Take a look at the literature on culture shock, and you’ll probably come across the concept of “reverse culture shock” pretty quickly. Before I’d spent a little while abroad, I was skeptical that it was actually a thing. After all, I thought, wouldn’t it feel pretty nice to get back a culture that you get and know how it works after struggling to fit in with a foreign culture?
While it does always feel like I can relax a bit more when I’m back in California, I do have to say that some things about the U.S. are a little jarring upon re-entry. So, as I’ve been back for nearly an entire week now, here we go with a few little things that never fail to make me feel a little off-kilter.
Suspiciously happy waitstaff
Few things do I find more off-putting than a server repeatedly chirping throughout my meal, “Everything alright for you guys? Can I get you anything else? Let me know if I can bring you anything!”, all the while grinning nearly maniacally.
In Spain, waitstaff make it their priority to thoroughly ignore you. While irritating if you’re in a rush, I’ve got to say I prefer the surly approach!
Tipping & tax
Speaking of dining issues, let’s talk about tips. Saturday night at a local bar, my fellow expat pal and I puzzled at length over how much to tip for a cocktail while my L.A. friends laughed.
Tipping is not expected in Spain, and tax is almost always included in the price. It’s nice to know exactly how much you’re going to spend when you order, rather than having to add in an extra 25% or so to the cost of your meal.
Excuse me, the menu says it’s $7 for a beer. That must be a typo! (It wasn’t).
Attitudes towards said beer
If I go out to lunch in Spain, it’s pretty common for someone at the table to order a beer. I mentioned this to a friend, who was shocked that I drank both mid-week and at lunchtime.
(The following night, I made an equally brilliant impression on the same friend; I walked into a party and the very first thing I said to her was, “Oooh, is there wine??”)
Trader Joe’s and Target
How have I been living without Trader Joe’s and Target in my life? These need to head over to Europe ASAP.
Everyone is so tech-savvy
Coming back to California is like time traveling five years into the future – at least when it comes to technology! Technology here is way ahead of where it is in Spain.
My friends here are so much more app-savvy and up on the latest tech trends. There’s an app for everything, and everyone knows about it, too.
And I’m not talking about any Silicon Valley types here, though when I visited a friend in San Francisco I felt about fifteen years behind the curve instead of five.
Everything is so big
And there are so many choices! A recent trip to Costco felt like going to a theme park of consumerism. (It was amazing).
Public transportation is a no-go
Having to think about getting around is always an unpleasant surprise. Being tethered to a car is not my idea of fun, thanks!
People actually show up when they say they will
Spanish people are stereotyped as not being the most timely people on the planet. I’ve got to say, this is decidedly a well-deserved one. Arrival times are merely a suggestion in Barcelona.
Last time I hosted a party, I told everyone to show up at 10. At that time, I was having a cup of tea in my pajamas – because I knew nobody was going to show up any time before 11. (They actually showed up at midnight).
Here, we had a holiday party that started at 5. People showed up at 5:05 on the dot.
My friends have actual jobs!
Literally almost all of my friends in Barcelona have been unemployed within the last two years; nearly none of my California friends have. Instead, they have real, proper jobs.
So this is what living in a country with a functioning economy is like!
So, while I’m over here being baffled by my re-entry into American society, I hope you’re having a wonderful time celebrating the holidays this season. Let’s see if I can get this California thing down by the New Year. I’ve already had sincere conversations about both aromatherapy and marijuana for your pets since I’ve been back, so there’s hope!
Have you ever experienced reverse culture shock after traveling?
Great article! I left my countryhome Malaysia when I was 17 to do my study in France and after 11 years of living abroad, I am moving back next February (and the French boyfriend is tagging along!) Needless to say that I am very excited but also very nervous
Oooh good luck! I would feel excited and nervous as well. 🙂
I relate to this post so much, even after being home for almost 6 months now. I think the biggest thing I was shocked when I moved back home long-term was simply how unwalkable the vast majority of our urban areas area since everything has been designed to cater to the automobile and not the pedestrian. I miss how compact and walkable cities are in Europe—it takes me 15 minutes just to get out of my subdivision and 30 minutes to get to the closest bus stop!
Ugh how frustrating! It’s so hard to adjust from walking almost everyone to not even being able to walk to the nearest supermarket (it’d take me at least 34 minutes, according to my phone).
Have a wonderful California Christmas!! I just heard about 90 minute traffic jams in Vancouver. I have yet to experience one here in Spain. I don´t miss that!!
Thank you, I hope you have a lovely holiday season as well! I definitely don’t miss traffic jams one bit either.
I really enjoyed reading this article! I studied abroad in Barcelona for four months a few years ago, and although I completely understand how short this amount of time is compared to the YEARS you’ve been living there, I do remember noticing these small differences upon my return! I really enjoy reading your blog – to me Barcelona is the one that got away!
Thanks, Ruthanne! No matter how long you’ve been away, the little things can be really surprising when you get back.
Great article – we’ve been living in Madrid for a few weeks and have definitely noticed many differences between Spain and Canada. It will be interesting when we go back to see how much has changed (and how much we have changed).
Yeah, it’s always a weird to go back because you really notice the differences. I think it works both ways, as when I go back to Spain after being here it’s a bit odd too.
This is all so true! I’m a fan of grumpy waiters, cheap beer, Target and a functioning economy – I want the best of both worlds!
Me too, the best of both worlds would be an amazing place!
It’s definitely a thing! I had a huuuuge reverse shock culture last year. I had been living in super efficient Stockholm for more than two years, and then I moved back to my hometown Madrid where things just have another rythm. Now I just moved to Barcelona so small culture shock again 🙂 Thanks for your blog. I feel quite like an expat myself, it’s being tougher than expected!
Ohh that must be tough! Things definitely have a different rhythm and style when you move, and it can take a while to adjust. Good luck adjusting to Barcelona! 🙂
Ah, yes..the tech thing! I remember about 5 years ago, I was so annoyed people were literally buried in their phones when I’d come home to the US. While people had smartphones here in Spain, it didn’t seem so bad. Now we’re ALL buried in them. Plus…isn’t internet connection faster there?
And the customer service. Waiters really work for their tips there. They won’t even let you finish your first bite. It’s all a bit too bubbly and over-the-top for my liking now. Have fun!
Spain definitely took longer to get on the smartphone train, but I think every single one of my friends has one now (as of maybe a year ago). I’m not sure where the internet connection is faster though…either way, everyone is totally addicted!
I actually think the waiter thing has crossed the line into being bad customer service because they’re so on top of you. I just want to eat! 😀