Friday, October 28, 2022

There’s an old adage, adopted from the title of a 1940 Thomas Wolfe novel, that declares, “You can never go home again.” 

But what if your new “home” is in a new place?

Since moving back to the U.S. in August 2021, I’ve been trying to figure out my new home in Charlotte, North Carolina. After living abroad for 11 years as an expat with “homes” in Istanbul, Warsaw, Melbourne and London, hubby and I moved back to the US for his new job opportunity. I’ve gotten used to moving around even though I lived the first 23 years of my life in Nebraska, a nice place to live but one I couldn’t wait to escape. I wanted to live in a big city and see the world, and I’ve done all that. 

So, now what?  


The truth is that London had become like a second home, a familiar place where a lot of amazing things happened in my life and where I established some wonderful friends. I really miss my former life, at times, and sometimes feel out of place being an American in America. It’s probably difficult for most people to understand unless you’ve moved away from where you’re from. However, I’m always the optimist, and I’ve tried to embrace our new city, reconnect with old friends and get out and explore as much as possible.

Autumnal view in our new city of Charlotte, North Carolina.

But here’s a list of 7 Shocking Things Moving Back to US from Abroad


1. Everything in the U.S. is BIGGER!

Americans seem to like big trucks and even bigger houses. The average home in Charlotte is about 4,000 square feet – about 370 square meters. I wouldn’t even know what to do with all that space! In London, we lived in a 2.5-bedroom flat that was about 105 square meters (1,130 square feet), which lacked much closet space, but we made it work.

Today, in Charlotte, we rent a 3-bedroom apartment that measures 1,500 square feet (about 140 square meters) with a large balcony. We have closets or storage space in every room, so much so, that parts are unused. Americans don’t know how lucky they are to actually have space. In London, we had a storage space under the stairs called the “Harry Potter closet” that was stuffed with items we didn’t use very often and was a pain to access if we did want to use something.

I’m grateful for our spacious apartment.

2. America is built for cars and public transportation doesn’t exist.

When we first arrived in Charlotte, we bought hybrid bikes before we bought cars for two reasons. First, we quickly realized that U.S. public transportation is nearly non-existent outside of big cities like NYC and Washington DC. Charlotte does have two light rail lines, but unless you live near them, they won’t help you much. So, I’ve learned to cycle on the haphazard streets and bike paths here. Secondly, buying a car was difficult as demand was high, and supply was low due to issues stemming from the pandemic.

Hubby and me cycling in Charlotte.

After two months of being carless and transporting groceries on my bike, I bought a used Mini – thus bringing a piece of London back into my American life. My ‘lil Lizzie is perfect for city life.

3. Prices for some things are more expensive here vs. London.

An American pint of craft beer in Charlotte costs about $7USD on average for 16 ounces compared to £5-6 for 20 ounces (the size of an Imperial pint) in London. So basically, we pay more for less beer here in the U.S – on average. Also, most UK pubs and restaurants serve large pours of wine – 250ml or 8 fluid ounces – while the average size of a U.S. wine pour is just 6 ounces.

Additionally, when we first moved from London to Charlotte, I felt like groceries were very expensive here. Sometimes, I’ve paid nearly $1 for one lemon or one lime, when I used to get a whole bowl of citrus for £1 in London.

Our local fruit and veg stand in London sold bowls of fruit very cheaply.

But over the past year, I’ve discovered that prices are increasing in both the UK and the US, partly due to the pandemic and the Ukrainian-Russian war. In September, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics announced that the Consumer Price Index, which measures changes in the cost of food, housing, gasoline, utilities, and other goods, rose by 8.2 percent over the past 12 months in August — nearly a 40-year-high. The UK is also dealing with high inflation rates.

Excerpt from The Economist magazine 2022.

4. U.S. domestic flights are very expensive!

Since we lived abroad for so long, we’re now trying to catch up with our old American friends and our family. However, we’re finding it more difficult and expensive to do so. In May, we paid $700 each for flights to meet up with a friend in September in Albuquerque, New Mexico, whom I hadn’t seen since 2016. Even when travelling locally in North Carolina, hotel prices average $200-300 a night. We both don’t remember U.S. travel costing so much! Is this the result of a post-pandemic world?

