Expats Move Home: What America Does Better

Thrifty Travel Mama | Expats Move Home: What I Like Better in AmericaNow that I’ve revealed all the things I miss about living in Deutschland, it’s time to confess that our time in Germany was not all natural beauty, biergartens, and brezeln.

In no particular order (because that just takes too much brain power which is currently being commandeered by small people), here’s what we think America does better.

German Kitchens

Let’s be honest: many German kitchens are miserably small. Do a quick Google image search for “German kitchen,” and you’ll be inundated with images of sleek, spacious cooking spaces.

People, this is not reality. I’ve never seen a kitchen like that outside of IKEA. Most German kitchens look like this (1, 2, 3). Typically, they are housed in a separate room, completely closed off from the rest of the living space, often with a door like the one to your bedroom.

German kitchens often feel like just another closet with the added bonus of running water. They’re small, cramped, and usually pieced together – a product of moving your entire kitchen with you when you change apartments. I do NOT miss my Barbie dream house kitchen with exactly 18” of counter space. Nope, not one bit.

Okay, a tiny part of me would love to have a sliding door on mine (you know, to bake and consume an entire batch of chocolate cupcakes without the three hungry little monsters noticing). But, the remaining 99% of me loves my open American kitchen with loads of counter space.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Expats Move Home: What I Like Better in America

A typical European-sized fridge.

Customer Service

Because of that whole thrifty thing, I have to REALLY like or need a product in order to spend money on it. Being picky means I rarely know if I like a certain something without seeing or trying it at home. Often, I end up schlepping the item back to the store for a refund.

In Germany, returning items was never simple, and it was often difficult or impossible outside of Amazon or big chain stores. Returning items in the US is a breeze, usually without any questions asked beyond, “Do you have your receipt?”. I love the American attitude that the customer is important, and it sure is nice that companies in the US work to earn and keep your business.


We don’t eat out very often for several reasons, but it’s mainly because cooking at home has become our habit.

In Freiburg, we only ate in a handful of restaurants because the food was usually bland AND expensive. We became accustomed to cooking from scratch all.the.time.

After Charlie was born, I longed for the ease of take-out or even a drive-thru that was not McDonalds or Burger King. No such luck.

Even though we still don’t frequent restaurants, we now have options. I don’t have to go searching for the one lone taco truck that serves the only decent food in town; I can just pull up reviews of local joints on my phone. Mexican, Indian, Persian, Korean – they’re all within reach, delicious, and often affordable.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Expats Move Home: What I Like Better in America

All Chipotle, all the time!

Oh, and while we’re at it…. let’s give an honorable mention to FREE REFILLS. Outside of Ikea, this just does not happen in Europe.

Feeling Like an Outsider

It’s one thing to be an outsider; it’s another to feel like one. I never expected to be German or to feel German, and I was okay with that.

But, what I never could have imagined was that my kids would be treated as outsiders, not once receiving a birthday or play-date invitation from fellow kindergarten pals in four years.


I didn’t like that my son’s educational prospects were grim just because he wasn’t a native speaker. And, it wasn’t particularly enjoyable to be stared out whenever I spoke English in public with my kids.

Though I still don’t feel quite at home in America, it’s not as hard to assimilate here. Making friends is simpler; birthday party invitations are easier to come by. I might always be a triangle, but cracking the social code is more manageable in the motherland.


Leaving a piece of your heart in another part of the world is just plain hard. Striving to see the good in where you are – right here and now – is vital to keeping your head above the depressing waters. There is good in every place if we only take the time to look hard enough for it.

If you’ve repatriated, what do you NOT miss about your host country? If you live in America, what do you love about living here?

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9 thoughts on “Expats Move Home: What America Does Better

  1. Fascinating stuff. I agree with just about everything for Rome. Our kitchen isn’t too terrible, but it is lacking in counter space. I have a bookshelf that I use as a pantry which worked out great until the baby started walking. Now I have random food products popping up around the house! I am grateful that there is room for a table in the kitchen because it is down the hall from the dining room. 50 trips back and forth for each meal would drive me bonkers.

    We did manage to return a vacuum cleaner once . . . after three different trips to the store. First, we were told it wasn’t clean enough. Dude, we cleaned it AND we bought the floor model. It was never clean to start with. (The next trip we forgot the charger so that was on us.) In the end, we were able to return it for store credit that we had to use within 60 days. Awesome.

