bikini needs will be met, and then some.
-Naked ginger. This is now almost impossible to find in the US as well, so I may have to give up on it. It is crystallized ginger without the sugar crystals, and is my favorite thing ever. Sob.
-More stuff: barbecue sauce, horseradish, sugar free stuff of all kinds, flavor extracts aside from vanilla.
Wow, I miss a lot of food items.
Things I miss that can’t be packed in a suitcase:
-Being able to flush toilet paper down the toilet. This is an annoying problem in Greece. You can’t actually flush the paper. You’re supposed to throw it in the trash. That means you have to take out the bathroom trash on a pretty much constant basis, and it’s also kind of gross. I’m totally used to it, but I wouldn’t say no if they said I could start flushing the stuff.
-Customer service. The whole idea of “the customer is always or at least sometimes right”. The concept of returning something you bought and decided you don’t want (even if you don’t have an extremely good reason).
-Buying things online. This has failed to take off in Greece, for unknown reasons, and I miss it. I miss Amazon so much. And it would be nice to be able to reserve a train ticket on the internet, instead of having to go to the train station.
-Lack of bureaucracy. Not until you’ve lived through the Greek bureaucracy (or died trying) do you have a concept of what it means to say “Greek red tape.” The US doesn’t have a bureaucracy at all (at least, not that we come into contact with as citizens), and a life lived without red tape is such blissful ignorance. I miss those days of changing my address with little more fanfare than a 20-second visit to the USPS website, or getting health insurance in under 3 weeks and visits with 17 different government officials.
-Items on sale. Things are always on sale in the US. Don’t believe me? Go to a place like Kohl’s or Best Buy. Look around. Chances are, almost everything in the store is marked down. In Greece, nothing is ever on sale, with the exception of an end-of-season sell-off in January and August for a limited time when they get rid of old stuff no one wants. At grocery stores, instead of finding your shampoo on sale, it will likely be bundled with a free conditioner bottle. What if you don’t want that conditioner? Too bad.
-Caffeine-free Diet Coke, Ginger Ale, and any other caffeine-free beverage. I’m allergic to caffeine, sort of. It makes me sick, but it doesn’t make me die. So when I go out and want something other than bottled water or tap water, I have to order … soda water. Because that’s all there is. I could get fresh squeezed orange juice but that shit is expensive here. I miss diet ginger ale and caffeine free diet coke and crystal light lemonade. It’s not realistic to pack things like this so I can’t consider this importable.
-Gyms for people who like to work out. Before I got really sick in 2008, I used to be involved in the sport of powerlifting, which meant I spent hours every day lifting weights. Now all my muscles have turned into flab from not being able to work out, but that’s for a different post. I have belonged to three gyms in Greece, and they all more or less sucked. The equipment is mediocre, the staff is trained up to the standard of about 1995, and the regulars are no better. I’ve never seen a power cage in Greece (that’s a weightlifting thing that weightlifting people like).