From Paradise to the ‘Land of the Free’

14 February, 2015

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Reverse Culture Shock

It seems people mostly talk about how they become culturally shocked when they go to a new place. The people are so different, the food, the rules, or lack thereof, etc… My experience was a little different.

I grew up in the US of A and it wasn’t until a few years ago that I decided to leave “The American Dream” and go be a beach bum in the tropics.

Arriving to the Dominican Republic I wasn’t culture shocked because I had spent many summers there. I’m also a native of the land so my parents hold many of the customs. I spent almost three years living in the small town of Cabarete and it was beautiful.

Because it’s a small town, I run into people everywhere I go. Also, Dominicans, by nature, are very gregarious people. They will say hi, make a joke and communicate. If you look at them, they look at you and say hi with a big smile.

What I never expected to happen was to be reverse culture shocked.
Yup.
After three years in the DR I returned to the USA and, boy!, was I surprised to see that, although nothing really changed, I was so confused.
Was this the life I had always lived? Where these the rules I had followed so blatantly? A lot of questions came to mind and I noticed many things I hadn’t before. For example:

People Don’t Say Hi:

This to me was the biggest shock of all. I come from a Latin background and we’re very approachable people, most of the time.
Saying hi to others and giving smiles is customary. One beautiful sunny afternoon Jade and I had some errands to run. Walking through the busy streets, we passed numerous people. I greeted most people with a smile and sometimes a “Hi” but kept walking as I know people are busy.
Ninety percent of the time I got rude looks, puzzled faces, people looking down or away, people walking faster and simply put, trying at all costs to avoid communication. Now I know I’m not the sexiest man alive, but I definitely don’t look like I’m going to rob you. (or do I?!)

Customer Service:

Wow, this right here actually exists? Coming back I was baffled by how friendly and helpful the employees were everywhere that we went. I even had to double check with Jade to make sure I wasn’t hallucinating and asked if people are this on point everywhere. The reply was a yes.

Crosswalks:

Wait, you mean I have to walk 500 feet in the opposite direction I’m going and wait for a blinker thingy to tell me I’m allowed to cross the street? That seems so backwards.

To me it’s just asking for people to get hit by a car.

I observed countless people crossing these things in complete oblivion. If a car ran the light, if the walk sign accidentally went on, or if anything out of the ordinary happened, most people would not have been too fortunate. Just the other day I saw a kid cross a four way intersection, head down, reading a book, never once looking to make sure cars were not coming.

Driving:

Rules, rules and more rules.

Not being in the states for so long I actually forgot how to drive here!!!!

In the DR it’s kind of a free for all. Yea there are technically rules, and if a cop catches you breaking one he may or may not pull you over, but really, it’s kind of every man for themselves.
I have no problem with this because it actually makes you a better driver. You need to be aware all the time for cars, motorcycles, animals, holes, donkeys, etc. It’s the same concept as the crosswalk, you make everything so “safe” and you take away the awareness of people.

Rules:

Ahhhhh, so many of them!!! I understand that certain rules must be in place for the sake of the greater good, but it feels a little ridiculous sometimes. How will people learn to be aware of their surroundings if they’re always thinking about how they’re breaking the law, if this and that.

So there you have it ladies and gent’s. That’s how you get a reverse culture shock. It was really quite the eye opening experience. I suggest to anyone who has the means to, to get out of their current country and live somewhere else for a while. It will really open your mind and give you a new perspective on things, whether it’s appreciating the simple things or wondering why you actually live where you do.

Before you go, Jade also had her own set of reverse culture shocks, so stick around for a bonus round!

Dollar bill y’all

Gosh, North America’s expensive!
From movies to campgrounds, it seems everything is after a meaty chunk of your wallet. And  if you don’t got none, you aint welcome.

Where did all the ugly veggies go?

When I walk into a grocery store a couple things boggle my mind:

First, why is it so large that I need a road map to get to the aisle that harbors the sea salt?

Second, why do all the fruits and veggies look like a factory pumped them out? I know that’s not how they all came off the tree. What do you do with all the ugly veggies North America? I demand to know the truth!

Grocery store side note to the lady at the deli counter (you know who you are) The fact that your ham was sliced a number grade too high is not the worst thing in the universe, let’s put things into perspective.

