Alice in Americaland


Alice in Wonderland by Annie Leibovitz

“The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.” – G. K. Chesterton

“So how are you adjusting to life back in the US?” That’s a question I’ve gotten asked a lot in the six weeks since I returned ‘home’. Particularly this past week while I was in Canada visiting the older brother and his family. Frankly, I’m surprised I’m still here. I guess a part of me just always assumed that I’d marry a European and would be living on a yacht somewhere in the Mediterranean by now. The idea that this whole living in America thing could be permanent makes me more than a little uncomfortable. Whenever people ask me where it is that I live, I have to think about it for a second before replying uncertainly: “California…I think. Sorta. Well, for now anyway.”

Reverse culture shock has definitely set in. It feels a little like trying to squeeze into this four poster canopy water bed I had in Elementary school. I’ve completely outgrown it and no matter which position I scrunch myself into, there’s always an arm or a leg that’s left hanging over the side. I don’t fit anymore…and I haven’t for years. And yet it’s so familiar and I have these vivid memories of when it felt comfortable and comforting. It’s a very odd feeling.

Will.i.am (from the Black Eyed Peas), compared returning home after an extended period abroad to walking back into your house and noticing for the first time that it’s got a ‘funky fish smell’. The fish smell had always been there but it was so familiar you’d never noticed before. It was only after you’d left for a while that you realized that what you’re friends had been telling you all along really was the truth: The place you’ve called home all these years smells…really weird.

Not that I think America stinks. I don’t. I’m actually really happy to be back…but Home has definitely taken on a foreign, alien quality. First of all, in Americaland, people smile at each other. All the time. They also like their food served with a double dose of dairy; (everything comes swimming in Ranch dressing or cheese). And then there’s the health food store New Leaf. It’s like the mothership of bizarre American culture; as large as a super Walmart and instead of frozen TV dinners, it sells organic potato chips (75% organic!), organic boxed Mac n’ Cheese (with organic ‘natural food coloring’ and organic sodium phosphate) and books on how to lose weight without exercise or dieting.

Sometimes I casually mention these observations to friends or family and am usually met with a glassy-eyed stare in return. I worry that with each passing day I’m further cementing my outsider status. Give me another few decades and I’ll be ‘kooky ol’ aunt Re…always going on about how everything is better in Japan/Europe.’ I’ll be the Uncle Fester of the family and banished to the crawl space under the stairs.

But I can’t help it…I think that if you live abroad long enough, you stop being able to identify with your home culture and instead develop this curious culture hybrid. I’ve subconsciously picked up habits and characteristics from each culture I’ve visited and have consequently turned into this science experiment; a test tube mixture of cultures. I eat European style, with a knife and for (thanks, Germany) and I nod and “Mhm” non-commitally at everything anyone says (thanks, Japan). I drink Chai all day and put coconut oil in my hair (thanks, India) and the other day my mom walked in on me wolfing down leftover fried fish at seven in the morning.

In short, I’m freakish. I should just start over on some uninhabited tropical island somewhere. Set up my own artist colony for other lost transplants.

Eight Ways to Know You’re Home for Awhile
pretty much sums up my life at the moment perfectly.

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Comments ( 6 )

  1. sarah

    i am so deathly scared of reverse culture shock.

    when i went home last year for 夏休み i was in shock

    i cant imagine moving home forever.

    if you want to go live in south africa, i can set you up with some nice people :p that should be your next destination

  2. Reannon

    Aw Sarah, thanks! I'll think about that one...I also have a few friends there that I've been meaning to visit. But right now I need a job so that I can save up some money first! Maybe in a year or so? How long are you planning on staying in Japan?

  3. Kira Petersson-Martin

    "I eat European style, with a knife and for[k] [...] and I nod and "Mhm" non-commitally at everything anyone says [...]. I drink Chai all day and put coconut oil in my hair [...]."

    I do all of those things too, and I am far from a citizen of the world. I didn't even notice that most North Americans don't eat with a knife and fork until I was out for supper with my ex-whatever's parents and they commented on it. "How refreshing to see a Canadian eat with civility!"
    Oh, the Brits. So lovely.

  4. Reannon

    Someone once told me that that was how the German's spotted the American spies during WWII. The Americans may have fooled them in every other regard but their covers were always blown as soon as they sat down to eat.

    Interesting, huh?

  5. reverse culture shock - StartTags.com

    [...] last week, my husband and I went to dinner at a pub that dates back to the late 15th century. ...Alice in Americaland | Taken By the WindJuly 14, 2009 in America, Reverse Culture Shock | 4 comments ... Reverse culture shock has [...]

  6. SUSHMITA

    Dear Reannon , I found your post very much interesting and it seemed as if i have experienced all those moments.. I am an Indian.. I have not moved around the world.. but i have been moving through out my country and i have faced same reactions when i went back to my home state.. so i loved every thing you wrote.. thank you for sharing..