US trip, part II: what I’ve missed the most in the last year

After nearly a month visiting family in the States, I’m headed back to Geneva in a few days. This was my first trip back home since moving to Switzerland in 2019, and to be honest, I was a little apprehensive coming back, as international news coverage of American events in the past year has been, let’s say… less than flattering.

In the end, though, I’m really glad I made this trip. I got to see my family for the first time in over a year. I also got the Pfizer-BioNTech 5G chip implant, which people in Europe are still waiting impatiently for. There were some other things I had sorely missed, such as…

Air travel. I’m not a huge fan of flying, not just because of the environmental implications, but because of mild claustrophobia. In 2018 I had a panic attack on a plane leaving New Zealand, and I hadn’t been able to sit in the window seat since, always the aisle. This time, flying from Geneva to Paris, I didn’t have the option to choose my seat and I ended up in the window seat. Fortunately there was only one person between me and the aisle, and I did fine, focusing my attention on looking out the window and marveling at how much I’d missed the sight of clouds up close.

Over-the-counter medication. I’ve griped many times about how annoying it is to buy medication in Switzerland. Every time I need ibuprofen, I have to go to the pharmacy and ask the pharmacist to get it from behind the counter, and it’s always a tiny packet of 10 tablets. The week after I got back to the US, I went to CVS and bought a massive bottle of 1000 ibuprofen tablets, along with a bottle of 240 melatonin tablets. My coworker, who went back to the States a week before I did, bought a bottle of vitamins at Costco that was so large that she struggled to close her suitcase.

Just CVS in general. When I lived in DC, the nearest CVS was only two blocks away and I basically lived there. It was always open regardless of the time of day (what a novel concept!) and I bought e v e r y t h i n g there — sunscreen, hot pockets, hair ties, allergy meds, Arizona iced tea, dish soap. In Switzerland and France we have neighborhood convenience stores called tabacs, but they really only exist to sell tobacco, newspapers, chips and candy. When I went to the CVS near my parents’ house in Atlanta, my mind was blown by how well-stocked it was. They have half an aisle dedicated to Korean beauty. They sell face masks and bath bombs. They were also doing COVID tests and vaccinations inside the store. Is there anything that CVS can’t do at this point?

Target fruit snacks. This is a very specific thing that I’ve missed. The second day after I arrived in the US, I sat upright in bed at 3am, freshly awake from jetlag, and logged onto target.com to buy a giant 50-count box of these snacks. Once they arrived, I was slightly disappointed: the fruit snacks were slightly softer and gummier than I’d remembered. But they were still good.

Cheap clothing. My mom and I walked over to the neighborhood Goodwill to browse their selection one day. I’m starting a new job in June that will probably require me to be in the office more regularly, so I picked out four business casual blouses that I hoped would fit, since the dressing rooms were closed due to COVID. Luckily, they did. Each cost only $5.99, and the quality was excellent.

A cheap(er) haircut. I booked an appointment at an Asian-owned hair salon in Atlanta. The stylist was a funny, friendly Japanese lady who was around the same age as my mom. We talked about what it’s like to live in Switzerland (she has extended family there), Japan’s plans for the Olympics, and what things have been like for her and her colleagues since the mass shooting in March. She told me that Asian American students from the nearby university came by to talk to the salon workers and offer support, which she thought was really sweet. The haircut came out to $64, plus I gave a 20% tip. By comparison, my guy in Switzerland, Paul, charges 90 francs (or around $99) for a cut, and no tip is involved.

American Netflix. There are so many more good programmes on the US version of Netflix! They have Schitt’s Creek, for instance. And I’ve been hungrily binging Kim’s Convenience, a sitcom about a Korean-Canadian family that runs a convenience store in Toronto, while I still have access. I love how funny, quirky and relatable this show is. And on a related note, I was finally able to watch Minari, which I wasn’t able to purchase in Switzerland due to licensing issues. I thought it was okay.

Just being able to speak English again, oh my God. When my family and I went out to restaurants together, I would take the lead on ordering for the table, which felt so empowering after almost two years of feeling awkward and apologetic navigating daily life in my limited French. I managed to complete four French classes in these four weeks, but my heart really wasn’t in it; all I wanted to speak was English.

Some other random things that I missed:

  • Big, endless aisles in grocery stores that stretch on and on, with shelves that tower high above your head, overflowing with selections of every single product known to humanity. When I walked into Kroger yesterday, I felt like someone who had just time-travelled there from the USSR of the 1980s.
  • Good old southern food and southern hospitality. HUGE helpings. Big ole glasses of water (with ice!) that are brought to you automatically, free of charge.
  • Air conditioning. In Geneva, when it gets hot in the summer, we just… turn on the fan and hope for the best.
  • Ebay. I bought a pair of compression socks and they arrived in the blink of an eye.

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