Back in the USA, and I’ve Got Some Serious Reverse Culture Shock.

Have you ever felt like a stranger in your own country?

(Dramatic pause…)

Me neither! But there’s certainly things that I have realized about my own country that I hadn’t before my 8 months of being WIA in Europe (Wandering In Action, that is).

It’s been a week since I’ve been back in the big ol’ beautiful USA. And as expected, the culture shock has hit home…

As you all know, I’ve got a serious case of travel ants in my pants. They squiggle, they squirm, and get really uncomfortable when I stay at home with my parents for too long. So, within two days of being home in dirty Jersey, I re-packed my suitcase and headed off to South Florida.

Buttttt before you get all jealous, it wasn’t all fun, games, and pretty beaches; I really went to visit my 93-year-old Grandpa. (I’d show you guys a pic, but he’s afraid of those “watcha-ma-call-it-flashy-things.”)

Now, I don’t know what’s worse for the impact of reverse culture shock: Going straight from my tiny Spanish village to re-starting my fast paced loco life in NYC?… or spending a week in South Florida with my Grandpa.

For those of you who don’t know the reputation of South Florida, here goes: The land of wealthy retired New Yorkers over the age of 65, whose current objective in life is as follows: To play as much country club golf as possible, eat dinner out as much as their button pants permit—and talk in a really high pitched voice about their most recent doctor visits.

…But the beach is really beautiful!

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Yea, the culture shock was raw.

Or in this instance, cooked. Considering most of my re-observations have to do with food, naturally. (Or should I say in the US instance, PROCESSED!” HAH.)

There certainly were many cultural stereotypes about the USA that I had never picked up on before. I can’t even count how many times over the past year people I have met from around the world have joked with me about US stereotypes, and I’ve playfully denied them ALL. US…fat? Nooooooo way. Well, if you are reading this and you are one of those people who I denied a US stereotype to—I’m sorry. I take it back.

In my last article about my life changing observations after living in a Spanish Pueblo for 8 Months, I got wonderful feedback from Spanish people themselves, who said “sometimes we need an outsider to realize the truths about our own culture.” Check this one out, from @JaviYebenesScreen Shot 2015-06-10 at 7.30.31 AM

Pretty cool, right? Well, now I feel like the outsider in my very own culture. After being away for nearly a year, I am realizing all these truths about the USA that I never have before. Don’t expect the tears to start flowing like my last set of observations, but expect to get really hungry. Why? Because pretty much ALL of them have to do with food. Surprise?

Here goes.

One Week Back Home, The Truths I’ve Realized About the USA 

1) Everything IS really big here. Let’s just look at the comparison:

A Menu in the USA:

Yes, those seven pages constitute ONE menu. Thank you Cheesecake Factory for being the symbolic restaurant of FAmerica. Now…

A menu in Spain:20626-canas_y_tapas_glorieta_de_toledo_hd

Now, let’s compare coffee.
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can you guess which mug is from the USA? 

Oh, and the men…

2) HOLY MUSCLES. The men are huge. RONNIE

Being born and raised in Jersey, I’ve grown up around men with huge muscles. “Guido’s” if you will. Have you seen Jersey Shore? Yea. I went to school with about 300 Ronnie’s (see above). And I used to be into those muscle heads! But after spending the year in Europe and seeing maybe 5 “Ronnie’s” throughout the course of the entire year…I forgot what big muscles looked like. I stepped off the plane into JFK airport, and MY MIND WAS BLOWN. I swear, the guys here are inflating their muscles with a balloon pumper. I guess I can get used to it again? Just don’t crush me, men..

3) EVERYONE REALLY DOES TALK LOUD.

Like, yells. Really loud. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that I was surrounded by nearly deaf 80 year-olds? But I don’t think so. Whether it was the family-friendly beach, the trendy oceanfront bar, or my 93-year-old grandpa and his Bingo friends- they all YELL. LIKE I’M RIGHT HERE MUST YOU SPEAK SO LOUD. 

