Reverse Culture Shock

They prepared us very well – or so we were told – with all the information we needed to lessen the effects of moving to an unfamiliar country. True to their word, I didn’t experience culture shock for moving to France – and as far as my class is concerned – nobody else did either.

To me, France was in many ways a familiar territory. It wasn’t foreign enough. The cobble stone streets, cows, la baisé, cathedrals, market place, even the pastry shop and especially the Kinder eggs… they were all how I remembered Mexico. Jair, the 12 year old that lives next door (to my house in Rio) said that the pure comparison was ludacris. According to his observations, Mexico was broken and ugly. I shock my head and tried not to picture it. Dispite the war, in my heart, the Marachi country will always be remembered as beautiful.

Anyways, we’d all arrived in Europe with open minds, willing to accept the cultures and all it’s differences. For us, it was easy to assimilate and in “Rome”, to do what the Romans do.

What no one warned us was about going home.


Climate Change!?

After a rather pleasant flight from Germany to Las Vegas, I waved goodbye to Matte, the adorable three year old Croatian who’d kept my company throughout the trip. Everyone went through customs, through the lines and eventually out into the city. The first and most shocking element that slapped me in the face as soon as I’d stepped out the airport, was the environment. It was hellishly hot. Something like 115 degrees to be modest. Once on the streets, it was also noted to my dismay that nothing green had survived the heat. Grass, flowers, green hills – all in a distant memory.


Mono linguistic Society

The next shocking thing was realizing that most people only speak and understand only one language. Even worse, that many cannot differentiate between languages.

On our international campus, I’d gotten used to the chattering of the many Portuguese speaking students. TV was watched in Italian and sometimes German. Classes were in French, chattering in English but most of us could also speak Spanish. We had one girl who spoke Norwegian, a group of Danish students that stayed for a couple of weeks and of course the Romanians who lived upstairs. Everyone hung out and got along surprisingly well.


Tips and Taxes

Imagine coming from a place where the prices you see on the tags is exactly how much money you will be paying at the register. Now, the surprise when an item is advertised as  $49.99 but a 50 dollar bill won’t cut it because the total comes up to $54.11 >.< Like really? Also, there’s no math and calculating involved while eating out in France. Tips are always service compris.


Other Shopping Observations

Throughout various countries, people buy groceries on the daily from smaller stores which specialize in specific items. Here in the USA, we generally go to super markets and super centers to purchase enough supplies to fill our pantries. Purchasing the product and getting out of there as soon as possible are usually the top priority. It’s inconvenient for the producer and consumer to form a connection.

In addition, the USA is not as environmentally friendly when it comes to shopping bags. In France, it was a bring your own bag sort of deal for all occasions. While the Europeans brought all sorts of assorted contraptions to transport their groceries, it wasn’t uncommon to see American students shopping with their backpacks. Reusable and even one time bags were available at the check out stand but always with additional fees.


Political Correctness 

We American students were often gasping at the comments made by Europeans. During my roomate’s  internship in a classroom environment, one of the teachers actually told her second grader that he was fat and that his mom needed to be told! I know, right? RUDE! The child nodded his head. The class carried on – undisturbed.


Medical Care

While studying abroad, there was an emergency in which I had no access to medication. Knowing the graveness of it, the French pharmacy provided the necessary antidote without a prescription or money upfront. My dean later went by fixed it. In contrast, soon after my arrival in the US, I took my fully legal French prescription and official medical record/documents to the nearest pharmacy. They were unwilling to provide anything under any circumstances. They required ‘American prescriptions’ only.

“If anything happens to me between now and the date of my appointment, it will be on you.”

They were untouched and unmoved. That’s fine. If there is another emergency between now and then, the boarder isn’t that far of a drive.


It’s costs twice as much and isn’t in French. Oh, that start’s today, by the way. Wish me luck! I’m actually excited about this last minute decision.


After contacting other students, I discovered that reverse culture shock wasn’t uniquely my problem. Honestly, the reason why this is happening is quite simple. Everyone expects changes when they move away, but no one anticipates what coming home actually means. In our minds, the future is seen as the memories we recall. That time is gone, life has moved on.


