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.
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.
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.
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.