I was definitely not prepared for returning to the US. I thought I was, and after a few days, I'm over the initial shock, and I know that once I'm living in Niger, coming back to the US will be even harder and stranger, but I for sure wasn't expecting to feel the way I did this time.
During my layover in DC I wrote the following about my first impressions:
Welcome back to the land of yelling, Bobble-Head dolls [Obama and SarahPalin were the most common], and people watching. Where being in public without a vente Starbucks cup is like walking around without pants on.I think some of the surprise hit me before I even left France. I was struck by how loud and demanding some American passengers were, and how friendly and chatty others were. The flight attendants from the US were unusually casual (one even said to a passenger "Oh! You got me in the butt!" after the passenger bumped her with his carry-on bag). But my favorite line from the flight was from the woman behind me. From the moment she got on the plane she was loud and obnoxious. As they were settling into their seats, she said to her companion in a surprised tone of disbelief: "Like she'd never seen cheese n' crackers before! I mean, they're cheese n' crackers! Well, maybe if they'd have a WalMart here!" Yup, that's the answer to world peace . . . WalMark and dehydrated cheese spread on cardboard, mmmm.
I found the Chipotle in Dulles and ordered a chicken burrito bowl--it's the largest plate of food I've had in six months. All the employes were Hispanic and they spoke in Spanish to each other. It was weird to hear non-English and not be able to understand at least a little bit of it. But even weirder is to be surrounded by English . . . it's strange to see Africans but hear them speak English, not French. It's weird to see Middle Easterners and hear them speaking English.
It's even weirder that it feels weird. It's weird to go through customs and security and be greated with a smile and 'how was your trip?' It's weird to wander through the airport, get to the international departures terminal, see all the international flags and think 'ah, that's better.'
I don't know how to explain it. They say reverse culture shock is always harder . . . but I've only been gone 6 months and I'm only staying five days . . . and I haven't even left the airport. Let's call it 'jet lag' instead.