10 thoughts on “Reverse Culture Shock

  1. As we say here in the U.S. of A – welcome to America. Now go home. Our health care *system* is beyond repair. Having said that, I’m pretty sure you cannot fill most/many/all prescriptions from a doctor in country A in a pharmacy in country B. Although Canadian online pharmacies will fill prescriptions from US doctors, no problem. I’ve been to enough countries to know many pharmacists will just give you what you need – as long as it’s not some kind of *happy* drug or something which could be life-threatening. Not sure what all I’m trying to say here – except just be glad you did not get sick and have to go to a hospital. You, your children, your grandchildren and their grandchildren will be paying the bill. And a lot of the *fear* of filling even an emergency/temporary dose of a medication has to do with potential legal costs – Americans sue everyone for everything. Yeah, the system is broken.

    And I did not mean the “now go home” thing. It’s just what people say. Funny, for a nation built on immigration.


    1. Actually, this is the first time that I wasn’t able to fill a prescription from a doctor in country A in a pharmacy in country B. It totally makes sense that such situations leave room for foul play, but I would expect America to be more understanding on those none-*happy* drugs or none-placebos.
      For example, if the lack of a certain medication is going to lead an individual into a potentially fatal medical emergency, can the pharmacy really deny? Well, apparently they can.
      The other point you brought up is unfortunately true. It’s a frightful thing to live in a ‘sue happy’ country. The constant addition of laws and facility to bring anything into court puts daily lives on restraints.
      In the end, the system protects no one.


      1. Hi again. I just re-read my post. Wow. Hope I wasn’t totally insensitive. Just that our medical care can be infuriating – unless you have lots of money and even then a lot of times it’s just bad. As far as the pharmacy regs, I really do not know. What most Americans do in that situation is visit the Emergency Room – an interesting name if you step back for a moment.

        Meanwhile, Las Vegas is great. And awful. I don’t mind heat – but I hate humidity. It’s nice that something is always open. And it’s such a scene. I cannot tell if you’re still there – but if you are, have wheels and want to get out of town – a trip to Mount Charleston north of the city is worth it. Hiking; cooler weather. Semi-mountainous – and a kind-of-nice old lodge. Not at all what you’d expect less than an hour from Sin City. I visited LV a lot in the past 10 years as a get-away, for a computer hacker thing and because it’s one of the few places in America where I can afford to stay in a hotel. 🙂 If you have an interest, the history of some of the older casinos – e.g. Binion’s (founded by Benny Binion, a mob guy who created the “World Series of Poker”) downtown – is interesting.

        Hope you enjoy/enjoyed your staff.


  2. The thing about pharmacy stuff is that there was a time where the only place we could get some special ointment for our daughter who at that time had a bad gum infection and was the only thing that eased the pain was at Walgreens. Whereas back in the UK the stuff was on prescription only, and expensive for a small tube, when we had a holiday/vacation in Las Vegas we found that the same stuff was available over the counter and was cheaper and larger tubes, we bought quite a lot which got some funny looks at the check out. 🙂 But on one visit the temperature was 112 degrees and then the wind was blowing which made things, and I quote my wife here, ‘its like a fan assisted oven’ seem even hotter.

    France is a beautiful country the only problem is its full of French and to us English they seem, at best, ambivalent at worse down right hostile. Whereas we were in Memphis and walking along making out way towards a restaurant. Four of us walking and I was aware of being followed for quite a while until we came upon one of those ‘don’t walk’ signs. We stopped at which point I turned around to see a man and a woman smiling with the guy saying ‘hope you don’t mind us following we just love to hear your English talk’ a surreal if odd experience.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Guess the whole pharmacy experience could be reversed depending on where one is and what one needs!
      My experience in France was somewhat sheltered by the community in which we lived. Thankfully, having to deal with hostile French personas was very limited but we did hear of others internationals who were constantly faced with prejudice and rudeness.
      That’s very amusing about your encounter in Memphis. We Americans just LOVE British accents! That situation was a bit creepy though.


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