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.