4) Every hour is coffee hour.

11 PM- Double espress me, sir

Unlike Spain. I have now twice ranted about the strict “coffee schedule” in Spain.  My first month in Spain, I ordered coffee after my dinner. BOY was I mistakin’. The waiter didn’t serve me. Can he blame me? I’m American! I forgot how important having the accessibility to coffee is here, at ALL TIMES. This awesome restaurant & bar in Del Ray Beach, called Caffe Martier, even has a separate coffee bar open until midnight, a side from its beverage and cocktail bar. So I can drink my Gin & Tonic, and chase it with a double espresso latte. Oh, how wonderful the freedom of choice in the US of A!

5) “This waitress is SO NICE!”Untitled design (53)

I forgot what really attentive restaurant service is like. The difference in the US, is that waiters and waitresses are tipped. The betta’ the service, the bigga’ the tip. In most of Europe, it’s an hourly wage. Therefore, if a waitress is having a bad day in Spain, you know it, and damn well. That means in the US, you can make your order as obnoxiously complicated as possible, and the waitress will smile and nod as she’s trying to skribble it all down, meanwhile holding back the urge to kick you in the shins as hard as possible. I was a waitress in the USA once. I know.

Allow me to demonstrate a meal that went down with Guacamommy this past week:

Guacamommy: “I’ll have the mozzarella tomato omelette, but can you substitute the mozzarella with cheddar cheese, and add onions, broccoli and pepper? And instead of the fries, can I have a side salad? Oh, and bring hot sauce on the side!”

American waitress: (smiling) Sure ma’am, I’ll have the right out for you! What she’s really thinking…

this coffee would look so good on her

But all ended well, as Guacamommy got what she asked for. And if she didn’t? Well, she could send it back. This is America, after all.
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Try this order in Spain, and see what happens. And definitely don’t ask for…

6.) HOT SAUCE.i put that shi- on everyting!

I am a hot sauce FREAK. “I put that shi* on everything!” However, in Spain I couldn’t put that shi* on anything. Why? cause that shi* don’t exist. So, my taste buds and I adapted accordingly. Returning back to the states, I was AMAZED at the availability of hot sauce. At the first restaurant I went to, I was seriously like a kid in a candy shop. Not only is their availability, but selection. This country I call my home is truly obsessed with hot sauce; Frank’s Red Hot, Tabasco, Chiulua…. and then comes the flavor selection! Chipotle, cayenne, buffalo, spicy garlic, chili… heaven, is that you knocking on my taste buds? Oh, no…just Frank.

7.) It’s not the USA. It’s the United States of the World.

Ok people, warning! Here comes the sentimental part. There’s one truly beautiful thing about this land I call my home. It’s the melting pot of the world. Last weekend, I went to a local food fair in Del Ray Beach, Florida. There was a Venezuelan woman selling her specialty Greek hummus, a woman from Trinidad and Tobago grilling African food, a Mexican man selling fresh produce, and a Columbian family selling homemade Italian pasta. And that’s not all…there was even a Puerto Rican man selling Spanish jamón!!!! Mind you, I have grown up with this incredible diversity in the NYC area, but I never thought much of it. After traveling throughout Europe, and previously Argentina, Chile, Jamaica, and Israel, I realize how special diversity is to the US. Sure, in big cities like Barcelona and Berlin there is a mix of cultures from all over the world. But it is rare to find such diversity in every nook and cranny of a country, whether big city or small. Whether it’s ginormous NYC , or cute lil’ Del Ray Beach Florida, its population is made up of people of the world. Pretty cool, huh?

Now, let’s all join together and sing “I got the whole world, in my hands!”

Breaking News! Look out for my summer BLOject in New York: “Eat Around the World in NYC.” An #AWC blogging project to show the world how beautifully diverse (and delicious) the melting pot of NYC really is. The challenge? Hit 100 countries, all in one Manhatten. MISSION ACCEPTED. Look out for updates!

