Culture Shock in my own Country – Initial reverse culture shock reactions

by | Sep 13, 2017

Ever feel like everything looks backwards as if you were peering out through a mirror instead of your eye sockets? Have you squinted your eyes and looked again at a random thing or person because you just can’t believe what you just saw? To be gobsmacked and struck witless by the sights, sounds, and behaviors around you is what most people experience when they visit a new country with traditions that differ greatly from their own. Known simply as culture shock, this mind numbing feeling makes you repeat an interior mantra of “not okay, not okay, not okay.” Well I have felt like that. I do feel like that right now. I have culture shock from my own country.

Reverse Culture Shock

Culture shock at home is known as reverse culture shock. The state department’s lengthy article that defines reverse culture shock, acknowledges the feelings their employees returning from a tour overseas may have. To summarize their point, a person may suffer from reverse culture shock when they have been away from home long enough to adopt or find familiarity with the way another culture behaves. But, the shock doesn’t hit until you’ve returned home to notice the quirks of your homeland. Why? It is the first time that you’ve looked at those quirks, idiosyncrasies, or seemingly inane behaviors as foreign.

Need an example?

I’ve been out of the country for over a year. During that time, I only rented a car for four weeks out of the last 52. Otherwise, I mainly relied on my feet or public transportation to move from point A to point B. My trusty feet would march ahead so my eyes could take in the sights of the beautiful cities around me. I walked on manicured boulevards, wave licked boardwalks, and past condensed downtowns that made the daily shop easy for anyone. Then I arrived home and rented a car. I needed to buy groceries like I have done for the past 365 days so I jumped in the car to go to the store.

This time my feet pounced on the brake pedal as I was cut off from the left and right and accelerated over highways and byways so my eyes could only dart at the sights – tail lights, exhaust pipes, and urban sprawl. Single story strip mall, after single story strip mall filled my periphery vision. None of it was manicured, wave licked, or grouped together to make it easy for the shopper. Instead it was smoggy, construction filled and would best be described as one giant asphalt ocean. This is life in America. You spend hours in a car polluting the air around you to accomplish mundane tasks. Not okay, not okay, not okay.

Need Another?

With the possible exception of the mass hysteria that can occur at a European or South American football match, people seem to be able to organize themselves in groups without a mob mentality occurring. Yet, when I disembarked from the boat that brought me home, I was instantly surrounded by 2000 adult Americans that forgot their Ps and Qs. Queuing for a taxi became a full contact sport. Accusations and glares were freely given to those they shared a chilled beverage with only a day before.

The task of retrieving luggage somehow struck the entire population dumb. The line, “Steve, I can’t find our bags. Hell, they lost our bags. It’s only to be expected. That’s what you get,” was quickly followed by “our bags are at number six, not nine Helen. Number six.”  The lackadaisical vacation spirit that these mostly retirees exhibited for the past two weeks fully evaporated as soon as their feet touched American soil.

Did I mention that as a culture we are loud? To the lady that was standing in front of me in the waiting area…. I promise, the entire local population now knows about your many bouts of seasickness and your “solution” to medicate the issue.  No one needed to hear that. Not okay, not okay, not okay.

Be kind to the culture shocked

We all love home. I didn’t expect to feel this way. In fact, I was looking forward to visits with family and friends. They say that this feeling will dissipate as I acclimate. I am sure that as I become submerged in reality TV, traffic jams, and trips to Target, I will forget this initial sensation of oddity my birth country is giving me. Until then, I will look at my home through a visitor’s eyes and continue the culture shocked mantra. Not okay, not okay not okay.

Have you experienced reverse culture shock? How long did it take you to get over the feeling?

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