I think the last 8 months has left me more culturally “shocked” than any time in my life. Except maybe birth, because I’m guessing it must have been pretty shocking to use my lungs for the first time. Ok, that was random. Anyway, in addition to the culture shock people experience when visiting distant lands, another phenomenon occurs when returning home. It’s called reverse culture shock. I tend to get used to the way things are wherever I find myself, so being overseas for the time that I have this year and then coming back– American culture is shocking me.
Don’t worry, I’m not going to be “that guy” who talks about all the things wrong with our culture (at least not in this post), I’ve just noticed a few things coming back this time around.
- Pedestrians have the right of way in the U.S. You may say, “Duh, Kenny,” but let me just say that elsewhere it is not so. There are so many people in India, and the streets are so crowded with everything you can imagine (including pedestrians), that our version of right-of-way seems foolish to them. If you told an Indian driver that in the U.S. people walking on the streets have right-of-way, the response you would get may go like this: “But why? The vehicle is so much bigger!”
- In the states, I’m actually expected to wait in line like everybody else. Other cultures are often missing things we take for granted. Several examples come to mind, like the time our Kenya team was trying to get off the bus we had traveled on all day, and the mass of people waiting to get on the bus began to push themselves in even before we could get out. It’s difficult to describe, but one word does come to mind: pandemonium. I ended up hitting a guy in the head with my guitar case just so we could get past him. But I hit him in a loving way. That’s one example of what happens when you don’t grow up in public schools that have “wait your turn” lessons and “follow the leader,” etc. In India, at the markets, no one waits in line. You pick up the items you want to buy, and then regardless of who is waiting to pay, you place your items on the counter and start waiving around some money. That being said, you can imagine my shock when I get in line at my favorite cafe here in San Diego and have to wait while 3 sorority girls in front of me practice their reading skills on the menu, even though I know what I’ve been wanting for 3 months (‘The Works’ Acai bowl is the best). Maybe there is a method to other cultures’ madness
- No one’s staring at me any more. Maybe it’s because I don’t have a rainbow-colored mohawk or a sweet sleeve of tatoos, but no one’s staring at me here in the states. I’m actually enjoying this one. Everywhere I’ve been this year, majority of people have had much darker skin than me. It brings to mind what a man in Mena told me in January when I told him I would be visiting Kenya. He said, “Do your best to blend in.” He then chuckled at my red hair. Needless to say, I have stood out. I’m a ginger, and maybe a little recognizable. Like the man in Kibera who said to me, “What is your name?” and then before I could respond he answered himself, “Chuck Norris!” But after the better part of 5 months in Africa and India, I was getting pretty tired of being gawked at for being white. I think this definitely gives me some perspective for how some immigrants to the U.S. might feel in the beginning.
- Electricity runs all the time here, not counting thunderstorms. This is one thing I missed, especially in India. When it’s 120 degrees in the afternoon and you’re sleeping because it’s all you can do to escape the heat; the power goes out, and the only fan in the room stops running, you immediately wake up in a hot sweat. Electricity is nice
- Guys don’t hold hands in public. Granted, I do live in California, so it doesn’t happen more often here than other places in the states. One of the things that was intially different, but I had to get used to, was the innocent affection that friends have for each other both in Kenya and India. In both countries, it’s not odd at all to see grown men walking down the street either holding hands or arms over each others’ shoulders. It happened to me. My best Kenyan and Indian friends would go for my hand quite a bit, and initially it’s a little awkward, but also a little endearing. That being said, if any American dudes reading this try to hold my hand you might find yourself holding my fist with your face. Ok, I’m just kidding, but you never know.