Friday, July 16, 2010


Some well-informed people have asked me if I am experiencing 'culture shock' (or, more aptly, reverse culture shock). I laugh a little and say no. I've lived abroad and gone back and forth between cultures enough that I'm generally comfortable with the transition. I don't always enjoy the process, but I know what to expect and how to get through uncomfortable moments. I let myself linger in certain stores a little longer the first few times so that I become familiar with what's there and what's changed. I expect to be on the outside of conversations that have to do with television shows (but that's always been true). I ask questions about state politics so that I'm more informed when it comes time to vote in November. I try to buy healthy foods so that I don't become 'shocked' by weight gain. I usually get lost the first time I go to a place even if I've been there and still have a copy of the Thomas Guide in my car (do they even make those anymore?).

I expect these things and know that just about the time I'm quite comfortable with life in southern California, it'll be time to leave.

But what I didn't expect this time is how incompetent I've felt. I haven't known which cleaning products to buy or which stores to find good deals at. Some of my recipes are written with metric measurements and I don't know the equivalent in cups. I haven't known what to say when someone asks if I want to join their club/card/whatever because when I say, well, I live in Eastern Europe, because that can start a really complex conversation with a stranger. (Hmm, maybe that is a good thing, though.) Even driving a new car has given me cause to hesitate at times.

As I reflect, I realize that this is similar to what a missionary experiences when they first enter a new culture—minus the language barrier. I have now been in southern California for three months, and I finally feel fairly competent again. There are still things I do well in my own culture: I can still whip up great salads and dressings without much thought, I have a daily swimming routine, and I've gotten to know my neighbors.

So whether it is called reverse culture shock or something else, it is pleasant to feel settled and competent again.