Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Reverse Culture Shock

Many of you are familiar with the idea of culture shock. You go to a new place (foreign country or foreign state) and are quite literally "shocked" by the culture. Everything seems backwards and you begin to develop irrational hatreds toward obscure parts of the new culture. (Real examples that I have seen: anger about produce in Brazil, tears over the lack of forks in Japan, a refusal to speak anything but English to foreigners because everyone should know it, etc.) Culture shock can come about in a trip that lasts a week or in a move that lasts years. It usually rears its ugly head toward the end of the beginning (month 3 of 12, week 2 of 6) as soon as the honeymoon phase wears off. It's very real, very ugly, and, in hindsight, very humorous. (It was me who cried over the lack of forks in Japan, I'll admit it...)

Few of you, however, may be familiar with the concept of reverse culture shock. It seems backwards, and it is! The idea is that, once you travel to said foreign land and become accustomed to their way of doing things, you go through culture shock AGAIN when you return to your home county/state/city/etc. Whereas you became accustomed to eating with large toothpicks in Japan, you find Americans lazy that they use knives, forks, and spoons. (Ok, bad example.) A better example may be that you (I) become so used to attending a church with 50 members in, oh, say, Natal, Brazil, that you (I) go to visit your (my) home church for the first time, and the 2,500 members make you (I) want to crawl into a corner and hide. Whereas the sheer enormity of the congregation never bothered you before your cross-cultural experience, now it seems impractical, superficial, unnecessary, and impersonal. The feelings of reverse culture shock can be just as ridiculous as those of culture shock, but in my case, more often than not, they act as a spotlight to the ways I've grown and changed since my cross-cultural experience began. Some of it comes out in the form of judgmentalism, and although that is not appropriate, either, it also acts as a spotlight to the ways that your views and opinions have changed.

In a way, you return to your "home" and it really may not feel like home at all. The friends, acquaintances, trends, technology, worship songs, popular artists, TV shows, and maybe even family have all continued living life- without you! This can be the most shocking part of it all. You don't know where you fit anymore, or even IF you fit, in the scheme of "home."

To give you a true example of how I am adjusting to life in the States and perhaps going through a little reverse culture shock, allow me to pose a few questions and make a few statements, some of which may show that I am becoming an old lady:

-WHO are the Jonas Brothers?
-Is it safe for me to be out driving alone after dark? (In Edmond, Oklahoma!)
-Why is everyone at church in such a rush to get to the next thing instead of taking time to actually have conversations with each other?
-Why do some people spend more time texting and answering phone calls during a face to face conversation than paying attention to the physical person they are talking to?
-Dollar value menu? You can get food for ONE DOLLAR?
-Jaywalking? There are designated places to cross the street?
-You paid how much for that iPhone?
-Cupcakes? The latest trend is cupcakes?
-What language am I supposed to be speaking?/How do I say that in English?

And, finally, I implore:

-WHAT IN THE WORLD IS TWITTER?????????????????

As you read those, please don't take offense or assume I was talking about you. In all honesty, these questions have essentially been playing on repeat in my head for the last two weeks, as I looked wide-eyed at to this fast-paced, bright lights, text messaging world we call America. I wrote this more to give you, my readers, an insight into what it's like coming "home." Part of culture shock, and reverse culture shock, I think, is heaven-sent. From what I understand, we aren't supposed to be getting tooooo comfortable in any one place, right? Aren't we just a'passin through, anyway?

I love being here, and I love seeing my family, friends, and eating out very cheaply. But if you happen to see me looking wide-eyed and completely lost, I'm probably just needing to see a friendly face or hear some friendly words of encouragement. Anything along the lines of "I'm happy to see you," or "Cris, want me to take you out for some Mexican food?" will do just fine. ;)


Melanie said...

I don't know what twitter is either. I only just heard of it last week! P.S. When you come to Dallas I promise to take you to your favorite Mexican food restaurant here!

Hi, I'm Deanna. said...

I also do not know what twitter, that cupcakes were the new thing or understand how someone can pay so much for a phone. do we really need the internet to follow us wherever we go? I'm sorry if you are having a hard time though but am super excited that the Austin church is going to support you. That is so great!!!

Lacy Almeda Hefley said...

You want me to pay you HOW MUCH to paint my nails?

And please bring the cupcake trend back with you. Especially if they have buttercream icing. YUM! :D

Anonymous said...

hey, i hear you loud & clear about reverse culture shock. when i first came back to the US as a "3rd culture" i once panicked in a supermarket because i thought aman in frozen foods had lost his mind and was talking to the entrees and vegetables...turns out he was on a cell phone headset trying to find his wife's special request...
Julie D. @ LST.