When we lived in London, we had access to five main airports and could easily travel to numerous European destinations for less than $100 each. On one of my last girl trips in July 2021, I flew roundtrip to Dublin, Ireland, for only £50 (currently $60USD), but sometimes Ryanair advertises flights for only £5.

 5. U.S. healthcare does seem better.

I’ll stipulate that the type of healthcare you receive in the U.S. all depends on how good your insurance coverage is. Fortunately, the coverage from hubby’s new job appears to be outstanding. While I appreciated the “free” NHS system in the UK, it does have its faults, mainly that it takes a long time to see a specialist. Since I’m over 45 now, I was eligible to get a colon cancer screening, mammogram, and skincare check at a dermatologist – all at a very low cost in the U.S. The UK (generally) doesn’t start doing mammograms until a woman turns 50. I know too many friends in their 40s who have had breast cancer scares, and I don’t want to be one of them.

 My only complaint here is that my thyroid meds are more costly in the US. In the UK, I used to pay £25 for 6 months’ worth of meds compared to $12 per month in the US – approximately 2.4 times increase in costs. But since this is the only medicine that I take, I’m quite lucky.

 6. U.S. companies are stingy with vacation days.

In my part-time job, which is under 30 hours per week, I’m not eligible for ANY paid time off. When I want a day off, it’s unpaid. However, in the UK, the system in the hospitality industry allowed me to earn paid time off depending on how many hours I worked. And, even though my husband is working in an upper management position here in the U.S., he receives 21 days of paid holiday compared to 25 days in the UK.

 7. Decorating like crazy for every holiday.

People living in the UK and Europe don’t decorate very much for the holidays like we do here in America. (And I think the reason why is that people just don’t have storage space.) You’ll see some Halloween decorations in London, but nothing like what I see here in North Carolina with giant inflatable pumpkins and black cats in every yard. It’s honestly a bit overwhelming to walk into Target, At Home or any other large home store and see aisle after aisle filled with Halloween or Christmas décor. I’m enjoying seeing the decorations as I drive through my city, but it’s definitely a shock after living in such a different environment for so many years.

I’m sure there are other things that I’ve found different moving back to the U.S. I understand that it also takes time to settle into what once was a very familiar environment. I’ve heard of reverse culture shock, but I didn’t realize that’s what I would experience once we moved back. So, if you’re reading this and you know me, please be kind and know that I do enjoy living in America at times, but I also miss my other “homes.”


Have you ever experienced reverse culture shock?

My Traveling Joys

View of Uptown Charlotte at night from one of the rooftop bars.

Saturday, January 29, 2022

Looking back at 2021 is tough as it was filled with a never-ending lockdown in the United Kingdom and several losses.

Volunteering, sourdough baking, making restaurant meal kits and cooking helped fill the voids, but those were temporary fixes. Losing a loved one is always difficult.

2021 started with Britain officially leaving the European Union, and some crazy Americans storming the U.S. capitol 2 weeks before U.S. President Joe Biden took office.

We celebrated Biden’s inauguration from London with homemade hamburger buns, hamburgers, mac-n-cheese from a box and freshly baked apple pies.

Another Zoom cooking class from Africa to London.

On March 26th, we celebrated another wedding anniversary in lockdown by cooking up a Caribbean feast at home. We made jerk chicken and Jamaican peas and rice. Hey, might as well try to “travel” somewhere, right?

The UK lockdown dragged on until April 12th when pubs and restaurants with outdoor seating could FINALLY reopen – after being closed since mid-December 2020. On April 12th, I also received my second Covid-19 vaccine that day, and we left London as fast as we could. We were itching for a break from the city, so we hired a car and headed to North Yorkshire for almost 2 weeks. Our holiday was filled with long walks and afternoon/early evening pub visits so long as we were fully bundled up in layers. It was pretty chilly out.

You don’t realize how much of your UK life revolves around the pub until you can’t go anymore. Not that we were total boozers, but we often went on long walks or bike rides on the weekends and then stopped at a local pub for a drink and food.

During our Yorkshire staycation, the locals at the Fox & Hounds Inn in the wee village of West Witton made us feel welcome.

At the end of April, we had a family emergency in the US and we flew back for nearly a month. It was a very sad and devastating time for us all.

Summer 2021

The summer of 2021 was filled with many summer BBQs with friends in London, fine dining experiences and as many English side trips we could fit in…because it was to be our last summer in London.

