In just a few days, we will have been back in the US for a month. And the culture shock remains. I don’t completely understand why, either.
When I reflect on our travels, it’s never taken me so long to adjust to an area. Typically, we arrive and begin adapting rapidly. Even though we know we’re outsiders, it rarely ever feels that way even when there is a language barrier.
The only thing I can think of is that when you’re traveling to unfamiliar places you plan on feeling unsettled, being surprised at things, and so on. You expect things to be different, and that is actually part of the allure. When you’re returning to your native land, I suppose you expect things to be as you remember and that you’ll just slide back into your typical groove because it’s familiar and “home.” But not so much.
I still find myself acclimating to the strangest things. Like being in a restaurant and being asked if I’m ready to place my order when I haven’t even been handed a menu and there’s nothing on the wall to inform me of my choices. Or how my glass of iced tea keeps getting topped up without my asking (and without an extra charge).
I still keep forgetting that the price that’s listed isn’t what I’ll have to pay at the cashier. Unlike everywhere else we’ve been, the tax is added at the register and the listed price is pretax. That has caught me by surprise more than once.
We’ve been in Austin for about 3 weeks so far, and I’ve been to an ATM twice. I do love being able to use my debit card virtually everywhere.
I remember laughing when I saw my European friends commenting on the food in America. “The bread tastes like cake!” I hadn’t really noticed that before, but we really do like putting sugar in practically everything. The drinks are so sweet here that I can’t enjoy sodas. I can’t get past the first sip.
Being a big fan of people watching, I have spent some time doing just that. It feels like many Americans are just going through the motions of life. I encounter very few friendly strangers in places where friendliness used to be a trademark. I see so many people who seem to have lost a lot of hope, the carefully crafted facade showing cracks and seams.
I decided I wasn’t going to let the lack of friendliness affect me, and so I’ve gone out and greeted strangers, chatted people up, etc., and have been met with so much shock and suspicion that I find myself withdrawing into a shell when I’m in public.
It’s weird to find so little touch, too. When chatting with the market people in many other countries, there’s often a touch on the shoulder as a thanks or when you’re sharing a laugh. People try so hard to not touch you as they breeze past here. Yeah, I’m not a fan of the contact sport of walking down Hanoi streets, but I do miss not feeling so much tension when I dare move in a bit toward someone.
Although, sometimes it IS fun watching them back away as you get closer. Entertainment for the evil, I suppose.
While I continue to enjoy the conveniences of living in the US, and am enjoying the very outdoors-oriented Austin city, I still feel very much an outsider. The sterility and uniformity continue to weigh on me. Sometimes I find myself completely without ideas of what to discuss with people because our life and attitude are so incredibly different. In many areas of the world, that was something that was welcomed and was fascinating. Here it’s either a dream world or a major oddity.
Tigger continues to be frustrated with all the rules everywhere and feeling like his being different is more of a strike against him.
We’re enjoying reconnecting with friends and family, but I can’t say the American experiment is going well. I try to focus on the positive and just accept that really anywhere we go we’re going to be outsiders to a degree. We ARE different, and we have changed. Be it language, culture, whatever, anywhere we go we’re on the fringe.
But for some reason, we have been in places where it just didn’t feel so strong and alien. In fact, most places have been that way for us.
Part of me really wants it to work out and thinks Washington state will feel differently for us, but the other thinks Tigger’s idea of exploring Canada as a possible long-term base is a really great one.
Reverse culture shock just sucks.