Reverse Culture Confusion


Hi, my name is Angela, and I suffer, not from ‘reverse culture shock’, but rather ‘reverse culture confusion’. Something tells me that after 5 months, it’s no longer a ‘shock’. Now I chalk it up to mere confusion. There’s a point where the most confusing culture you’ve ever been in is your own. Not that there’s anything wrong with the USA, I’ve actually grown to enjoy and appreciate it more as I’ve traveled the world. However, after being out of it for a while expectations just go crazy. Sure, there are those little things which are more obvious and comical, like not remembering that red lights are mandatory even after dark. But as I alluded to in my Mental transitioning blog, there’s a lot more that goes on within the emotional spectrum of culture jumping.

When you’re in a foreign country, you expect that your expectations won’t be met. What I mean by that is merely, you don’t yet have a proper understanding of people’s unconscious actions. And you expect things to be different than your “norm”. One example of this that I struggled with in my year in the SAD was what to do when someone appears upset. My expectation is that the person who wants to help asks in a somewhat hushed tone in a private setting, “Is everything ok? You look like something’s bothering you.” Or something along those lines. Because in my perspective, the person who is upset needs to see the concern from their friend in order to trust opening up to them. When I’m upset I sometimes end up waiting several times for a person to ask if I’m ok before I fully trust that they care and are not just being polite. However, I often found that expectations there were quite different. Friends wait for you to declare what’s wrong without their asking, because it would be rude for them to “pry” into your personal life unless they see a clear sign that you want to talk about it. I know it sounds like a semi-simple mix up, but it’s one of those expectations that most people don’t even understand about themselves because it’s an unspoken cultural norm. And I went through months of personal turmoil thinking no one cared to hear my problems, while they were worried that I wasn’t opening up. But I was in a foreign culture, I expected those confusions. You feel out of place in so many ways, but you’re always expecting that you’ll feel that way.

What really gets confusing is when you get back to your own country and you THINK you know the way things work. It’s hard to get past the feeling of “but this is my house, I should know how to read people here” mentality. But even in the most familiar of places you realize you’re not the same person you were when you fit in somewhere before, and neither is anyone else. That’s really hard to get past. I feels like I’m still uncomfortable in my own skin. Or is it not even mine now? I know where you are doesn’t define who you are, but what if it’s impossible to be yourself somewhere? In Brazil I often struggled with that because for a long time I couldn’t communicate my sense of humor to people, I just didn’t have the words for it. And it was hard being myself without communicating like myself. But you never expect to have that same problem when you’re back “home”. Somehow being back, I’ve only had about 3 or 4 times I truly felt like myself. And if I can’t figure myself out, imagine how confused I am about other people! It’s like I’ve forgotten completely how to interact with Americans and even my own family sometimes. And aren’t they the ones you should be able to understand without even trying? Or maybe I spend so much time consciously conforming to my host cultures that I get rebellious when I’m here. After all, shouldn’t this be the one place I don’t have to pretend in order to fit in?

I’m still working on it all. Be patient with me America.

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