Saturday, June 09, 2007

Preparing for Re-Entry


I was asked about the things that I find difficult whenever I return to the states. The main issue is that after so many years out of one's "passport culture," you begin to identify with your "host culture". This means that when you re-enter your passport culture, you will experience a "reverse culture shock".

The reason reverse culture shock is so depressing is that you do not expect it in your own passport culture. You are also not expected to be different . People see you as an "American" and expect you to act as one. You look like every one else. The problem arises in that you have changed in subtle ways. Many times you feel as an immigrant in a foreign land.

When overseas, you know you are different and you are prepared to be different. But when in your passport culture, you are not emotionally prepared to be different from the culture. So...it takes a short time of re-adaptation. You have to figure out what is expected of you, and act accordingly.

For instance, a small example of this would be ...KISSING! When I leave Venezuela, my friends will be at the airport to see me off. I will touch both cheeks and blow air kisses with all the females. With my male friends, I will only "kiss" one cheek. I will stand close, face to face with people to show that they are near and dear to me. Then I board the plane and in three hours I will disembark into a different set of cultural rules for showing my affection. I will " bear hug" my family. But for my female friends, I will give them a short hug and most males prefer a handshake unless very close. But I have often forgotten. In the excitement of arriving, I may very well grab a female friend and touch my cheek to both of hers as I blow air kisses. I can feel them stiffen in my arms!!!

Also, I have to remember the Americans like their personal SPACE. Latins tend to invade that space. It shows closeness. But to an average American it is ..well, "in your face!"Trying to remember all the tiny details is emotionally tiring and makes you feel out of it! Not normal. Weird!

It is hard to get past the fact that you are not a minority. I am more comfortable now being a minority. That is my "normal".

The thing I find the oddest and most difficult to adapt to in the USA is materialism. It seems that so much time and energy is spent on GETTING things. People work all kinds of hours to get more stuff and sometimes it seems they have no time to even enjoy the things they already have. Or spend time with family. Things often appear to be prioritized over people.
I am always amazed at rich people who think they are poor!

Believe me, after a few months, I slip into the same mind set if not careful to guard myself against it. I will walk into a Wal-mart and discover so many things I NEED!! Only, I was not aware of that need until I saw the item. The first few trips to a store cause me a lot of stress. There are so many options. I can walk up and down the aisle and get overwhelmed. I have left the store without making a purchase because...it was too difficult to make a CHOICE! Just looking at the options for toothpaste can give me a head ache!!!

If I hear a patriotic song... I will cry. No matter where I am. Sitting in church and singing the old hymns in English is guaranteed to make me cry as well. This will last for a few weeks.

Churches buildings leave me shocked. They are so beautiful!!! The restrooms are modern and decorated!!!! And as I admire them I will be informed that they are due for a remodel!!!

Green grass every where. All the yards!! No bars on windows means I will not sleep well for several nights.

New cars! Even the "old" ones would be new here. The highways are so open and amazing!

Food!!! It is easy to get food. Fast food. At every cash register, you can grab a candy bar or chips!! You can go through drive through windows. At restaurants the portions are HUGE! One plate is a family size serving. I remember my son, when he was about 10, went grocery shopping with me and was reading all the box labels. He asked me a profound question. "Mom, how come everything in America is fat free, except for the people?"


Banking! Here, a trip to the bank will take several hours. It is also a time when one is vulnerable and must be on alert for robbery. Many friends have been robbed on their way home from the bank. In the USA, you can go through the drive through window and do all your transactions in less time than it would take to just get your "number" for which window you will use here.

Mailing in checks to pay utility bills! That is incredible!! No need to spend half a day in line!!!

Neighbors who do not make an effort to know each other seems so strange to me, but seems to be normal in most cities in the USA. It is weird that you never seem to see children outdoors playing! Where are they?

It is not that one way is better than the other, it is just that they are different.

I love the USA!! I truly believe it to be the best country on earth. I would not change my citizenship for anything! But, I love Venezuela as well. Sometimes, I feel guilty putting one over the other. Like a mother who can not love one child more than another.

27 comments:

Pat said...

Ok, Rita....I speak Spanish some, and I do hug and "air kiss" hispanic females in honor of their culture and at church!! So, feel free to feel at home with me and my girls (their Spanish course is in training....I have been a slacker)...but they will not be offended, either....

