Friday, August 15, 2008

Where Am I, and How Did I Get Here?

Why is it that coming home is always more difficult than leaving home? It seems so counterintuitive. I mean, shouldn't the place that is familiar to you, where you have a built-in system of friends, family and knowledge provide for an easy arrival? You would think so, but no. Since returning to Minneapolis on Wednesday night, I've felt as though I've entered an alternate universe where everything looks, smells and operates differently. A place where everything and nothing has changed. I feel as though I need to relearn how to live here. It's called reverse culture shock, and its effects will leave you feeling like a stranger in an un-strange land.

Reverse culture shock takes a number of different forms. For starters, you might be in shock over what you're seeing. I cannot get over the size of cars in this country. Six months of seeing almost nothing but 2-door Geo Metro-ish vehicles, and plenty of teeny SmartCars has made the sudden appearance of Suburbans and oversized pickup trucks truly astonishing. They're everywhere, and they're enormous! Come to think of it, everything is big here: refrigerators, homes, roads, stores, and space in general. Prices have been a big shock as well. You mean I don't have to add 50% to that price in order to know how much I'm paying in dollars? That's just the price, and it's that small? Sweet! You might also feel emotionally out of place. Living an amazing, wonderful, life-changing experience and then finding yourself surrounded by people who have no idea what that was like is a very isolating experience. Lastly, you'll probably feel shock at the kinds of human interactions you experience when coming home. For me, this has included the wondrous rediscovery of Minnesota Nice. So, I don't have to get scowled at by the cashier at the grocery store? Or completely ignored by the waiter at the cafe? They'll actually smile and ask how I'm doing and chat a bit about the weather with me? I'm going to need to dust off my happy face and friendly demeanor.

You expect to feel out of place in a foreign country. You're not surprised when everyday sights, sounds and activities are new and surprising. When the same thing happens at home, you're completely thrown for a loop. Why does this feel so strange to me? Why don't I fit in here, and why do I feel like "home" is that place I left on the other side of the globe? From past experience with this bizarre affliction I know that its effects will eventually wear off. Home will become home again, and if I just give it some time, and a little patience, that glorious day when I can walk past a Cadillac Escalade without batting an eyelash is just around the corner.


Nomadic Matt said...

I had reverse culture shock. It was mostly at prices and the variety of people I saw.....multinational boston! Little things get to you too- like how people aren't as friendly in bars as they are overseas, how there is so much variety, and how no one can relate.

but, eventually, you'll settle back in...just don't forget what you learned!

Jessica said...

I agree with's weird at first but eventually things go back to normal, or semi-normal! Hah! After coming home from abroad you won't be the same, it is inevitable. I am sure you have grown a LOT and learned how different things can be in another country.

When my sister and I came home from Spain we were doing a lot of comparing (quite frankly we still do) We compare the way we do things here as to how we would have done it back in Spain.

We realize that things can't be the same as they were there, but we do try to incorporate our experiences into our lives here. I love to cook Spanish food, and my sister speaks Spanish to as many people as she can!

My advice: Remember the things you loved doing in Paris, and see if you can bring a little of that Parisian spirit back to the US :)

Tanya said...

Matt: I'll never forget what I learned in Paris! The no one relating is a tough aspect to deal with. You know it's coming, and you can't fault them for not relating (they weren't there!) but it's so frustrating.

Jessica: The comparing game is driving me crazy - I do it all the time! It's like I can't stop myself. I'm pretty sure it's driving everyone around me crazy as well :-)

I'm already on the hunt for specialty cheese shops and French cooking recipes, just to keep some of my life "Parisian." That's one of the things that's the most fun: bringing new things that you learned or grew to appreciate into your life back home.

Jessica said...

The good thing is that my dad is fluent in Spanish, so technically whenever I want to practice (since I still haven't found an intercambio to exchange with)I just speak with him. I have tried to keep up some Spanish customs here, but I have to start speaking more Spanish! I really don't want to lose all of what I learned.

Do you have friends back home who speak French?

Tanya said...

Yes! I used to work with the local French community, so I have lots of friends here in Minneapolis and also DC. Getting to practice the language is a huge help. I think that's one of the most difficult things to leave behind, the language. What do you think? I mean, you're happy to speak English again because it's easy, but a foreign language is so much fun!

Jessica said...

YES! I know exactly what you mean! It gives you kind of a buzz when you get to speak in another language....don't you think?

For example, every time I had to walk into a supermarket, or order food at a restaurant, it wasn't just that, it was a test to see whether I could full understand what was being said to me, and also a test to my own language schools.

It was a LOT of fun, and I certainly CAN'T do that here!