In June, we visited Stonehenge and, on the drive, back to London, we booked a tour at the Bombay Sapphire Distillery. Living in the UK for five years taught me to enjoy gin. Sitting in the sunshine enjoying our gin cocktails and eating a picnic box filled with local cheeses and charcuterie felt like perfection!

Having been deprived of restaurants for so many months, we decided to treat ourselves to a few Michelin-starred lunches and dinners.

We booked a belated birthday lunch at Marcus where we enjoyed 3 courses for £55. Highlights were English asparagus with roasted chicken fat mayonnaise, roasted salmon with Cornish new potatoes and a buttermilk panna cotta with cherries for dessert.

Then, we joined our Turkish friends at Murano, Chef Angela Harnett’s one-Michelin starred restaurant in Mayfair, for a fabulous five-course dinner. Highlights included crispy veal sweetbread with artichoke and fennel, risotto with summer truffles and a perfectly-cooked beef fillet with bone marrow and black garlic.

In July, we managed to squeeze in one last trip to Scotland to sightsee and visit our friends in the Scottish Highlands. On our first night, we stayed in a 19th-century manor house that looked like a castle called the Kincraig Castle Hotel, just north of Inverness. Our lovely dinner included local scallops with pickled samphire and roast apple, Scottish lamb with watercress pesto and local cheeses for dessert. Delicious!

At the end of July, my husband moved back to the US to start his new job, I stayed on in London to wrap up our international move and to spend more time with friends. I was reluctant to leave. We had lived abroad for 11 years and now we were returning to the US. I felt like a foreigner in both places, but London had been my “home” for the last five years.

One special goodbye lunch was with my pastry girlfriend the elegant Hélène Darroze, a three-Michelin starred restaurant at The Connaught Hotel. There were too many dishes to remember, but highlights included my main of roasted Welsh lamb and the desserts. Dining here is a definitely an experience that you won’t forget!

TIP: Often, fine dining restaurants like the ones I’ve mentioned offer incredible lunch deals, which are usually a fraction of the cost of dinner. Also, look for special menus posted on restaurant’s websites or through reservations sites such as Opentable.

Looking back, I had a lot of delicious meals with good friends during my last few weeks in London. Whether we were having sushi, fancy cocktails or market hall lunches or country-side pub lunches, it all seemed special.

Moving back to the U.S.

At the end of August, I said a tearful goodbye to the good friends I stayed with my last week in London and joined my husband in Charlotte, North Carolina. I’ve written about NC before on the blog because that’s where my in-laws live. Since we’ve lived outside of the U.S. for 11 years, we decided that was probably time to live closer to family for a while.

So far, Charlotte seems like an alright place to live for a few years. The metropolitan population is around 2.6 million people, so it’s a small city for us. We’re having fun checking out the local breweries and restaurants. Two dining highlights from 2021 revolved around smoked meat. Since we’re in the South, we’re taking advantage of all the really good barbecue joints.

In October, we dined at Supperland, an old church that’s been converted to a barbecue restaurant, for hubby’s birthday. Highlights included grilled oysters with burnt ember butter that was poured out a ceramic teapot (outstanding!), charred broccoli with bone marrow butter and grilled lamb neck. We’ll definitely be dining here again.

That same weekend, we also had a friend visiting us from Austin, Texas, who had read about a popular barbecue place about 45 minutes outside of Charlotte. Jon G’s Barbecue, located in the rural town of Peachland, is only open on Saturdays and serves BBQ until it runs out. We arrived at 9:30 a.m. with our camping chairs and cooler in tow. This was one of the strangest, but also coolest things we had done all for the sake of good food.

Basically, everyone hangs out in an orderly line, talking to your neighbors and then you get to order your BBQ. We waited in line a little over 2 hours, but so far, this has been the best damned BBQ that I’ve ever had. We ordered a little bit of everything off the menu – pulled pork, smoked turkey breast, homemade sausages, mouthwatering brisket and side dishes. Even the “cowboy candy” – jalapeno slices cooked in simple syrup – was a delight!

Well, 2021 was an interesting year – filled with a lot of highs and lows due to the ongoing pandemic. I’m hoping that 2022 will be a little bit kinder to us and that we’ll continue to eat well.