Talk about culture shock?!?!!??!?

We have been called a peculiar people!!

In reality, we are a spoiled nation in excesses, thus the condition of our country....everyone demands their rights/needs be met with variety
!! I can imagine how you feel!!

We will pray for your reimmersion!!
I will be crying with you in church!!!(You will visit us,won't you???).......

BTW, Josh sure was an insightful young man!!

Elízabeth said...

You made me cry.. and it is not that you made sad, it was because I understand so much the 'between waters' feeling.

Each and everyone of your comparisons are so true!

The 'space' matter :) of boy! I do behave like an american sometimes; so much touching can be overwhelming. On the other hand, americans would say "I love you" for almost no reason at all. Here, "love" is like a sacred word.

I've been avoiding to comment Rita (I confess). I'm going to miss you! Hope you'll keep blogging anyway, although from afar. I'll be here for sure reading.

Un abrazo y un beso en la mejilla (para que no pierdas la costumbre!)

Liz

Jungle Mom said...

Liz, I will still blog and will keep up with my Venezuelan friends. Even my internet friends.

Anonymous said...

I understand your thoughts exactly. We have been home from Venezuela for over a year now and I still miss it so very much. We frequent Mexican restaurants just to hear the language, but sure miss the "air kisses".

Abrazos,
Gary Clayton

Jungle Mom said...

Gary: I am wondering where you lived in Venezuela?

Happymama said...

I can see where these things would be difficult to readjust to.

I'm a hugger and a kisser. If we ever meet, I promise to lean in for a cheek touch and an air kiss. LOL

Funny, funny question your son asked about the fat free Americans....or rather, the lack thereof. HA!

And the kids are spoiled to air conditioning and game stations. That's why they're not outside. My kids included. I am afraid they are in for a rude awakening this summer. LOL

I do hope you readjust quickly so that you can fully and completely enjoy your visit stateside. Although, I have no doubt you miss your Venezuela as well.

~Kristi

momrn2 said...

This was such a fascinating post. So many things we don't think of and take for granted.

Pam said...

I am happy to say that I welcome tight, long hugs from almost anyone and I love real kisses on the cheek! They don't even have to be air kisses! In my circle, it seems all the women do hug. Only dear family friends and some preacher friends are the only males that hug me, but hey, I would hug anybody! I think its a beautiful way to show a connection to that person and it is very healing for me. But I do know what you mean - it is not common I guess in the states, unless you are in an exceptionally warm church like ours! I have noticed that I can't hug my Pastor and sometimes I can tell I've held his hand too long after a handshake,as he pulls it away. It has embarrassed me a time or two! LOL I don't mean anything by it, but I speak and look into people's eyes and I like touching. Sorry Americans!

You will do fine Rita, since you know what to anticipate after all your previous re-entries! My neighbors are latin and very good huggers, so I will introduce you! And there are several latins in our church as well.

Love you and miss you. Can't wait to see you all!

Mountain Mama said...

You have bonded well with the people of Venezuela as well as the country. I don't see how you could have done your mission otherwise.
I understand that it will be difficult to come back, but try to remember that you can be loved by many countries just as you are loved by more than one child.
I pray for this time of adjustment to be easy for all of you.
God Bless.
My granddaughter is graduating from college this month and has an opportunity to teach in Venezuela.
I am concerned because of the political unrest.

Judith said...

I will be praying for you and your family, as you make this big change.

Over the years I've seen differences in culture, and tradition in several parts of our country, and understand those variations, but am constantly disheartened by the god so many have made for themselves out of material things.

I think it's a huge reason so many seem to have lost sight of what's really to be valued. And all kinds of social and medical problems are threatening the values we are losing. That is too high a price to pay for convenience and creature comforts.

PortraitofPeter said...

A poignant moment for you - as you embark to your 'homeland'.

You will still retain the fond memories of your many years of experiences to fall back.

Thank you for sharing this deeply moving post.

Stephen Renico said...

Jungle Mom,

Let us know if you're ever around Detroit.

Are you leaving Venezuela permanently?

Penless Thoughts said...

Very interesting hearing the adjustments. I've heard MANY missionaries talk about the cultural shock of how the morals have declined since they left here to serve.
Susan

Penless Thoughts said...

