|Mm, nothing sounds better as a light snack than dried, whole fish.|
But there is something even more bewildering and disconcerting that you very rarely hear about: reverse culture shock. It happens to people who spend a long period of time in another culture, experiencing all those jarring moments of regular culture shock and slowly becoming accustomed to them. Eventually, you become so used to your new culture that your native culture starts feeling foreign to you.
For me, it always starts at Narita as I'm waiting to board the plane home with all the other American ex-pats and tourists. The first thing I notice is that the people around me look gigantic, their clothes seem scruffy, all jeans and t-shirts, and they talk really loudly.
|Who are these strange people and why are they so noisy??|
Then I'm back in the U.S. and everything feels weird. I'm jet-lagged and a little delirious, which doesn't help with all the reverse culture shock I'm experiencing. My coping mechanism kicks in and I make a beeline for the first coffee shop I see (usually a Starbucks.) But I've forgotten the etiquette of how to order coffee in English. I fumble around with smelly American money (it really does stink compared to yen) before remembering that I can use my debit card again and getting inappropriately excited about that. The lady behind the counter is already looking at me strangely when I make the whole encounter even more awkward by accidentally bowing to her as I take my receipt.
Things improve a little bit after I've slept off the jet-lag, but there are still lots of little things that confuse or frustrate me. Where are all the conbini? We've just driven like ten blocks and I haven't seen a single convenience store. People keep eyeing my clothes oddly, making me feel ashamed that I'm not wearing the national American uniform of jeans + t-shirt. Meal portions at restaurants are so large I can make the left-overs into two additional meals. Complete strangers think it's appropriate to make friendly conversation with you.
|Then again, perhaps I never had a good grasp of American fashion to begin with...|
Everyone expects to feel culture shock when they visit a foreign country. Sometimes people even enjoy it; it highlights the foreign-ness of the new place and makes things seem even more adventurous and exciting. It can also be frightening and rage-inducing, but that's mostly to be expected, too. It is, after all, a foreign country. Of course it's going to be foreign.
|Yes, of course the statue needs a warm winter coat to protect it from the cold. You're always so logical like that, Japan.|
But experiencing those same feelings in your home country is a whole new level of disconcerting. Before going home you think to yourself: "Ah, it will be great to be back. I can finally get some of the food I've missed, see my family... everything will be normal again." And then you get there and everything is normal, but you aren't.
You've changed. Of course you're not Japanese, but now you're not totally American either. You've fallen into the middle space, the place where two cultures collide, and at first it is extremely discomfiting. But after awhile you learn to adjust again. Then you see the benefits to the middle space: it gives you a clearer perspective of both cultures. It lets you choose what you identify with the most from each of them. It lets you have the best of both worlds.
|At least one thing will never change: as an American, I'll always look a little silly in a yukata.|