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.