After spending the last four and a half years living and working in Bangkok, Thailand, our family recently came back to the United States for a six month home assignment (furlough). My wife and I grew up here, though our kids have spent most of their lives (so far) in Thailand. For all of us, however, there have been many new or not-as-familiar-anymore aspect of life in America to get used to.
Many people have heard of culture shock, the experience of unsettledness and uncertainty when you experience a foreign culture. Fewer people, however, are familiar with reverse culture shock, the experience of unsettledness and uncertainty when you re-enter your home culture after being in a foreign culture for a long period of time. But I can verify that reverse culture shock is a real thing because our family is experiencing it. Although “shock” might be too strong of a word for it, there are certainly a lot of things to get used to again. Here’s a list of several things that I have noticed this past week about life in the United States, after having lived in Thailand for a number of years.
20 Things I Have Noticed Upon Returning to America
- Cars sometimes pro-actively stop for us to cross the road before we even step into the road.
- Plastic bags at the supermarket checkout counter cost 10 cents now.
- Roads are big and wide.
- It is VERY quiet at night - no construction noise, no racing motorcycles, no rattling of cars going over road gratings next door, no cat on the roof, no bumps in the night.
- Electrical outlets don’t spark when you plug stuff in.
- Things in homes are big and fluffy, very comfortable.
- Cars drive really fast in the U.S. It's as if they don't expect stray dogs or motorbikes to suddenly dart in front of their vehicles.
- Laws are really important to people here. Governments are serious about enforcing even minor laws. Statements like “It’s the law!” carry weight.
- It feels weird to have the steering wheel on the left hand side of the car. I feel claustrophobic because usually I have a whole lot more space in the car on my left hand side.
- Pedestrians take their sweet time to cross the road as if cars are not even there.
- It feels like every business wants you to fill out a survey.
- Washing machines are VERY big.
- Hot running water at every faucet. Ahhh.
- A pint of Ben and Jerry's ice cream does not cost $12.
- Almost no median strips on the roads. I suppose that this reduces the temptation to drive the wrong way in the breakdown lane, which often happens in Thailand.
- I almost don’t recognize my own children because they are wearing blue jeans, hats, mittens, and other stuff that I never see them wear.
- It is difficult to just buy 1 pen or 2 razors. It has to be 5 pens or 10 razors. It doesn't matter if you only want to buy 1. You gotta go big or go home empty handed… Oh wait, I just found a single razor. One brand, one choice for just 1 razor. But if you want 10 or more, there are tons to choose from.
- Food products at the supermarket have names as long as 18th century books, such as “Organic, No Fat, Non-GMO, No Oils, Sprouted Honey Wheat with Flaxseed.” (this was a loaf of bread)
- Coloring books for adults (?!)
My kids have also had some interesting observations about the United States. Our oldest (10 yr. old) attended kindergarten here and was six when we returned to Thailand in 2012. Our middle child (7 yr. old) was two when we went to Thailand after last home assignment and remembered nearly nothing of the country. Our youngest (3 yr. old) was born in Thailand and this is his first time outside of Thailand.
Observations from Our Oldest Child (10 yrs)
- "There is a lot more Star Wars stuff to look at here"
- "The most difficult thing to get used to is everybody speaking English"
- "Everything is clean and orderly here. Why is that?” [I later pointed out all the trash scattered along the side of the road as we got onto the freeway. “See, America, has a trash problem too!”]
Observations from Our Middle Child (7yrs)
- "There is much more grass and trees here. Why aren’t there any skyscrapers at all?"
Observations from Our Youngest Child (3 yr)
- "There is no sprayer" [next to the toilet]
- "Where is the rice?!"
- "School bus!"
- "I see a fire truck!"
Overall, our family is really enjoying our time in the U.S. so far and have been blessed by many kind and helpful people who’ve given us rides, given us cold weather clothes, and called/visited to welcome us back. And Dr. Pepper. It was great to have Dr. Pepper again. It still feels weird to be here but with some time I am sure we will settle in and feel at home… probably just in time to leave again. But God is good and He provides for his children, so we choose to look for and rejoice in his blessings wherever we go.