28 August 2012

Reverse Culture Shock

The other day I was pulling out of my parking spot and I nearly had an emotional breakdown.

Sitting behind the wheel, I felt paralyzed and wanted to cry.  I didn’t know where to go or what to do.  I wanted to run away and hide, never to return to such a God-forsaken place . . . as South Jersey.

That’s right.  After only seven weeks back in the US, I’ve been officially diagnosed with Reverse Culture Shock.

While I’m still waiting on the prognosis, the hope is it’s not terminal.

When I lived in France, I hand many (MANY) episodes like the one above.  Everyday-life endeavors that resulted in a near-miss with psychosis.  There were days, weeks, months, when I felt certifiable and wasn’t sure I’d get through fully intact.  

But it passed, and by the time I moved to Niger, I was homesick for all things Fran├žais

Living in Niger has been a little bit different . . . the Culture-Shock-Cycle is little less extreme (either that or it’s just masked by my sudden crying spells which come courtesy of all the death and suffering that surround us).  Maybe it’s not having a local Post Office Lady looking for a fight, or library cards which can be confused.  But regardless, it’s different.

And now . . . it’s reverse.


At first it wasn’t so bad.  I landed on 5 July, just in time for the Independence Day festivities of Small Town, USA . . . which was very surreal.  But it was okay.  And then I just enjoyed passing my days sweat-free.  I was cold ALL THE TIME . . . but I wasn’t dusty . . . and I could wear pants and short skirts and my knees and head could be exposed for all the world to see.   And there was Target and Michael’s and blended coffee drinks and non-homemade icecream and bacon.

It was wonderful.

And I was enjoying every moment.

But then, when I least expected it . . . it all stopped.  And I wanted to run away, back to west Africa.

I arrived in South Jersey on Monday.  And I needed a pair of brown flats, so I went to my favorite place to shop: Kohl’s.  As I wandered toward the shoe-section, I passed the Juniors on my right, where two Cougars thumbed through the rack.  I scanned the vicinity for a couple of teenage daughters . . . and I secretly hoped they were all in the dressing room.

‘Oh Kimmie would just love this!’ Cougar A said to Cougar B as she lifted a mini skirt from the rack. ‘And if not,’ she added ‘I’m sure it will fit me!’  

It was at that moment had to dig out the boarding pass from that morning’s flight, just to make sure it actually said ‘Philadelphia’ and not ‘The Twilight Zone’.

WHERE AM I??? I thought to myself.

When I left Kohl’s new-shoeless, I made my way around the vicinity getting a few things I needed . . . all the while feeling very judgmental and irritated by the Real-Housewives that seemed to be looming around every corner.  My journey then took me to Trader Joe’s, home of the 2-Buck Chuck.  

It was here that I nearly lost it.

Wandering through the aisles I used to frequent in my previous life, I suddenly felt out of place.  Unlike my maiden trips to Carrefoure, here I could read all the labels.  I knew what everything was and I didn’t need to convert prices in my head.

But I did anyway.

‘THAT SALT SHAKER WOULD BE 15,000cfa!!  FIFTEEN-THOUSAND!!  FOR A LITTLE BIT OF SALT!!  More like 15,000 for a fancy grinder!  WHERE AM I????’ I screamed in my head.

I left, having only bought a box of cheap tea.

And this was when the real fun began.

I walked the few steps to my parking spot.  Turned on the car, pushed down the clutch, shifted to reverse, and checked behind me to be sure no one was coming.  The coast was clear on both sides, so I backed up and shifted up to first.

Without warning a big black SUV raced up in front of me.  He so greatly limited my turning radius, that I would now needed to do a ‘K’ turn.  I inched forward, just so I wouldn’t completely waste shifting out of reverse, and as I did a second big black SUV sped up behind me, cutting me off.

Now at a 45° angle with the spot, I had only inches to roll forward or backward.  My ‘K’ turned into a very tight, multi-pointed star.

But that was no big deal.  The crack in the dam was that these two strangers began flailing their arms about while yelling at me . . . as if it was MY fault that they had to wait.

Suddenly, I felt like a lost, scared little girl.  I wanted to put my head down and let the tears flow.  

Ridiculous!  I know.  But, that’s Reverse Culture Shock.  Completely irrational and always when you least expect it.  The little things that used to be normal or not matter at all have suddenly become that which I hate the most.

These were in the JOURNALS section at the bookstore!  THE JOURNALS
people!!!  JOURNALS!  WHERE AM I?!?!?!
Being called ‘Sweetheart’ by the guy pumping my gas . . . or feeling embarrassed by the obnoxious passengers around me only when there are foreigners on my flight . . . the bossy woman behind me in line at the grocery store . . . long-legged teenagers wearing Daisy-Dukes . . . bald guys cruising to Gangsta Rap in their sporty Midlife-Crisis-Mobiles  down the streets of suburbia . . . JustinBieber is cool . . . rat-like dogs poking their scrawny heads out of a purse in Starbucks . . . coeds taking their rite-of-fpassage solo flight back to Kansas . . . skinny jeans (oh, don’t get me started on skinny jeans!!!) . . . WHERE AM I?!?!?!


Beth said...

Haha...I love the journal pics. I hear you on all of it!

Amanda said...

Sorry-O, and have been there too.......Hang in there, and come home soon!

dbhilstad said...

I have to say the Cougar story made me chuckle. Praying for you my friend,

Alicia said...

you are right; it creeps up out of nowhere. I can really relate to being in a store I had loved and missed while I was overseas and realizing that I don't need all this stuff. And being disturbed that everyone else does seem to need it. Praying for you today, friend.

Lindsay Hartfiel said...

Reverse culture shock is one of the most difficult AND unexpected things a returning traveler goes through. Who would ever think you'd need to re-adjust to your homeland? Feel free to check out my website and digital magazine (Native Foreigner) at www.nativeforeignermag.com. It deals specifically with reverse culture shock. And, I'm always looking for new contributors in case you're interested! Good luck with your transition and keep your head up. Remember all of the wonderful experiences you've had and how they've changed your life.

Dorothy Ardill said...

wow, the honeymoon stage wore off too quickly!! Go back to honeymoon and enjoy Starbucks for a few more weeks, then go head long into "get me to Niger NOW" stage.