culture shock

Experiencing (more) reverse culture shock

Immediately after I returned to the US for the holidays, I shared some of the most striking cultural differences I experienced. As I spent more time there, I experienced even more reverse culture shock. Here are a few more examples.

Drunk driving is totally ok!

The most irresponsible person I know in the Czech Republic won’t drive the next day if he had too much to drink the night before. That’s because there is a zero tolerance policy on drunk driving in this country. In the US though, and especially in Miami, everyone thinks that they’d be able to pass a breathalyzer if they’ve been drinking for 6 hours but they had a glass of water half an hour before getting into their car. It’s pretty terrifying, and I wish it was less common.

Fridges are huge

Bulk buying isn’t a huge thing in Europe like it is in the US. So every apartment I’ve lived in has had a tiny fridge. Some even fit under the counter like a dishwasher. But everyone in the US has a massive industrial stainless steel monster, with double doors and several freezing drawers. What normal family needs to store 30 lbs of chicken and meat all at once? Apparently all of them, because these refrigerators are a standard.

People make their phone conversations public

A really popular thing to do in the US if you’re a complete douchebag is to put your phone calls on speaker in public. Some people would argue that it’s because they’re too lazy to hold the phone up to their ear. But I call bullshit on that, because most of the time, they’re still holding the phone in front of their mouth to scream into like savages. Some people also like to Facetime in public, which is even more annoying and perplexing. I’ve never in my life seen this in Prague, where people like to keep their voices low in public areas.

Flights are late all the time

Though I only spent time in Miami, I took several domestic flights en route there and back, and every single flight was late. And I’d like to blame it on the government shutdown (though that has definitely made things worse). But I remember living in the US and traveling often. I’ve been held up at the tarmac because of airport traffic, because part of the crew is coming from another flight, because the gate agent forgot to submit paperwork. In Europe, I’m always wishing for a delayed flight, because if your flight is more than 3 hours late getting you to your destination, the airline owes you 600 euro. But I never get delayed, and that hefty fine is precisely why. Airlines have an incredible incentive to get your ass to your destination as soon as possible.

Everyone’s teeth are perfect

If you grew up with jacked up teeth in the US, your parents paid thousands of dollars to get you braces. If you grew up with jacked up teeth in Europe, you become an adult with jacked up teeth. Cosmetic dentistry isn’t really a thing here. I don’t even think I could buy whitening strips in Prague. The need to have perfect straight sparkling white teeth just hasn’t caught on here the way it has in the US. So people here tend to look a little more like normal imperfect humans and less like they’re gonna be on the cover of People magazine.

Being flashy is normal, even if you’re poor

I have a nice Michael Kors watch I received as a gift (because I would never buy myself something that expensive). And I feel awkward wearing it in Prague, because normal working people like me don’t dress like they earn $200,000 a year. People in the US love to spend money on designer clothes, bags, shoes, jewelry, new cars and even newer gadgets. So my watch in Miami is positively modest, and in Prague, it’s too ostentatious to wear in public.

Air conditioning is (rightfully) seen as essential

Even though it’s the dead of winter, I have spent the past week furiously researching where the fuck I can go between July and August so I don’t have to suffer through another European summer without AC. In the US, everything has AC, which only feels odd now because of how loud it is. In fact, I had friends visiting Prague tell me that my apartment felt too still and too quiet at night. I don’t mind the silence, but I do mind a sweltering existence in my own home when it’s 95 degrees. I need that sweet soothing cold air.

You can get anything without a prescription

When I was at the airport heading home, there was a small drug store for “last minute necessities.” And I’m pretty sure I could get more stuff without a doctor’s prescription at that airport than I could at any pharmacy in Europe. Medication is closely guarded by medical professionals here, so that 600 mg cold and flu shit you can just pick up with your groceries is hard to come by where I live.

The US feels more unsafe

The fear of terrorism is the basis for all American domestic and foreign policy. But I have to say, I don’t feel terribly scared of foreign terrorists when I’m in the US. But I am scared of other Americans. Because Americans will shoot up a mall or a club if they’re having a bad day. When you live in that environment, you get used to it and it doesn’t seem so unsafe. But now that I don’t, I was a little more surprised by the feeling that my personal safety is kind of at risk. Twice, I had people walk me to my car when I was going home at night. I happen to know that people in Miami will put a bullet in you for your iPhone.

I am fortunate that I never have much reason to worry about my personal safety abroad. Violent crime isn’t a huge thing, especially with a deadly weapon. I don’t worry about being kidnapped and held in someone’s basement for 5 years. I don’t worry about being held hostage at the post office or murdered at a movie theatre. That’s some crazy American shit.


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