This 30-year-old left the U.S. for Denmark—5 things she still misses about America: ‘There's no Whole Foods or Trader Joes'

Photo: CNBC Make It

In 2018, I married my Danish husband and moved from Dallas, Texas to Copenhagen, Denmark. We were excited to build our new home abroad.

Now with permanent residence in Denmark, I have no plans to move back to the U.S. As a 30-year-old mother and teacher, I love living here — and I've never been happier. My teaching salary goes a lot further, I have more regular hours, a more manageable workload, and there are major taxpayer benefits like public healthcare.

But the U.S. was my home for so long that there are, of course, things I wish I had access to. Here's what I still miss about the U.S., besides my friends and family:

1. My favorite American grocery stores

In Texas, I loved grocery shopping at supermarket chains like H-E-B and Central Market. And there's no Trader Joe's or Whole Foods here.

American grocery stores have a wide variety of ingredients and interesting foods. It was always fun to wander the aisles. In Denmark, grocery stores tend to be smaller and offer a limited selection. It's common to need to shop at several stores (e.g., the butcher, the Asian market) in order to get everything.

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Most stores do have international sections, but they may not be very robust or authentic. I definitely go out of my way to buy good Mexican ingredients!

Similarly, some supermarkets have sections for certain dietary restrictions, like gluten-free food, but there aren't nearly as many options as there are in the U.S. (my husband is gluten-free, so this is always top of mind for us).

Ilana and her husband got married in Copenhagen in July 2018.
Photo: Ilana Buhl
Ilana and her husband got married in Copenhagen in July 2018.

I also miss specific snacks I used to buy, like the dark chocolate peanut butter cups from Trader Joe's, Annie's Mac and Cheese, and giant Honeycrisp apples.

2. English being the default language

Conceptually, I understood that being immersed in a new language was part of the deal of moving here – but I didn't realize just how much mental energy it takes up.

I have worked hard to take classes and speak proficient Danish, so I understand most of what I read and hear. And I have it pretty easy: most Danish people speak excellent English, especially in Copenhagen, and it's common to see official and unofficial communication written in both Danish and English.

But whenever I go back to the U.S., I realize how hard my brain has been working to be ready for someone to speak to me in Danish, or to listen to Danish conversations.

Sometimes it's nice not having to translate at all.

3. Not doing price conversions in my head

I've mostly adapted to using the metric system. My apartment is measured in square meters, my height in centimeters, and recipes in grams and deciliters.

But I still convert prices from the Danish kroner to the dollar pretty often.

One dollar is about 6.7 kroner, so some of the prices still sound wrong to me. Forty five kroner for a latte sounds insanely high (although $6.67 doesn't sound much better), while "only" a million kroner for a house would be really cheap ($150,000 for a home in Copenhagen would be unheard of).

4. Easy online shopping

In the U.S., packages were always delivered directly to my door, even when I lived in an apartment.

But in Copenhagen, they're often delivered to pickup points in grocery stores, convenience stores, or other public locations. You can pay extra to have packages delivered to your home, but most of the time I pick them up.

There is no Danish Amazon, or really any equivalent. If I order something from a Danish company, delivery is usually very fast — often within a day or two — but Denmark is a small country, so I can't always find what I want from Danish companies. 

We can order from (German Amazon), but it doesn't have nearly the same selection. Depending on the supplier, some items can still be delivered within a couple of days, but other times it may take weeks.

5. Small talk

I never loved small talk when I lived in the U.S. Sometimes it would bother me when random people made conversation while we were waiting in a line.

Danish people tend to keep to themselves and leave strangers in public alone. While I appreciate that most of the time, I sometimes have the urge to make conversation and have to stop myself because it would be weird here.

But now, whenever I go the States, I love chatting with strangers again.

Ilana Buhl is an elementary school teacher. She studied abroad in Copenhagen, Denmark and quickly fell in love with the city. She now lives in Copenhagen with her husband and son, and shares snippets of her life on social media. Follow her on TikTok and Instagram.

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