The check out clerk was young and blonde, though I hadn’t really noticed that yet because I was quickly piling the five things I had planned to buy at Target onto the check out conveyor belt as well as the other 20 that had found their way into our cart. We were on the way to meet our family at the pool so we were suppose to have just dashed in and out yet even that small task had seemed big and just a little overwhelming.
I looked up when I heard the clerk ask my husband where we were from. What an odd question, I thought! Then as I listened to my husband try to describe our situation, technically from here, but now just visiting, I realized how hard of a question that was to answer. He asked her why she asked (Was it our accents? Had we made a cultural faux pax?…) and her answer really made us laugh. She pointed to each of us and said, “Your entire family looks like you just stepped off a photo shoot. Your littlest is wearing a stylish hat, your other son is wearing a trendy outfit, your daughter is wearing bright lipstick, you (to Jack) are wearing a v-neck. Each one of you has amazing style and that’s just not normal around here.” We laughed and said that a little bit of Denmark must have come home with us, but it did make us feel suddenly self conscious about ourselves. We had already felt like strangers in our own country but now we had someone pointing it out!
Reverse Culture Shock is basically the sudden shock one experiences when returning to his or her homeland. Oftentimes there is a “honeymoon” phase when everything is exciting and wonderful, then a dip when the reality of the differences between oneself and the homeland begin to appear, and then eventually a recovery stage when one adjusts to the new norms of the culture that once was so familiar.
Reverse culture shock is something that takes many of us by surprise and can actually be quite troubling. For instance, it feels utterly bizarre to know how to get almost anywhere within a 40 minute radius from where we are now living, including back roads and short cuts, but to feel a constant nagging feeling of being lost.
The encouraging thing about reentry or reverse culture shock, is that the honeymoon phase is awesome and on the flip side of the downward curve, most of us come out feeling more self aware, more appreciative of what is (rather than being focused on what could be or what was or any of that) and the world stops feeling like it’s in hyper living color as everything begins to feel normal again.
We are increasingly grateful to our entire family who has literally heaped love and affection upon us. We’ve been shopping, lounging by the pool, eating all our favorite treats, picking flowers from my mom’s garden, and trying to find some sort of feeling of settledness (though not too much since this is only a six month visit.) No one has called us weird (even though they have probably been thinking it) and have shown us grace and understanding as we re-aclimate to our homeland.
As we close out the month of July and begin August, we realize that the next five months are going to fly by, so we are going to cling to our family and live every moment to the fullest, because the end is already starting to feel a little too close.
I bet some of you have great tales to share about your own experiences with reverse culture shock. We would love to hear about them and how you handled them!
Photography: Flowers from my mother’s garden. Tina Fussell