Reverse Culture Shock
“Is it weird being back?”
I get asked this frequently. I lived in Mexico for the last 12 years, but then my family picked up and moved to the US Midwest, less than 2 hours from where I grew up. Given that we’re almost back to where I started from, this should be the easiest transition in the world. In some ways, it is. Some days, I feel like I’m in a time warp, and nothing has changed. I’m just living life as it always was . . . except that I’ve added a husband, three kids, and a dog to the equation!
Other days, I step out of bed, thinking, “This is so weird.”
The weirdness is rather difficult to pinpoint. The following observations honestly have very little to do with those times when life hits me upside the head, reminding me how much my life has changed in the last 5 months.
But when people want to hear about differences between life in the US and life in Mexico, these are the bits and pieces that I find surprising:
No Red Lipstick
People don’t wear red lipstick here. (OK, some do. But not many.) Before one of my choir concerts in Mexico, someone was asking to borrow lipstick. But they were looking for something that wasn’t red.
Out of the 20 of us there, she was out of luck! We were all wearing red.
However, at least in the Midwest, the number of people that go all out and wear red lipstick is pretty slim. I can go weeks being the only one I run into with red lipstick on.
So who am I kidding? That means that it’s just more likely than not that I’m out running around without makeup on, because everyone else is going out with a naked face, too!
It’s liberating. But a lot less fun.
So Many Choices!
It’s been said before . . . a lot! I think almost any “Adjusting to the US” article out there will have some mention about the mind-boggling array of choices that consumers in the US have easily within their reach.
I was mostly prepared for this in stores.
However, it struck me funny when we were signing up for healthcare.
Now, in Mexico, everyone who has a tax-paying job gets signed up for the national healthcare program (IMSS). If you have a job with excellent benefits, they’ll enroll you for additional private health care coverage. You sign on for you job, and–BOOM–you’re covered.
In the US, before we could sign up, we had to decide which kind of healthcare coverage we wanted. Whaaaat? And they go by all these vague acronyms that don’t make a ton of sense.
Thank goodness for youtube explanations!
To get over being overwhelmed by all the choices, I’ll just keep shopping at Aldi’s. For most items, there is only one brand. It does not take 10 minutes to walk all the way to the back of it, just to buy a gallon of milk. Because of these factors, they are able to keep prices low.
US healthcare could learn something from the Aldi’s approach!
Online Classroom Forums
OK, this one might just be me, because I FINALLY got a smartphone last December. I know in Mexico, my kids’ classes has parent groups on Whatsapp. As I didn’t have a smartphone, I just got important updates from a friend (and could miss all the drama–it was the perfect way to do it!).
However, here no one uses Whatsapp. Instead, there are a plethora of classroom messenger apps. I have two different kids in school with two teachers, using two different apps. Fortunately, they don’t post much, nor do other parents, so that might be a bonus over Whatsapp.
Seriously though, there’s something to be said about having all groups administered by one app. But that would go against our love of having too many choices, so . . . I guess I’ll max out my cheap phone’s storage on all these apps I need to communicate with people.
For real, though–whatsapp is simple, useful, and when EVERYBODY else has it on their phone, it works so slick!
But I’m one small voice in an ocean demanding infinite choices.
This is another one of those things that I’m not entering culture shock so much as adjusting to the 21st century. For those with big enough bank accounts, online banking IS a thing in Mexico.
I had no income, so I had no bank account.
However, I do have a US bank account, since I did need that for direct deposits from VIPKid, and I relied heavily on it while the Hubs was still in Mexico and we were here. Usually, I thought I knew how much I had in my account, and my bank would rollover funds from from my savings account to checking if I was overdrawn.
However, I was mistaken about how much was in my account.
I also didn’t realize that I only got 3 free rollovers if I was overdrawn.
Then they charged me $33 USD every time I was overdrawn.
This got very expensive very fast!
Fifteen years ago, when I used to live here, I used a lot more cash. Now, it is so easy to just hand over the debit card. In fact, it’s too easy! Even most vendors at the farmers’ markets accept them! This is pretty basic advice (and some that I never thought I’d need), but check in on your account on a regular basis. Online banking makes it so easy!
Because those overdraft fees can be brutal.
In general, people are a lot angrier and stressed out than they are in Mexico.
People in Mexico tend to work much longer hours, so I don’t really understand this. Do people in the US feel that they have less control over their lives, which makes them lash out? Is it just so obvious for people in Mexico that life could be so much worse, so they’re grateful for the opportunities they’ve got?
I don’t have any solid answers for this one.
But I do have an example!
One night, I was driving out of my parents’ neighborhood. There is a public trail crossing nearby, which has obnoxiously bright lights that flash whenever someone is waiting to cross. It is a tendency of most people to stop and let people cross, and so I did.
The guy waiting waved me to move. As it was night, and I was concerned for his safety, I waved him through (with my arm through the open window, so it was obvious). He reminded me, “I [the biker] have a stop sign. You do not. You need to go.”
He had a very valid point. In fact, I’ve thought the same thing while I wait to cross the street while I’m on the trail, too. Often, I do wish cars would just continue on their way instead of stopping for me, so I can wait for a good break in the traffic.
So I continued on my way, giving him a thumbs up, to let him know that I was in agreement. As a parting shot, he shouted at me, “Learn the RULES!”
Dude–you made your point. You don’t have to be rude about it.
Keep biking, dude. You need more endorphins in your system to tame all that rage, so please keep exercising. But I’m willing to bet those same rules say you shouldn’t be biking at night!
We all need to work together. We’re less likely to do that when we’re angry, or others are angry or rude. Keep it in perspective.
But really, why do we have such anger/rudeness issues in the US?
Is This REALLY Reverse Culture Shock?
So, are all these observations really symptoms of reverse culture shock? I was thinking that they weren’t. Then I read a bit, (check out the reading list below) and yes–all these little observations add up and, when taken as a whole, become reverse culture shock.
When coming back and adjusting to live here, I knew that I would have to focus my energies on acclimating, not writing about the changes. (That’s why I’ve been so quiet here for so long.)
Here I am, so be ready for more odd observations in a week or two!
I’m back, baby! (Both in the US and on this blog.)
Reverse Culture Shock Reading List
- The Official US Government Summary (which was the best and most thorough explanation I read).
- A good, balanced account of someone returning from two years in Thailand.
- The simplest overview that I found.
Online banking photo by Anastasiia Ostapovych on Unsplash.
Bike photo by John Nzoka on Unsplash.