Reverse culture shock: the expats come home

As many of you know, we recently made a second-in-a-lifetime move from Spain to the United States. Many of our Stateside friends say, “Welcome home,” as we try to figure out what our new-old home is like again, after more than 36 years away.

I thought I would share some of our culture shocks with you. You might laugh or think them insignificant, but these stand out to us after living in Europe for a whole generation.

  • big cars, parking lots, highways, and lots of pickup trucks—Very few European roads are wider than three lanes each way, and only in major cities will you find three lanes. Although there are SUVs and even pickup trucks in Europe, they are majorly scaled-down versions. Eighteen-wheelers are also much smaller. How else could they wind up and down narrow mountain roads? Most cars are much smaller. You’ll be hard pressed to find large parking lots in Europe.
  • language—Since arriving, we have actually answered people we don’t know in Spanish, even if they ask a question in English. Oh, well … even this shall pass.
  • soft, fluffy toilet paper—No comparison.
  • overwhelming variety in stores—My husband was looking for a brand of deoderant he likes. There were many fragrance options for his brand. In Europe, there would be one or two options max. The cereal food aisle is a whole, long aisle. The same goes for everything. The sheer abundance in the USA is amazing.
  • waste—I am awed by the amount of non-careful buying and trashing that goes on. I’m not talking about our family members, but this is our general observation.
  • food additives—I knew a while back to anticipate this change. In Europe, we make most things from scratch, and there are no GMO foods. Here, it’s very different. Have you ever read the ingredient list on a bottle of salad dressing, for example? It’s a whole paragraph including colorings, preservatives, and sugar syrups.
  • customer service—Gotta give it to the USA for nice, patient people whose job it is to serve you.
  • dressing down—In the Detroit airport, we saw one young woman wearing colorful, fuzzy winter pajamas and slippers, at midday. In Europe, you might spy someone emptying the trash in a housecoat, but you would never see anyone out in public in pajamas. Never. Sloppy, filthy clothing—even work clothes—would not be worn out on the street. Here, it’s another story entirely. Also, men wearing shorts and coats will take some getting used to.
  • being able to run more than one appliance at a time—In Europe, you pay for a certain amount of electricity. If you go over that, the lights dim or the electricity cuts off altogether. Here, one can run the washer, dishwasher, microwave, oven, and fans at the same time. Luxury!
  • non-gluten—European people (with few exceptions) never worry about gluten. They bake the best breads and pastries in the world. Here, potato chip bags are marked “non-gluten.” I guess that means potato chips are thereby healthy?
  • style—This year in the USA, fall fashion is easy. All you need is something animal print, preferably leopard, something buffalo check, and ankle boots. In Europe, though once in a while one might spy leopard print on a scarf or shoes, I cannot even imagine that anyone would wear big, red buffalo checks.
  • clothes dryers—Will I ever grow accustomed to these?
  • huge gallon jugs of milk—In Europe, we have little cartons that hold one liter (quart), and they don’t require refrigeration. Love them! I’m building muscles while pouring milk in my coffee. Win-win.
  • self check-out—A genius thought of this.
  • watery coffee—Americans think coffee should resemble Earl Grey tea. Europeans think black means black.

I’m sure there are many more shocks in store for us. Living here is like being ducks out of water, although we’re supposed to be coming home. Our home was the Basque Country. Almost as if we were immigrants, we are discovering the New World of the USA.

I am thankful that the Lord never changes and He cares about our goofy moments and promises to be near.

There’s a Bible story about crossing the Jordan River. Joshua commanded the tribes of Israel to place twelve stones where the people carrying the ark stood—on dry ground, in the middle of the river. Later, those stones were moved and piled up again, as a monument.

During our intercontinental move, I have often felt the urge to erect a pile of stones of remembrance. Each step of the way, and even as we begin to settle in here, we have witnessed God’s hand working.

When your children shall ask their fathers in time to come, saying, What mean these stones? Then ye shall let your children know, saying, Israel came over this Jordan on dry land. For the LORD your God dried up the waters of Jordan from before you, until ye were passed over, as the LORD your God did to the Red sea, which he dried up from before us, until we were gone over: That all the people of the earth might know the hand of the LORD, that it is mighty: that ye might fear the LORD your God for ever (Joshua 4:21b-24).

If you were ever an expat and came home, feel free to share your “reverse” culture shock moments with us.

Have a lovely Thanksgiving, wherever you are!