One (and possibly the only) uniting aspect for expatriate life and dieting is to do with one’s pressing desire to have something they can’t have. I have spent nearly half of my life as an expat. I have spent at least half of my life on a diet. I know what I am talking about.
For instance, British expats miss their tea bags, Marmite and Cheddar, and Finnish expats miss things like rye bread, beetroot salad and Finnish licorice – and they miss them bad. Consequently, expats pay good money at specialized (online) shops for their favourite toothpaste or chocolate from back ‘home’. In fact, it is not just expats, who spend long periods of time away from their native country that find it difficult to live without some creature comforts from back home. For instance, some Brits do not leave England – even when going on just a daytrip to Dieppe without taking a stash of Yorkshire teabags with them (and possibly also their kettle!). Then again, when I went to England as a young language student with a friend (a looong looong time ago) we had to stop at services on our way to the Helsinki airport to have some Finnish food. My friend was convinced that she would not be able to eat anything in England during our 5-week stay there, that food would be intolerable there – that is, until we arrived to Brighton and discovered several Burger Kings there. Back then there were no fast food restaurants in my hometown, and my friend was more excited about Burger King than a teenage boy would be about finding his head between Dolly Parton’s boobs 50 years ago. And so was I.
Dieters, on the other hand, develop uncontrollable urges to stuff down their throats unacceptable quantities of crisps, cakes, caramel pretzels, triple cheese pizza, Häagen-daz or whatever rocks their boat usually by lunch time on the first day of their diet. I’m the first to admit that steering away from all sorts of unhealthy, E-number- and additive-ridden mouthfuls or sugar and/or fat and/or salt when the first blood sugar dip hits me in the mid-morning is as difficult as detaching a chewing gum from the back of your 3 year old’s head without a major meltdown.
My main point is that both groups (expats and dieters) can get pretty desperate for the things they can’t have. But let’s focus on things one expat can’t have.
After spending three lovely weeks in England, we recently returned to Osaka. It may not come as a revelation to many of you expats reading this blog, but on our way back from England our suitcases were as full as commuter trains in China. In fact, the operation of squeezing all our stuff in the suitcases has some remarkable similarities to that of Chinese commuter trains (link to a YouTube video below).
My commuter train suitcase was filled with the following:
By squash I mean cordial, i.e. a juice concentrate that you dilute with water. This drink doesn’t seem to exist in Japan – over here people (even young children) tend to drink (green) tea.
I’m sorry but lukewarm or even cold unsweetened greenish tea is not my thing. I know that green tea would be much better for me than the aspartame filled summer-fruit squash, but summer-fruit squash is what I want.
I have had a conversation about squash with several Japanese people, hoping that someone would know where to get some. The conversation always goes along these lines:
Me: You don’t seem to have squash over here.
Japanese person: Yeah we do! I play it every Sunday.
To avoid any further conversations like the above, a quantity of squash sufficient to quench the thirst of an army battalion made its way to Japan in my suitcase (see photo).
Japan is a country that loves beer and sake. I am not a big fan of either of these, and this is a shame because I am a big fan of drinking. For the past 10 months that we’ve lived in Osaka, I have been missing cider, my favourite alcoholic drink.
At first, I didn’t realize that I would struggle to find any cider in Japan because my Japanese acquaintances informed me that getting cider in Japan was not an issue – all you had to do was to walk into the nearest corner shop and buy it there. However, when scanning bottles at the drinks aisle of 7-Eleven, to my horror I soon realized that their ‘cider’ was something different from what I was referring to: in Japan the term ‘cider’ is used when referring to a certain soft-drink.
No cider means that I’ve had to settle with plum wine or occasionally when there has been nothing else on offer (not even wine, or spirits and mixers) I’ve had to force down a barrel of beer. Not my favourite thing, but something I am willing to do during a 1 ½ or 2 hour ‘all-you-can-drink-plan’ (see photo) if there is no other alcoholic drink on offer.
Anyway, so far I haven’t seen any alcoholic cider sold anywhere in Japan (other than in IKEA) and many of my Western colleagues are aware of this. So, a couple of weeks ago, a Hawaiian colleague sent me an email with a link to Strongbow for sale on Amazon-Japan. Hooray! Problem solved! Yes please – I want some! My colleague suggested that the ciders should be delivered to my work so that when the delivery company rings to arrange for the delivery there would be people there who know Japanese (since I don’t). That made me reconsider, and I decided that it was for the best if I did not order those ciders after all – I mean, me turning up at the HR office in a forklift to collect my ten crates of cider might not be the best thing to do for my career.
(3) Tea bags
I think I have turned into an Englishman. But in my defense, I am not quite as bad as the Brits who take their own teabags and kettles with them when they pop over the English Channel for a day trip to France.
For some reason Japanese deodorants do not seem to do it for me. I am not publicly announcing that I have a specific problem – because I don’t (my husband and our au pair have also reported the same problem), but I have to say that unless I am wearing my Western brand of deodorant during the scorching summer of Osaka I am forced to keep my arms glued to my sides.
(5) Hair products
Many Japanese hair sprays hold my hair as well as my deodorant would. Because my scalp with a handful of hairs (hardly a mane) rely on its morning dose of liquid cling film – something that actually does more than my deodorant, I need to bring hairspray and other hair products (like hair powder) from England.
For those of you following my blog, this does not come as a surprise.
I’m UK size 12 (European: Medium or 38-40); my shoe size is 6-7. In Europe I feel like everybody else, but in Japan these measurements make me feel and look like Marshmallow from Frozen (or for those of you closer to my age – the Marshmallow Man in Ghostbusters). This is not only in comparison to Japanese women but (painfully so) in comparison also to Japanese men. Not only does my ‘size’ give my self-esteem a hard time it also gives me a hard time when I try to find clothes or shoes in Japan. This is the case in particular when I’ve tried to find something fitting, like a trouser suit, dresses or tights. I have to say, I don’t really like the idea of having to visit ‘Size World’ every time I want a new top. So, spending 3 weeks in England during the post-Christmas sale gave me a perfect opportunity to acquire some new clothes, tights and shoes. Thinking back, perhaps I went a bit crazy in the shops of Brighton. I hope my husband won’t go ape shit when he realizes what the state of our joint account is in after my visit to England.
The above is just a short list of some essentials that travelled over to Japan from England with me. Ideally I would have also liked to bring with me many other things, which were too difficult (hallumi, houmous) or impossible to bring over (my house, my friends, my favourite restaurant and my favourite pub in Brighton). But I am hoping the current reserves keep me going until next summer and our next trip to Europe (or at least until my husband arrives back in Japan in 3 weeks time).