Being back in the US after almost a year is a bit of a weird experience. There’s a lot of everyday things that I’m definitely no longer used to. So in the same way one might go to Japan and be completely bewildered by everything, I feel a little bit of reverse culture shock being back in the US.
I understand everything around me
Something strange happens where you spend extended periods of time abroad. Since the language is foreign, everything becomes kind of a meaningless blur. You don’t really pay attention to signs or conversations because you don’t understand it anyway. So when you come back, it’s a little bit like information overload. You understand everything! Billboards, the radio, overhead announcements, people in restaurants. If you need something, you don’t have to ask the person if they speak English first. (Well, in Miami, you do sometimes.) It’s both awesome and kind of overwhelming.
The way credit cards are used is totally fucked up
I recently tried to tap my card to pay at a store in Prague and the cashier was like “You have to use the chip. It’s old school.” Which is hilarious, because the US has spent the last 3 years trying to implement the chip thing. I can’t tell you how unsafe financial transactions are here. I’ve gotten used to having my card with me at all times. At restaurants, a server brings a card machine to your table to pay. Here, you just give your debit card to someone and they disappear with it for like 15 minutes. Most cards/machines don’t have tapping capabilities. So you’re sticking your card in like 7 machines a day. It’s no wonder identity theft is so common.
Everyone is so patriotic
This year, I happened to be around for not one, but two countries celebrating their centennial (Lithuania and the Czech Republic). And let me tell you, the most patriotic day in a European country pales in comparison to a regular weekday in December in the US. Flags abroad are usually reserved for government buildings and public squares; not as a personal way to show your undying love for your country. But here, you can’t escape flags on people’s houses, people’s cars, on clothing. This is especially ironic because of how much the US sucks. You can’t afford to go to a doctor or to get car insurance, but you have enough money to have a custom eagle vinyl wrap on your F150, you dumbass?
(Not) using change feels weird
One thing that always takes a bit of getting used to is the currency, especially the coins. I’ve actually found myself having to look twice to determine the value of a nickel versus a dime. But at the end of the day, they’re both pretty worthless. You can’t buy anything with change, especially the ubiquitous penny. Abroad, you can always find something you can afford with the change in your pocket. That’s because one coin could be worth as much as $2-3. So you save them and you use them.
Everyone is always in a hurry
I sort of forget how rushed life feels in the US until I’ve been away for a while. You can’t go anywhere without sensing that everyone around you is dying to get out of there as quickly as possible. You have to dodge speeding carts at the grocery store, at the mall. Everyone is just trying to finish up so they can go be in a hurry somewhere else. It’s super annoying, especially because it’s kind of infectious. When everyone around you is exasperated, you become exasperated and you wanna get the hell out of there too.
Getting an Uber is kind of unsafe without a front license plate
There are 19 states in the US that don’t require cars to have front license plates. So when David is coming to pick you up in a Ford Focus, you have to just hope that the Ford Focus you’re flagging down is the right one because you can’t see the plate number. I’ve gotten used to identifying my rides by their plate numbers. Mostly because I still have no idea what the fuck a Skoda Octavia looks like.
And don’t even get me started on Uber Pool.
For real, public toilets are super invasive
Foreigners visiting the US are often shocked by the fact that our public toilets are, in fact, quite public. And now that I’m used to WCs that are completely private rooms, having to pee in one of six stalls with two feet of viewing room on the top and bottom and a two inch gap all around the door frame feels pretty weird.
Grocery shopping is a whole different experience
I still fondly remember Publix, where shopping really is a pleasure. But I did not remember how much stuff they have! Now I’m used to smaller stores where the selection is fairly limited where things go in and out of season and there are only a few brands to choose from. But a modern US grocery store has e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g. Fruits that are in season, fruits that are out of season. 400 brands of cereal. An entire aisle for sauces. Bagels! EGGNOG! My first shopping trip in the US was a jaw-dropping experience.
And to bookend the incredible excess of choice, you’re given 1,000 plastic bags, one for every item. I haven’t seen a plastic bag in like a year. Czechs will execute you if you don’t use a reusable bag.
Also there’s no earthly reason why food needs to be that expensive, America. Yikes.
People have installed cameras everywhere
I definitely missed the period of early adopters installing doorbell cams and stuff that might have allowed me acclimate to this trend. Because now everyone I know has an extensive video security system in their house. Between Ring and pet cams, I feel like I’m constantly being watched and heard inside and outside people’s houses by their cameras. Which I guess is not that different from life with Alexa and an iPhone.
Your glass is always full
For people who care so much about health, Europeans love to ration 4 oz of water throughout their dinner. But in the US, whether you order a drink or not, you have a full glass of water at all times during your meals. Servers will even offer to fill you up after you’ve finished eating. It’s kind of amazing. I feel so hydrated! I also feel really cold, because I’m no longer used to drinking water with ice.
Why is everyone is always drag racing?
This is probably more of a Miami thing than a US thing, but holy hell, I haven’t heard the sound of tires screeching in a good 12 months. For literally everyone else in the world, the act of driving is a useful tool to transport you from one place to the other. Here, it’s an opportunity to re-enact a scene from Fast & the Furious. Which is actually why so many people in Miami end up suffering the same fate as Paul Walker. Does it not occur to anyone how odd it is that the sound of a car peeling out is a constant ambient sound? Because it’s odd.
To be fair, at least I haven’t heard gun shots.
Click here for even more examples of reverse culture shock in part two of this post.