P.S. Shocks me and I have left!!!!

Cross Crusader said...

Yes, the statews will always sound a chord somewhere inside as home. But I still love Venezuela, dominated by tyranny as she is! My Dad just got back from the States last night and I was reminded how much more they have in the States. Well, I guess it's all part of the package, along witha ranting madman and empty shelves!

Jungle Mom said...

Thanks to everyone!!

Webutante said...

Wonderful post, Rita. You'll have more insights into the pitfalls of our culture as you re-enter.

BTW, over at Webutatne....do you remember the anonymous commenter who stormed off in a huff a few months ago? Well, don't look now, but she's back as "Vienna Va" and wearing me out. Don't make a big deal over it...but thought you might like to know and be amused and aware. She's written me so many comments lately, that I have to delete some of them...but some I publish.

Stay well, and God bless.

luvvom said...

"Mailing in checks to pay utility bills! That is incredible!! No need to spend half a day in line!!!

You've been gone waaaaay too long! Now you pay them online or they take it out of your checking account. :o)....much easier!

Ashley said...

LOL Not me, I kiss people on the cheek for real, and I'm quickly "air kissed" and embraced by a Cuban family in my church. I'm perfectly comfortable! I think it's mostly northern states...though I feel somtimes I hug people who aren't comfortable with the tight hugs I give cause they tend to give me the ol' "one armed hug" LOL I can't tell if they're trying to give me a hug or get me in a headlock. LOL

I can't wait to see you all! And yes, embrace you tightly! LOL

HAHA Josh was even funny at a young age...

Daughter of the King said...

We lived in Turkey, England and then the longest in Italy....
yes..yes...re-entry is HARD....and I find American churches so platonic for lack of a better word...rare is there outside of the church building comraderie..I miss the closeness of CHURCH family..Americans are too busy....and YES...materialism...and now..we have been back 9 years and I long for some REAL....American Christians really don't have a clue..and that is not meant to be ugly...but if given the choice as much as I love AMERICA..and fly my red white blue FLAG.....I would advise...stay as REAL as you are..both on the internet and LIFE...You have much to teach some Stuffy Americans...let them be the recipient of your years on the mission field and IF you come out my way...please come over...and you can hug and do whatever you like.....
and as someone who spent 7 years in N.Italy...CIAO...with a kiss on BOTH cheeks, man or woman...maybe considered a HOLY kiss...
Deby

Morgan said...

Yeah, I know just what you mean...

Anonymous said...

I lived in Caracas, but as the in-country coordinator for the Alabama/Venezuela partnership, I traveled all over. Health reasons mandated my return from the mission field, but my heart is still in Venezuela. I sure wish our paths could have crossed while we were down there. God bless you in this next step of your journey in service to Him.

Chao 4 now,
Gary Clayton

Bob said...

Wonderful, Rita. I knew it would be. Thanks for responding to my request. I will link to this post.

Yekwana Man said...

Check out my story of re-entry from the village to Chattanooga Tn in one day at my blog.

Caraqueña said...

Can't say that I miss besitos or invasion of personal space. I always feel so dowdy when I return to the States. Americans have way too many clothes...and shoes...and cars...and food! I, too, will be going to the U.S. next week. I want to go to the grocery store just to see stocked shelves! Won't that be grand...20 kinds of liquid coffee creamer!!!!

Sarah Joy said...

Ahhh, that explanes things from my last trip to the states! I thought I was loosing my mind, or going totally soft-I'm so used to being able to just leak a tear every now and then, but, goodnight! The West Coast Baptist singing group sang, "Who Will Go To America?" and I was gasping, sobbing, could not stop.

I love my country, but I'm leaving. When we visit churches I feel like yelling, "Hey you better do God's will here! Take care of my country!"

(Of course, being pregnant also messes with my ability to control my emotions, so that might have been part of it.)

I like the kissing thing-it feels right to me, but I haven't done it in the states at all. My pastor was in for a shock when he took missions trips in Russia, and the Russian pastors teased him greatly for his dislike of their literal interpretation of the "holy kiss". He always keeps hershys kisses in his pocket when he goes back to give out his own version without getting smacked on the lips by a man!

groovyoldlady said...

I live here and I am overwhelmed by all the choices. I will be praying for you!