When it comes to the cultural differences between France and the U.S. (aka two countries which I’ve divided my time between for the last almost-four years), it’s hard to believe that they can be so different while so similar at the same time. Visiting one or the other is one thing, but to live and adjust to the culture is another: that’s why so many people I know (and myself) who’ve gone to live abroad experience culture shock, which can be such a huge obstacle when first settling into the new country.
…however, what about reverse culture shock?
Believe it or not, just as culture shock is a notable phenomenon, so is its counterpart. Reverse culture shock, in a nutshell, refers to:
“the emotional and psychological distress suffered by some people when they return home after a number of years overseas. This can result in unexpected difficulty in readjusting to the culture and values of the home country, now that the previously familiar has become unfamiliar” (source: Investopedia).
While my situation hasn’t been a number of years, I will say that this past year as a first-year lectrice d’anglais has made my return home this summer a bit more apparent when it came to readjusting to American culture. My previous two years as an assistante didn’t make it so bad, probably because I was only gone for a bit over half a year– this time, I was gone for nearly a year, and I’ve seen that it has made a big difference.
It’s kind of funny that I’m writing about reverse culture shocks I’ve experienced when I’m about to leave to head back to France again (as of this publication date, I’m already back in France). All the same, I want to highlight both subtle and notable reverse culture shocks I’ve experienced while in my home country, as I’m sure many expats can relate to them– let me know which points on the list resonate with you!
Without further ado, here are some reverse culture shocks I’ve experienced in the United States:
10 Reverse Culture Shocks I’ve Experienced in the U.S.
1. Forgetting that dates are written “Month/Day” (e.g. 3/16 for March 16th), and not “Day/Month” (e.g. 16/3, or 16 March).
After signing so many documents abroad with the “day/month/year” format, I’ve slipped when it comes to doing the same in the U.S. Couple of years ago, I was at my U.S. bank signing paperwork, and I was halfway through writing the date when I realized my error. Even the banker saw my gaffe and *teasingly* said that “[I’m] back in the U.S. now, so [I] need to sign the ‘American’ way.” Definitely somewhat embarrassing!
2. Military time vs. the 12-hour clock.
Still on the topic of dates and time, I’ve also been getting confused between military time and the 12-hour clock. The U.S. uses the 12-hour clock and, recently, I went to the movies where I saw showtimes that read “3:30” or “4:15.” For a brief moment, I was puzzled why the theaters would be showing films so late at night, but then I realized that they were for the afternoon! I’ve gotten so used to military time that I would’ve expected the showtimes to read “15:30” or “16:15.”
It’s funny, because early in my “living abroad” career, I struggled with military time– now, it comes more naturally to me than the 12-hour format. I’ve used military time to communicate with family and friends (in France, the U.S., and elsewhere) when it comes to coordinating meetups and Skype sessions– it works so much better as there’s no confusion as to when to talk, day or night.
3. Getting confused between Celsius and Fahrenheit.
Fun tidbit: I’d just recently gotten used to converting Celsius to Fahrenheit (easiest way: take the Celsius number, multiple by 2, then add 30). At the same time, however, I can read the temperature in Celsius and know pretty much whether it’s hot, cold, or just right.
It isn’t so bad, but back in the U.S., I have at times caught myself wondering why the temperature read 50 degrees in the morning: I was still thinking in Celsius and wondered if the thermometer broke (because there’s no way it’s that hot!), but quickly realized that it was Fahrenheit– otherwise, I’d be melting!
4. Tax and tips not being included.
If there’s one thing that I really enjoy about France, it’s the fact that tax is included everywhere and tipping isn’t required. I got so used to it that it was a surprise (and annoyance) to return to it back home. Besides the fact that things end up costing more than stated, it requires doing math! True, it’s good to keep up one’s mathematical skills as we age, but who wants to calculate a 15% tip after a big, heavy meal? Not me.
5. Needing an ID to buy alcohol.
Another aspect I really appreciate about France (and Europe, in general) is that you don’t get carded for booze– you can just walk into a bar or grocery store and get it. The way I see it (and I also suppose Europe), if you look over eighteen, you can purchase alcohol. That’s why I find the U.S. so weird with its alcohol laws– I guess a good part stems from the country’s history, as it was found on puritanical values and had the Prohibition era in the 1920’s and 1930’s (which now seems so odd, let alone super ineffective). We have a legal age of 21, which I don’t believe those three extra years make a huge difference in tempering people from having alcohol problems– we still have problems!
