After a whirlwind of goodbyes, packing, my host sister’s wedding, and jet lag, I returned to the United States about a month ago. Leaving Compiègne — I can finally say the name of the town on here! — was heartbreaking. I was blessed with some wonderful friends, coworkers, and students who showed me so much love and patience throughout the year. I miss them all and have kept in contact with a few since coming home.
The past month has been full of family and best friend reunions, job applications, and a weekend in my favorite American city, Boston. I’ve also gotten a heaping dose of reverse culture shock. Don’t get me wrong; this isn’t the first time I’ve had to re-adjust to American culture after being away. However, I noticed that this time around, culture shock was not this ever-present sense of not being in the same country, but this little nagging feeling that sneaked up on me when I least expected it.
I understand that my case is pretty mild since I’m coming from a Western country and returning to another Western country. Culture shock must be much more, well, shocking to people returning to the U.S. from other parts of the world. But, I still think culture shock is a fascinating subject because you learn which aspects of both cultures you take for granted and miss after they’re gone.
So without further ado, here are 15 unexpected instances of reverse culture shock that I’ve experienced in the past month.
1. Getting off the plane in the U.S. and preparing to ask the tough-looking Brooklyn-born security guard, “Pardon, madame, les toilettes sont où?”
2. Doing a double take when you see an American flag.
3. Getting a weird look when you talk to salespeople in French.
4. Scouring the clothing racks in vain for a size 40.
5. Wondering why the sign in the dressing room is in English and only English.
6. Accidentally putting your bread on the dinner table instead of on your plate.
7. Being completely disappointed with yellow American cheese.
8. Getting your first restaurant bill and reminding yourself that you need to leave a tip.
9. The horrible realization that American money is really ugly.
10. Needing $1 and looking in the change pocket of your wallet.
11. That weird feeling when someone gives you a hug instead of la bise.
12. Not participating in Mass because you only remember the French responses.
13. Meeting a native French speaker, getting really excited, and hearing him say, “Please, I need to practice my English.”
14. Messaging all your French friends because YOU JUST WANT TO SPEAK FRENCH.
15. Talking like a robot for the first week because you still don’t really believe you have to speak English here.
So there you go — a summary of my life in the past month. I think I’ve mostly assimilated back into American culture, though I’m still disappointed in American cheese.
Look out for more Hundred Word Reviews and regular antics coming your way.
À la prochaine!
Question of the Week: What’s your most surprising culture shock moment? Tell me in the comments!