    And YES on restaurants. We do have plenty of tasty restaurants around, but many open too late for the kiddos and I generally don’t feel like taking them to a two-hour dining event. I really miss easy, take out options, particularly any kind of ethnic food, which would definitely include Chipotle in these parts. 🙂

    • Hi Melissa,
      That’s awesome you were able to find a kitchen big enough to fit a table! We also used a few bookshelves in the kitchen for space – ha! I had forgotten how annoying it was to schlep everything from the kitchen to the dining room, so there’s another thing I don’t miss! 🙂 Rome needs to get on the European Chipotle wagon, but I guess I can see why they haven’t yet. Who goes to Rome for Mexican food?? Only expats 😉

  2. Must be hard if kids are not invited to join other kids! I was hoping us adults would let kids not care about different languages etc.

    About the kitchen: I always found it odd in Germany too that there people would take a long their kitchen when they move! Not here. Here the trend also is to have a kitchen as an open extension to the living room but in older houses you still have the tiny kitchens. I like being able to cook and have the kids play in the living room vut close enough for us to chat at the same time 🙂

  3. My wife and I spent the summer in Berlin and she caught onto most of your points pretty quickly! The only exception was feeling like an outsider; between all the tourists and just being Berlin, it felt a whole lot more homely than when I used to stay in Baden-Wurttemburg.

    We missed our ethnic identity. Through genetic happenstance, we look like Arabs. We get spoken to in Arabic by anyone that speaks any Arabic. We feel like we’re grouped with Arabs. But we’re not Arabs. We’re a racially ambiguous mixed Muslim family with a firmly American identity. But once we leave America, we’re Arabs.

    • Hi Al Abama,
      I found your experience in Berlin quite interesting, and now that I think about it, it makes perfect sense. Berlin is a fabulous melting-pot city with large populations of ethnic groups. We had many of these nationalities represented in Freiburg but on a much smaller scale. I can see now why you felt more at home in Berlin. For me, I always felt lost in the large population there, but I never spent more than a few days in that city.

  4. Hi, I live in Freiburg now. After living few years in US (Boston) and I do miss US like crazy.
    There are good things about Germany – sure, but the bad things are killing.
    The worst of all is the fact that I do have to stay here due to the father of my son, who has his work here.

    1. This about being always an outsider is a reality. My son was born here. I moved to the building where there are few other Kids.
    They play together with my son most of the time, but when they had birthday party in the backyard garden they did not invite my son although he brought them a gift on their birthday day. He has also not received even a small chocolate or card on his birthday, which was few weeks after.
    2. I don’t know if you had an experience looking for a job here, but if you decide to do anything else than your official education it’s almost impossible. You always need “Beruf” and the will to make changes in your life in not only welcomed it’s considered wrong.
    And the fact that you speak several languages but not native German is not bringing you any support.
    Also, if you do sth good from passion. Like sewing or upholstery or anything you cannot offer your services if you don’t have 3 years school giving you the “Beruf”= profession.
    You can even get a fine for trying to do so!
    3. Customer service here is a joke or better said it simply does not exist. I have a second bank-card which stopped to work in less than 12 months. I have it in the same wallet with 5 others bankcards, bahncard, and insurance cards, some already 4 years old. But only the second german card stopped to work after some time and the bank tries to put the blame on me! They claim I had had put the card on magnetic place and they want 30 euro!!! for issuing a new one.. Miraculously all other bank cards work…
    4. Finding a new apartment is incredibly difficult. We got a termination notice from the first apartment when my pregnancy started to be visible. “Eigenbedarf”.
    5. Moving to a new place with all things including sinks is a pain and brings a lot of expenses. I have now block-kitchen cabinets, which one can arrange how one wants. And I still had to left few in the basement as there is simply no place for them.

    God life is so much easier in US so don’t regret. Missing is one thing but living here…

    • Hi Katy,
      I’m sorry you are having such a tough time in Freiburg :(. It is very hard at the beginning and often hard at certain times after that. You’ve highlighted some excellent examples of difficult situations. I hope you will be able to endure it and find some friends to help you make it through the tough times. Hang in there :).

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