Top Ten Signs You Know You’re in North America, not Europe

Five and a half years of living in Europe changed me. Not all of the change was deep, spiritual change; some of it was simply “I’ve learned how to do life differently” change. And it’s in that vein that I give you my top ten because after several months back in America, there are still things that surprise me about my passport country. (This list is in no particular order.)

1. The road in front of your house is wide enough for you to make a U-turn, instead of having to make a ten-point turn. However, your parking skills have greatly improved because parking as close to the curb as possible is vital for keeping your car from being dinged or scratched or hit in Europe.

2. The parking spaces at the mall seem big enough for a car and a half. In fact, everything is massive from the kitchen sink to the washing machine to the SUV next to you at the stoplight. And when you watch House Hunters International, you secretly laugh at the expectations people moving to Europe have when it comes to how much space is necessary for life.

3. Laundry day doesn’t involve your kitchen. The additional storage space available in a kitchen when the washing machine isn’t one of several appliances in the space is wonderful!

4. Toilet seat covers are available in public restrooms. This seems like a luxury at the airport and is one of the first signs you are “home.”

5. The M&M section of the candy aisle contains more than two or three options. While this is wonderful, this could also lead to a mini-meltdown when trying to decide which kind to buy. To say nothing of all of the other new options in the grocery store, especially in the candy and snack aisles.

6. Speaking of chocolate, the chocolate doesn’t taste nearly as good as it did in Europe, and you wish you had brought some of the good stuff back with you in your carry-on.

7. All of the clothes you purchased in Europe last spring are in style in the US this spring, which means you save money and are fashionable without trying.

8. Your weekend adventures don’t include a quick flight or train ride to another country. Trips to Paris or Madrid are replaced by road trips to visit financial partners and possibly an organizational conference.

9. Paying with one dollar bills instead of one or two Euro coins confuses you and drastically reduces the number of coins you have in your purse. This should make your purse feel lighter, but you continue to keep a reusable bag for shopping in it, even though it isn’t as necessary in North America as it is in Europe.

10. Everything, even $4/gallon gas, seems cheap because you are no longer factoring in an exchange rate in your head. However, you tend to forget that sales tax is added when you purchase items and isn’t automatically included in the price. This might lead to double-checking receipts when leaving Target because you feel like you were overcharged for an item.

Can anyone else relate to this list? What would you add to this list for Europe or what would your list look like for where you’ve been serving?


  1. Ellie June 18, 2015

    Haha Laura! I think I would find America a huge jump in terms of space as we’re from the UK and work in Spain – I hope I get to experience M&M confusion sometime and the spacious houses out there someday! (I enjoy watching programs like “Love it or list it” and marvelling at the possibility of a basement you can make into a huge living space. ;))

    Two of the biggest changes we notice when we’re back in the UK from Spain are the driving (people actually stop at red lights and it’s not okay to triple park with your hazard lights on?!) and how very polite the shop assistants are at the checkout in the supermarket.

    1. Laura June 18, 2015

      Ellie, great insight! I went from living in Portugal to living in Ireland, and there’s definitely a difference, especially at stoplights. 🙂

  2. Jo Beth June 18, 2015

    Even after 15 years being back in the U.S., I still feel compelled to start bagging my own groceries at the Kroger check-out.  Also, I can feel quickly overwhelmed by all of the choices of new products jumping out at me from the Walmart or Target shelves.  Then there’s the quirky impulse to keep washing and reusing ziploc bags….

    1. Laura June 18, 2015

      Jo Beth, I still keep a reusable shopping bag in my purse, even though I haven’t used it once since I’ve been back in the US. And, yes, I can relate to the impulse to keep washing and reusing ziploc bags! Thanks for your additions to the list. 🙂

  3. Debbie June 20, 2015

    (Background info:  22 years as a worker in the UK; currently back in the US for a summer furlough)

    Rain is warm.

    I need a coat in the summer, not for outside, like in the UK, but for inside.  (Does anyone else find US air conditioning far too cold in public places??)

    Strangers don’t call me ‘love’ here.

    Chocolate is definitely inferior, but watermelon is far superior!

    Gas is soooo cheap.

    Chigger bites.

    1. Laura June 20, 2015

      Debbie, yes to the air conditioning “problem.” I’m always cold inside here in the US; thankfully where I live, most people don’t have AC in their homes. 🙂 And the gas prices – I’m still amazed with how inexpensive it is to fill up my car here compared to what it was in Ireland!

  4. Amy Boucher Pye June 21, 2015

    Love all of these. I’m from the US but live in the UK. I think if I moved back to the States I’d very much miss being able to walk to the shops; walk the kids to school; walk to church… I’d also miss roundabouts in a funny way. Use your reusable shopping bag! 🙂 (Better for the environment…)

    1. Laura June 22, 2015

      Amy, I do miss walking everywhere. I was thinking of that this morning as I drove home from the grocery store. 🙂

  5. Katharine Swartz June 21, 2015

    I’m from the US but have lived in the UK for ten years. The last time I was driving in the US I accidentally blew through a stop sign! I wasn’t looking at that part of the road, used to having the dashed lines on the ground. I can certainly relate to parking spaces seeming HUGE and the choice at Target for EVERYTHING. There are a bajillion different kinds of every device/accessory/beauty product. It overwhelms.

    1. Laura June 22, 2015

      Katharine, I agree with you about Target. When I arrived back this time, I gave myself a few days before venturing to Target. 🙂

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