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.


Lori said...

Lois, I am so glad that you're here, even if it's only for a short time. I really do want to hang out and get to know you better. I've really enjoyed all of our interactions! When we moved to CA from the midwest 3 years ago, it seemed like moving to a foreign land. I still get lost A LOT. I can't imagine how much more it must feel to you.

MommaMina said...

Yep you do whip up great salads and dressings and POPSICLES! And you are exemplary in grammar. You make mean coffee drinks. You are an inspiration to great ideas just by being in the same room. And you too so know where to get good deals.. I saw you at Value plus this Wednesday morning and you were buying produce. I am glad to know that your competency barometer is more favorable for you.
You seem extremely competent to me!

Faith said...

Loey, I hope I get there some day! :)
Thanks for posting this. I still miss making salads and healthy foods with you!

Lois Thorpe said...

Lori, what's your schedule like? Are there times that are available/not available to hang out? And it's probably more or less the same feeling as you experienced coming from the midwest. :)

Mina, I only know about the deals because of YOU! :)

Faith, you will, but it will look different for you, I think. I'm so glad you can be there for a time, though. Remember that our values change as we grow and sometimes feeling 'competent', as I put it, is not the same as feeling like we fit in every situation. I still feel 'different' here and to some extent probably always will.