It’s the Little Things That Stick After Living Abroad

After unsuccessfully trying to stuff my duvet into my new cover this morning I had to laugh. I’ve been using a duvet since I was a teenager living in Germany and all these years later I still suck at duvet wrangling.

Why don’t I give up on the duvet and go back to the sheets and bedspread I grew up with? Because using a duvet reminds me of living in Germany. (And, practically speaking, I’m lazy and it’s so much easier to make the bed each day using a duvet.)

Thinking about why I still use a duvet made me realize that there are a bunch of little things from my life in Germany that I still incorporate into my life at home today. Here are a few off the top of my head:

  • The way I write certain letters (k, n, and u – I still tend to write these the German way)
  • I eat real butter and real whipped cream (as opposed to the margarine and Cool Whip I grew up with)
  • Using a knife and fork the European way when I eat (although…I have gone back to eating pizza with my hands rather than with a knife and fork)
  • I still buy bread fresh from the bakery and slice it myself at home
  • Drinking carbonated water (and using far less ice in my drinks than I used to)
  • Expecting certain German words to pop into my head before the ones English do
  • Having at least 10 fountain pens in my desk drawer
  • Making my favorite German dessert (Rote Grüze) every summer

These little things not only made me feel connected to my life abroad, they helped me integrate forward after I returned to the US. They’re also a small component of how I live a global life in my home country today.

Those fountain pens make me smile whenever I open my desk drawer. Buying fresh bread and slicing it at home feels familiar in a good way. These little things from my life in Germany keep my experiences abroad alive.

What are some other examples? I asked some returnees about the little things from their life abroad that they incorporate into their life at home. Here’s what they shared:

1. I’ve unconsciously brought back some cultural mannerisms and or habits which I learned abroad such as bowing slightly when I greet someone… having traveled with a lot of Australian and Irish backpackers I’ve picked up the colloquialisms of saying “ a wee bit” and or “mate”. (Hannah)

2. In Spain, I also use food as a way to connect to the US. On Saturdays and Sundays, when I need comfort food, I make French toast or pancakes for breakfast. (Mary Frances)

3. I think the most powerful things I can hold onto are lifestyle decisions that evoke the moods and emotions from my experiences: hanging out in a coffee shop and people-watching instead of doing work, maintaining my language skills through podcasts and music, attending museums and other cultural arts performances/installations regularly. (Alexis)

4. I still import tea bags from the UK and get my news from the BBC. (Bayta)

5. Every once in a while I will find myself making Filipino hand gestures or using a fork and spoon while eating. (Hannah)

6. A few things that have stayed with me from my time in France are: taking more device-free walks and opening my eyes and ears to my surroundings; spending time doing nothing, i.e. sitting at a park or cafe and people-watching; finding the extraordinary in the ordinary (seeing things from a new perspective); the beauty of long, slow conversations with friends; and an overall appreciation for the slower aspects of life. (Jack)

7. I have a collection of recipes I gathered during my travels, so I pull one out whenever I feel nostalgic for a place or friend I no longer get to see. (Madelyn)

8. I definitely started wearing tights, skirts, and dresses much more often because of my time in London, they are very much ahead in their fashion and I loved the way people dressed there. I also started drinking cider. (Colleen)

9. I use chopsticks when I go to nicer asian restaurants, and say “itadakimasu” before I start eating… When I have time, I will eat with my right hand. I’m not right-handed. (Darren)

10. Instead of saying “Good Morning!” automatically go to say, “Labas Rytas!” which is the Lithuanian greeting for the morning. I’ve found myself incorporating little phrases like this one into my vocabulary. (Sofia)

11. I say ciao ciao when I say goodbye.  I eat pizza with a knife and a fork. I listen to tango, rock from Argentina, and Papos Blues, a famous blues singer. (Ericka)