Lack of cultural variation

There is one navigational mystery that in my mind rivals that of the Bermuda Triangle:

How can one drive three thousand miles and end up at the same strip mall, with the same fast food, and the same chain stores, in the same layout, with the same sales, and pretty much the same people. How?!

But the greatest shock…

Forced media consumption

Do I really need to know what Kanye West did during the Grammys….. while pumping my gas?!?!

When did these gas station screens come in? And why is there no “OFF” button?

After spending three years deliberately avoiding the cultural clutter that is filling up our minds faster than our physical trash can fill our oceans, coming back to a civilization that force-feeds me this garbage against my will, everywhere I look, is a hard pill to swallow.
First the billboards, then the supermarket checkout, the cabbies, restaurants, and even gas stations all seem to now come mandatorily equipped with screens who’s job it is to slip some not-so-subtle pop-culture/product-placement between each of my blinks.

C’mon, I gotta gas up, I got no choice, my Westy’s hungry. Please leave me in peace at the pump.

 

Have you experienced reverse culture shock? 
What has been difficult for you to come home to or adjust to all over again? 

 

 

 

14 comments

  1. Comment by Ashley McElyea

    Ashley McElyea Reply 14 February, 2015 at 12:17

    Wow! I really never thought of this! The lack of “hi” makes me sad. I live in Texas, so for the most part, there’s a bit of the Southern hospitality and people smile and say hi. I would say hi to you!

    Ugly veggies. Again, never thought of this.

    Seriously love this post!

    P.S. Still have a massive crush and you and the wifey ;)
    Ashley McElyea recently posted…4 Ways to Encourage My Writer SelfMy Profile

  2. Comment by Sabine

    Sabine Reply 14 February, 2015 at 14:47

    Few others :
    Kids do not help their parent just to HELP them, but because it is a chore
    Kids do not play on the street. Here they play on the street without an adult watching after them, and everything goes fine.
    People do not share. In DR you do not eat a sandwich in front of a person without sharing it for example
    Everything is sanitized, every one is afraid of bugs, germs…the country is sterilized… nothing seems natural!……..

  3. Comment by Bob Hunt

    Bob Hunt Reply 15 February, 2015 at 17:35

    Exactly what I’ve said but not so clearly. Perfectly real.
    Been in ProCab 4 years. Go back to Texas, So. Carolina and Australia and nothing compares and all are as you say. Well, Australia is a bit different.

  4. Comment by DominicanFun

    DominicanFun Reply 22 February, 2015 at 15:45

    hah I love all these imported apples from US, here in DR. they all look like clones, exact copies of some “model apple”. that’s the one thing for sure…

    but as for the reverse culture shock – the more you will travel, the bigger perspective you will have and it will be more difficult to find “ideal” place…so the only way to forget about it is to be “always on the run”…
    so keep riding guys ;-)

  5. Comment by Marsha

    Marsha Reply 22 February, 2015 at 17:04

    Yes, I completely identify with this. Reverse culture shock is much more difficult. I get frustrated with all of the rules, too! No flexibility! I got frustrated that I can’t get fio at the grocery store….. For obvious reasons… But it’s just so handy! Also, I find its been super hard to reconnect with some people since I got back. I seems like relationships aren’t as high as a priority… Oh… And how on EARTH do they get the bananas so big?? Geeez!

    • Comment by Gabriel Harding

      Gabriel Harding Reply 23 February, 2015 at 18:10

      Ohh fio is another good one =D. It is pretty convenient, especially when you forget your wallet!! I feel like it may be more difficult but you can also learn more from it. Thanks for contributing Marsha!
      Gabriel Harding recently posted…Equipped For Flight – Birds of the WorldMy Profile

  6. Comment by Cae

    Cae Reply 21 April, 2015 at 05:21

    Gosh I love this so much (I actually love the whole blog so much)
    My life has been split between the D.R. and the states since I was 12 and I have always found it easier to slip back into Dominican life than American life. Until now no one understood me when I talked about culture shock, thanks for sharing.

    • Comment by Gabriel Harding

      Gabriel Harding Reply 26 April, 2015 at 22:36

      Thanks for stopping by and showing us some love! It’s always greatly appreciated =D. Yea the Dominican life is just all around better isn’t it? =D

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