…anyway, I digress.
This summer, I went out for dinner one evening, and I wanted to get a glass of wine with my meal. However, I’d forgotten my ID at home, after being so used to not carrying it around with me abroad. Of course, I couldn’t order the drink, which was a bit of a downer. Granted, I can understand that restaurants would get into huge trouble if they were caught serving to underage customers, but it’s still ridiculous how strict the laws are. Any case, I’ll wait until I return to Europe and not have to worry about it.
6. Needing a car to get around.
Especially in Los Angeles, cars are everywhere. True, we have buses and a metro system, but they aren’t very efficient if you want to go far. The city itself is unbelievably massive, to the point that we have a joke that you can spend hours driving, but actually never leave Los Angeles.
We can also blame the city’s infrastructure, which basically forces people to have a car in order to do anything. Car culture is huge, too, as people are constantly trading their vehicles for brand-new ones every couple of years, even when their old car is still working fine. Any case, by having a car, it gives you the freedom to get anywhere at anytime, without having to rely on a bus schedule.
This past summer, I was off my car insurance, so I couldn’t drive without it being illegal– that said, either I had to rely on others to take me around, or walk. As a result, I pretty much stayed within my neighborhood in Los Angeles. After experiencing that this summer, I really miss the metros, trams, regional/national buses in Europe, and I can’t wait to get back to them!
…also, don’t get me started on Los Angeles traffic. 😛
7. Everything is bigger in the U.S.
From food portions to streets to houses, Americans really know how to use, let alone take advantage of, the space they’ve got. It’s understandable that France is a much-smaller country and that they have to economize the space they’ve got, but the U.S. doesn’t have to worry about that as much. Being back in the U.S., I’ve eaten at restaurants where portion sizes were so big that I could barely breathe after I finished.
Absolutely unbelievable how much food there was, but on the other hand, I’ve been really relieved to have more room on the roads and sidewalks, and especially the bathtub– I can actually spread my arms out in the shower, unlike my capsule-sized one in France. No more claustrophobia!
8. Much less smoking in the U.S.
While the previous points were negative, I’m actually glad that this point is positive. I absolutely hate smoking, and I abhorred it when living in France. There was no way of avoiding it once you stepped out of the house– even then, smoke could get into the home if neighbors were lighting up! I hated having to inhale the cancerous substance, and I’m really glad that the U.S. (especially California) frowns upon the act– it’s like I can actually breathe again!
9. Wearing more-colorful garments in the U.S.
During my first year abroad, I’d brought some clothes that I would usually wear back home…only to realize that not only were they not “trendy” in France, but they would also make me stick out in public. In France, people tend to wear a lot of somber colors (black, gray, brown), so wearing something as different as a blue jacket will make you stand out.
What’s especially frustrating is that you’ll be low-key judged for your outfit choices: I suppose it’s because France (Europe, in general) has a collective, rather than individualistic, culture, so it’s more about fitting in rather than being flashy. That said, I didn’t end up wearing my more-colorful clothes while abroad, so being able to break out the color and wild patterns in the U.S. has been such a relief!
10. Thinking in dollars, not euros.
Because my job in France pays me in euros (and the fact that I spend money in euros), it’s a bit disconcerting returning to dollars in the U.S. Besides having to calculate just how much products would be in euros (to see if they’d be cheaper overseas), I’ve even caught myself saying “euro” when I’m actually referring to “dollars!”
It’s also strange to be using dollars again when making purchases, since I haven’t used the green-and-white banknotes in such a long time. Plus, I hate getting change in coins back, since U.S. coins are nearly useless (unlike 1€ and 2€ coins)– I end up just giving tips since I don’t want to carry them around with me.
That’s all for my reverse culture shocks I’ve noticed back home in the U.S.! Although I’ve addressed my points in a rather-negative light, it’s important to recognize that these are my opinions and, at the end of the day, these points aren’t inherently good or bad: it’s just culture, and it’ll be different for many places in the world. Perhaps I’ll write about my culture shocks in France in a future post, so we’ll have to wait and see– until then!