Have you ever experienced reverse culture shock? What has been your experience after returning home after a long trip? Do you agree or disagree with these observations? Share yo’ thoughts and let’s talk about it!

30 thoughts on “Back in the USA, and I’ve Got Some Serious Reverse Culture Shock.

  1. Hitting 100 countries in one summer while in NYC … you’re gonna need a really ambitious friend to help you out with that 😉 hehehe MISSION ACCEPTED

  2. ¡Hola, Casie! :-) I am Spanish and I am living in a small town after beeing in Barcelona for 6 years (nobody ever say hello to me in my building) and Madrid for 4 years (They chat more, yeah). I lived in Italy, France, Brasil and Japan. I feel like an outsider in my own country. Your experiencie in Spain is quite similar to mine in Japan. I was living in Kanazawa and when I went to Kyoto I lost my walet. Kyoto is a hudge city. 50 minutes later I was at the police station. My wallet was already there!!!! Someone had founded it and brought ito the police. I miss the solidarity of Italian pelople, the idea of group. Spanish culture is very VERY individualistic in my opinion. I miss (a lot!) how easy is to get information in USA. I miss how french people respect others way of life without judging. I miss the welcoming ways of brazilians, their sense of humour and music. I live in a smaill town of 7000 people in Spain and I can get coffee any time, wine any time, even rum for breakfast (and “carajillo” for instance) So, I think we both have been foreigners and it is really nice to be new and the new in a different culture, to be the “attaction” of a place, at that time we are like an exotic jewelery. I was the only Spanish in the entire Kanazawa when I was there. Yes, it is very hard to come back, nothing is going to be the same. Your experience is wonderful, I would like to know your Spain ant that village. Be hard on your own culture, it is part of the process, is the only way to get a new balance as human and not only part of a western and judeo christian culture. Find your self, don’t idealize.
    ¡Muchos besos, guapa!

    1. What beautiful experiences it seems like you’ve had! It’s wonderful to know that someone can relate. It’s amazing how different you view your own culture after seeing others! I wi be moving to Madrid in September so we will see how my perspective of Spain changes, yet again. Stay tuned!

      Thanks for sharing and besos!
      -AWC

      1. First of all, thanks for the good time that I spent reading your post!

        I’m sure, “como madrileño”, that you will find a city open to everyone and full of possibilities. I’ll be waiting to read your experience in this wonderful city where everyone is a foreigner .

      2. Hola, SuperCassie! :-) Madrid is GREAT! Even more actually with the new Major (check her history, is Manuela Carmona) Peopple in Madrid is absolutely amazing and welcoming. Nearby are my 2 places most favourite in the world: Alcalá de Henares and Zigüenza
        I was thing about your little village here… maybe is the factor of the lost paradise that we all look for… trying to find the lost innocence where everything is pure. Well, traveling is a journey towards the essence of the world, don’t you think? 😉
        Indeed, about experiencing the world, prepare yourself to be a Terrestrial Caseidilla and not american nor european exclusively. Wondering Caseidilla, maybe for many people there is a singular place in the world, but for some others, the world is the place 😉
        I think you specially will enjoy reading “Candide” by Voltaire (is a very funny book!) because is about destiny and looking for a place in the world 😉
        Besazos, reguapa!

        1. Es curioso que le digas a una americana (de pais libreral) que Madrid mola mas con la nueva alcaldesa (Carmona, comunista hasta la medula) xD

        2. Hola! I have enjoyed reading your comments to Casie. You have expressed yourself very well especially when you wrote, “traveling is a journey towards the essence of the world”. I could not have said it any better. I fully agree with you.Also considering oneself as a “world citizen” rather than just an American or a European is the essence of everyone who feels they must always travel and explore. Thank you for your good thoughts.

