When I popped out for lunch in Seoul earlier this week, I ventured into my favorite local Japanese restaurant and tucked into some delicious udon noodles. No time to stop and cut the noodles, and no suitable apparatus to do so, I lifted the udon with my chopsticks and slurped their lengths noisily until I’d eaten the entire noodle. This constitutes impeccable manners here in Asia! Not to mention, a great way of showing your appreciation for your food!
I glanced around the room and to my horror I saw an absolute hunk of a Western man, (more delicious than my noodles, even!) stare on in astoundment. He frowned at my terrible dinner table etiquette as he neatly cut his food. Whatever, Mister.
Living overseas changes you. You pick up obscure habits over time that you may not notice until you arrive back on home soil. Sure, things like learning how to use chopsticks, how to choose memorable accommodation when you travel, and how to express profanities in foreign languages stay with you. However, you may have changed more than you realize.
Dealing with Reverse Culture Shock
Adapting back at home is tricky, particularly after an extended period of time abroad. At least, for one thing, you don’t have to deal with challenges such as perpetually searching for suitable insurance for long-term traveling, language barriers, differing cultural norms, trying to decipher which countries are LGBTQ friendly for gay travel, etc.
Hereon are the thought processes that no doubt ensue when you return home from a society with a much different culture than your own…
You find it mighty peculiar to walk around and be able to understand everything that the people around you are saying. Don’t they realize that you can hear them? Sheesh!
Talk about oversharing! This must be what Mel Gibson felt like in “what women want”.
“Wait! Don’t you want my photograph?”
As “the foreigner” in your overseas community, you’ve become something of a local celebrity. You’re an oddity if you will – like something that fell out of Ripley’s “believe it or not”.
At first, you relish the fact that people aren’t staring at you when you return home. Then you start to question why.
You were previously worried about how to survive long flights in economy during your long-winded journey home. Yet now you have bigger things to worry about. Why haven’t 17 people told you you are beautiful today?
You miss strangers gasping at the sight of you or approaching you to call you attractive. You wonder if you’ve turned invisible… or if maybe it’s like that Bruce Willis movie when he doesn’t realize he’s dead?
Where do they get off on these prices?
Your old friends suggest a get together over dinner and you jump at the opportunity for a catch-up. But wait… it’s how much?! For that?!
You question whether they have just put the decimal point in the wrong place. It surely can’t be that expensive? Oh, apparently that is the correct price… but for that price, you could have a banquet like Henry VIII in the Far East! You ask yourself if your friends will think you are too frugal if you just eat the hors d’oeuvres.
You go shopping and wonder if you’re going to asphyxiate at the price tags. You were able to pick up all of your best travel gear at markets in Asia for a fraction of these prices!
The Schizophrenic Appetite
“It’s just so great to finally eat something other than rice and noodles!” You announce. “When I was in Asia, it was just rice and noodles, rice, and noodles…”
“…Actually, now that I think about it, I really miss rice and noodles… Does anyone know where I can get some good rice and noodles around here?”
The Misdiagnosis: Human Or Marsupial From Mars?
Ready to get back into the swing of things, you strap on your dancing shoes and head out to the bars with your friends. “Usher’s new song is great isn’t it?” You ask them, bopping along to the beat.
“Yes, it was… when it came out 10 months ago” your friend replies. You feel like an alien plonked down on planet Earth from Mars. Everything that you have known for the past X amount of months/years (delete as appropriate) ceases to exist here and everything around you is all so shiny, new, and unfamiliar.
Wise Story Teller or Repetitive Old Man?
Can you remember that annoying woman in “American Pie” that everyone hated? “This one time, at band camp…” That’s you, recalling your life overseas, the trips you’ve taken, or the virtual travel tours you have booked yourself onto.
You don’t remember who you’ve told what story to, and your friends are too kind to remind you that they’ve heard you tell them about the challenges of travelling solo with kids four times already so they listen, smiling and nodding like a child listening to their grandpa repeat that same anecdote about his childhood for the umpteenth time.