I’ve been asked this question, and I think it’s only fair to address it: what are the things I miss about living in North America?
I could start by saying that I miss understanding people — the supermarket cashier, the tram conductor, my landlord. I marvel over how easy it used to be: you could just tell someone what you wanted or needed, without needing to rehearse your lines carefully or translate the response. You could listen to the endless chatter that fills your day, and quickly decide what’s important, and what’s not, instead of straining to process each syllable. You could easily do small talk. There is a flip-side to this, though: as a person who doesn’t understand a language, you can choose to adopt a zen attitude and let it just flow around you, like a senselessly babbling brook, as you luxuriate in your own private bubble of introspection. It doesn’t intrude on your thoughts if you don’t concentrate on it, because you don’t understand it. In fact, several expats have described the sensation of being overloaded by their native language when they return to their home countries. So, incomprehension can be good…but it would still be nice to know that I have the ability to order and obtain the exact sandwich that I want.
And speaking of food, I really miss sushi. I remember the first time Stelian and I tried it in 2007, our first spring in B.C. We were both thoroughly disgusted by the experience, and vowed never to repeat it. But it was hard to avoid, living in Vancouver: it popped up on various occasions, and we tried it – gingerly – again and again, until it was like a switch flipped, and I realized I was craving it. And from that point on, we ate it regularly — often once a week. It was fresh, cheap, healthy, and capable of satisfying that umami taste bud in a way few other things can. But alas, we’re in a landlocked country now, and when you do see sushi sold in restaurants, it’s ridiculously expensive.
A food that that is curiously missing from Zürich (considering how easily you can obtain marzipan carrots, whole vanilla beans, and other specialty baking items), is brown sugar. Well, they have “brown sugar” here, but what that means is granulated brown cane sugar, which is not the same as the moist, packable sugar that Canadians depend on for baking and sweetening things like oatmeal (which I’ve already discussed my obsession with). Stelian is headed to the UK today, for some meetings at a game studio there. He’s only staying two nights, but I’ve urged him to find time to visit a supermarket in order to bring home some real brown sugar!
Lastly, after living in Vancouver for a bit more than four years, I miss the ocean. Sure, there’s a lake here, and it’s very pretty. But it isn’t the ocean. The ocean smells different. It is more temperamental; it is much more wild and uncontained than Zürich’s pretty little lake. When we lived in downtown Vancouver, I ran along the seawall at all times of year. Often, in the winter, I had long stretches of it to myself, passing only the odd other runner as I went. The feeling of being alone in a big city with a huge wall of rock on one side and so much water on the other…well, few things could match it. I witnessed the most beautiful sunsets and moonrises while running around the ocean, and had some great moments privately observing otters, raccoons, crows, or other wildlife.
But again, I’m not complaining, and I’m not ready to come back yet. I’m eating very well, despite the foods I miss, and Zürich takes your breath away in different ways, such as with the magnificence of its architecture. Besides, summer will be upon us before long, and I can’t wait to see what kind of hiking and adventuring will ensue.