          1. Thanks, Mr Reid for your kind words :-) There are many ways of travelling, as you too know. The one with Lonely Planet, time and wandering as a Bible and the rest 😀 😀 😀 But, let’s say that the ways of the essence are misterious, non the less
            Un abrazo! y muchas gracias :-)

      3. Hi Casie, I lived in Madrid 0-22, with ocasional short periods abroad. I think the airport code says it all “MAD”. I honestly think that it’s a crazy, wonderful place. I have a friend and blogger ‘Bocados de Madriz’ that I recommend as essential reading. Have fun and be ready, “de Madrid al cielo”. Un abrazo, Miguel Angel

  3. You really learned nothing if you think any jamón (the one you can find in USA) is ok. It is really sad to hear that.
    Btw, in Spain you can drink coffee at any, really, ANY time. The problem is that you were in a 5,000 inhabitants town and yes, the people there is quite strict with their village customs (but they are not Spanish customs).Also, you cannot find a lot of gastronomical choice in a town. We DO have longer menus. What you showed there is a “raciones” menu and those are usually small because it is how they are supposed to be (it is quick food).
    I don’t want to keep going on and on about it. It just feels wrong how you make so many quick judgements about a country you just happened to get to know a little, little bit.

    1. I’m sorry you feel that way! I was just talking about my own experience in Spain, I definitely don’t want to generalize the entire country! And PS- of course,the jamón doesn’t compare!! I was just pleasantly surprised to see a pata de jamón straight from Andalucia sitting on a table right in front of me, all the way in Florida 😉

    2. En EEUU hay de todo y se puede encontrar buen jamón si te buscas un poco la vida y estás dispuesto a pagarlo. Infórmate un poco antes de abrir la boca o mejor incluso….. viaja un poco.

      Por supuesto que en España te puedes tomar un café a cualquier hora, también puedes tirarte de un puente si te da la gana, pero ¿es normal como en EEUU tomar un café durante la cena?, ¿o un batido gigante de fresa durante la comida?. ¿Cuantas veces has visto tu eso?. Yo en 39 años jamas he visto a un Español cenando CON café a modo de agua. Y la cara el camarero a la hora de pedirlo me gustaría verla a mi….

      Lo que le has dicho de los menús es que paso de contestarte, ahora va a resultar que en la mayoría de bares y restaurantes españoles los menús tienen 7 hojas. Se ve que he estado viviendo en un mundo paralelo toda mi vida.

      Animo Casie, el blog está muy chulo y el que conoce ambas culturas (el que no también) se ríe mucho con tus historias. Un abrazo!!!

  4. OMG-I am amazed at the perspective I have gained by seeing things through your “BLeyes”! I am excited to follow you on your journey to 100 countries in NYC—–and the “Cadventures” continue………

  5. Hiya! Waiters and waitresses here in Spain receive tips too! Don’t tell me you never tipped the poor guys and gals in your whole 8 month stay XDD

    1. Yes of course! But not a required 15-20% of the bill like here in the USA 😛 the tipping culture is definitely very different! Wait staff here rely on tips, as they get paid far below minimum wage, based on the notion they will make money from tips. But waiters and waitresses in Spain certainly deserve tips too ;P

  6. I also live in north Jersey but plan to move to spain in the near future. My 3 possible locations are Girona,Barcelona and lately, Altea (below Valencia). However, you made Fregenal de la Sierra sound almost perfect, and I’m now considering that town. My aim is to live like a local, and I don’t require “night life”. I am a cycle racer (retired), and just plan to ride my bike everyday until I die. Do you recommend that town for full time living?

