The (reverse) culture shock

Posted on August 25, 2011

The last few months in the field were intensely busy and I was rarely in a location with internet access.  I’ve been back on campus in the U.S. for a week now, and now that I’ve got regular internet access I’m going to do some retrospective posting on those last few months in the field.

But first, let’s talk about reverse culture shock.  I’ve never had much of a culture shock during my travels.  It does take a while to adjust to new forms of social interaction and ways of doing things, and there are some days where I feel frustrated by my inability to communicate or figure out how to get something done, but it’s all part of the adventure.    I always feel more of a shock when I’m returning ‘home’.

Quick sidetrack: I’m not really ‘home’ right now – I’m Canadian – but the U.S. is much closer to what I’m used to than Paraguay.  Paraguayans refer to all North Americans as “yankees”.  But living in Canada and living in the U.S. are still very different!  (As I have repeatedly told my Paraguayan friends!)

Some of the things that have shocked me:

  • People are talking at me in English all the time.  If I’m not paying attention I will sometimes respond in Spanish to people talking to me in English.  I miss the Spanish and Nivacle.  I’ve been putting on Spanish language radio in the background.  And when I overhear people speaking Spanish on the street I have a strong urge to eavesdrop.
  • I had to deal with a lot of problems in Paraguay, and I thought I would get a rest when I was back on campus.  Not so.  And many of the problems are similar, like cars breaking down and being broke.
  • My social life in the U.S. revolves mostly around other people in my academic department, and many of them have moved on to other things and there are lots of new faces.  I miss people in Paraguay.
  • I keep trying to use an imaginary clutch in my small, automatic car.
  • In Paraguay, toilet paper is thrown in a waste basket and not flushed in the toilet.  I always have to pause briefly in the bathroom to recall that it’s okay to flush.

I think I’m pretty well-adjusted now, but I expect I’ll discover more weirdnesses in the next couple of weeks.  I feel like I’ve got a foot in both worlds.

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