Thursday, July 12, 2012

Reverse Culture Shock 2012

Last summer, I bragged about how little reverse culture shock the Mister and I experienced after our first year overseas. Upon further reflection, we did experience some awkwardness and adjustment last summer. Ok, by "we" I mean me. But whatever.

I think a lot of our lack of shock last year can be attributed to the fact that we only spent 2 weeks in Nashville. The rest of our summer was spent travelling, including a 2 week trip to Costa Rica, so it was like we were just on an extended vacation from Saudi Arabia rather than actually going home.

This year, however, we aren't leaving the USA at all. We're doing small trips here and there inside the country, but most of our time is being spent living with the Mister's parents in Nashville and just hanging out.

Boy has that ever been a breeding ground for reverse culture shock! It's very odd to find myself sometimes feeling like a stranger in the place I called home for 27 years. Here are a few for instances:

1. Costco. Admittedly, we jumped in to bulk Americana a little too soon. The Mister and I went to Costco with  his parents the day after we landed in the USA. We were jet lagged and surrounded by bulk groceries and electronics. It was bizarre enough to be back in the States, and then to be bombarded visually by 72-count boxes of bagel bites, premarinated chicken, and affordable 68 inch HD TVs was sensory overload. I kept finding myself thinking, "oh! We should buy that because we don't know when the store will get another shipment." I didn't need a 50 oz container of spinach and artichoke dip, but the hoarding tendency that is necessary when living in a country that doesn't often get the Western conveniences was in overdrive.

2. Jesus. We've been home for about 2 weeks and I still find it odd to see Bibles on sale in the grocery stores.  I still half expect to hear the athan every few hours. The other day I was in downtown Nashville and heard the howling drawl of the beginning of a country song and for a split second I thought to myself, "It's a little early for the call to prayer."

I went to church with my dad on the second day back (mom was out of town) and I just cried during the opening music because it was so nice to be able to worship. Out loud. In a room filled with people who shared my beliefs. It was also very surreal to be sitting in a near-stadium sized sanctuary* in Middle Tennessee so soon after being in Saudi Arabia.  

*only a minor exaggeration.

3. The shock. Literally. I've talked about the static shock that I got every time I got out of the car in Saudi Arabia because of the abaya. I didn't realize how ingrained that expectation had become. I'm still hesitantly grounding myself and bracing for the zap when I get out of the car, even though there's not a stitch of black polyester on my body.

4. Pickpocket paranoia. I never had to worry about personal theft in Saudi Arabia. That kind of crime is incredibly low in the Kingdom. But whenever we travel, the Mister and I are very cautious about our wallets and passports. I clutch my purse close to my body and scan crowds for suspicious characters. The other night I went to a show at a club downtown and I walked in and had to fight the heightened awareness. I was in Nashville, not the middle of Rome. I didn't need to worry about pickpockets in a club where all anyone is concerned about is how to score the spot with both the best view and access to the bar. Calm down, Amber, and enjoy yourself.

4. Everyone speaks English. You know what it's like when you wake up from a deep sleep in a hotel bed and for a couple seconds, you're really confused as to where you are? There have been 2 distinct instances where I've felt like that, but without the sleeping. 

The first was in the Philadelphia airport. The Mister and I were going through TSA security (so annoying after an international flight!) And I turned to him and in a medium tone said, "It occurs to me that I haven't refreshed my deodorant or brushed my teeth in at least 15 hours." 

The red headed guy behind us made eye contact with the Mister and kind of chuckled. Tyler said, "Amber, you have to remember that we're back in a country where everyone around you speaks English." As soon as he said that it was like I snapped out of it and thought, "Oh crap. He's right." For 2 months, I have to make sure that inappropriately specific comments like that are shared quietly or not at all. Bummer.

The second time was a few days later when we were visiting my brother in Atlanta. We had gone to a favorite bar of his and settled down outside with our drinks. As we were sitting there people watching, a small group exited the bar and passed by our table. I heard them talking in English and right away a voice in my head said, "Hey! That's an American accent!" I was just about to say something to the Mister when I realized: I'm IN America! Everyone has an American accent!

There have been lots of other small things that have snuck up on me in these past few weeks. I was really confused the other day when the Mister was text messaging with his sister as opposed to using the international texting app we use when we're in the Middle East. I hear a song on the radio and think, "How funny that this song is on the radio here!" Music City...U.S.A...oy.

I wonder if there will ever be a summer where I'm able to just flip the switch from one world to the other. In the meantime, please forgive me if I act a little strange and annoyingly expat-y.

Vicariously yours,

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