    1. Hi John! If you really want to live like a local, I would pick a smaller city than Barcelona. If you want to do lots of bike riding, a place like Fregenal would be perfect! There are lots of cyclists in Fregenal and the surrounding areas. Just a warning- nobody speaks English, and unless your teaching English there are not many opportunities to make money (the economic crisis over there is tough, especially in the small villages/ smaller cities). But it will be a wonderful, life changing experience! If you have any more questions, I’m happy to answer them :)

      1. Thanks AWC. I’m retired so don’t need a job. I am in the process of learning Castillian on my own. I seemed to do ok with the language when I raced bikes in Majorca even though I raced with a German team so I ended up speaking, Spanish, German and Catalan but never really nailed any of those languages. Living in a small town in Spain will force me to use the language or starve.( I’m game!) I will not be relocating anytime soon since I take care of my mom who is 95 and has alzheimers. But my home is covered with maps of Spain, and connecting with people like yourself keeps me inspired. Thanks again! By the way, I enjoy your sense of humor. You’ve got talent in that department AWC.

  7. Hi, I’m from Spain, half my life over there between Madrid and Extremadura. After lived in US for four years I went back, and experience your shock but the other way around…

  8. Vuelve cuando quieras maja! ahora ya sabes como es España y como somos los españoles, hay variaciones regionales, como es lógico, pero en la esencia estamos todos cortados por el mismo patrón.

    Un abrazo!

  9. Nice blog! Specially for somebody who did the inverse trip: from a little Andalusian “pueblo” to the States … it’s always interesting to see things from the opposite point of view

    Let me suggest a book if you are interested: http://100milesmanhattan.com
    I helped me getting over my periods of home sickness … It brought me so many smiles, nobody said cultural shock had to be treated seriously :)

    And thank you for sharing your personal intercultural experiences. Keep up the good job!

  10. Hi Casie! I loved your post that got translated on El País and it’s been shared on the Auxiliares de Conversación en Madrid group on Facebook. I’m 36 hours away from being a former Auxiliar in Madrid starting my Masters in Madrid this fall. I’m also from the NY area and would love to connect especially since we’ll be in the same city this fall.

  11. Casie! What a cool blog! I found the spanish version (I am a Venezuelan girl living in Seattle, WA) and then was thinking.. ahhh this is so cool! I need to translate it to my husband! and then found the original blog! Reverse shock is real! I moved to the States in 2011 and went home after 2 years (2013) and hit me like a rock on my head! Living in another country gives you a very different perspective of everything! I love the US and all the good things this beautiful country have offered me but one of the things I REALLY miss from Venezuela is that – tranquilo, no pasa nada – kind of life..

    Reading your blog also made me hungry!!!! We visited Barcelona last year and oh my.. All I miss is the food.. the tapas.. papas bravas.. ahhhhh!! My best friend lives there! (If you ever need a silly Venezuelan friend who speak VERY loud) so hopefully we will be back soon..

    In the meantime, we had a baby last year and we are doing our best to raise him between two countries, but also showing him that the world is BIG! and if you can, you always have to travel! :)

    Keep having fun!

    Salud – y buen provecho :)

    Andrea

    1. Hola Andrea! I’m definitely really REALLY missing the “no pasa nada” way of life. Let’s just say that here in NYC (as you could probably imagine) it’s the exact OPPOSITE. More like “pasa TODOS!” I think it’s wonderful that you’re raising your baby starting out with a “big world” perspective…and bilingual too?! What a lucky little guy!! I hope you keep following my blog and sharing your thoughts…and STAY TUNED! There’s a Venezuelan eats in NYC post coming up very soon 😉

  12. Loved the article! I had a very similar experience and what I can say that returning home after a long trip is very difficult. So have a lot of patience and especially with your family and friends since you have changed and maybe they are not in the same frequency that you. Probably, you will feel lonely, you will cry and be very sensitive and not knowing why….but is part of the process! But don´t worry is not forever! :) Good luck!

  13. I’m jealous you are up north. Down here in Alabama the US is not a melting pot and there is hardly any culture offerings. I’m from CT originally and really would love NYC. That was funny about the body builders. And in my opinion, I really like that waitresses in Germany, they don’t interrupt you constantly. I’m still in reverse culture shock (15 years in Germany) so am a bit negative, sorry guys.
    It does depend on my mood. Thank God, due to a VPN service (VPNexpress) I can watch TV from stations all across the world, I highly recommend it.

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