A lot of americans talk about “reverse culture shock” when returning to the states after living abroad. I was always curious about this, would it feel weird to return “home” after being overseas?
I can say that our family looked forward to coming back to the states. Not that we weren’t happy in Germany, because we were! We loved it there, and we had great friends there. But there were certain things we were missing and ready to go back to. Also I think knowing we will be returning to Europe in the next couple years made it a little easier to leave. We knew it wasn’t our last chance to be there.
Personally I don’t think we had any reverse culture shock. Maybe just a few “I forgot what this is like” moments. Here’s some things I missed about the U.S. while we were gone.
1. Big roads and big parking spaces
When we made a stop over in Dallas for a couple days on our return trip home, we were in awe of the spacious lanes, parking lots, parking spaces, and the huge trucks that seemed to be everywhere. In Germany we had grown used to narrow streets, where often you have to pull over to let a car going the opposite direction get by. A lot of the roads connecting villages are just 2 lane winding farm roads. And the parking spaces always seemed miniature! Even in places with a big parking lot, like a Best Buy or WalMart equivalent. There were plenty of spaces, but they were all designed for small cars, not the small SUV we drove. Our small SUV was a big car there. It is not common to see Europeans drive anything the size of a Ford Explorer or bigger. If you see someone driving one of those…it’s an american.
Free water at a restaurant, and free use of a bathroom. These are all things that were almost non-existent where we were. I never realized how much I loved having free water at a meal! In Europe tap water is not commonly handed out upon sitting down. Mostly you have to order a bottle of water, and most of the time it is more expensive than beer or wine. Why not just drink a beer then? Because I’m thirsty!! I’m one of those people who constantly drinks water. And if I want a beer but I’m thirsty, I need a water first and then I can drink a beer.
When in Europe you always use the bathroom when you’re at a restaurant or cafe. Whether you have to go or not. Because if you don’t, you will have to dig out change to access a public one. And if you’re on a road trip and want to stop at a gas station to use the bathroom, you better have change. This system comes with a trade off. While it is annoying to have to pay, often times this means the money is going to the upkeep of the restroom. So they are mostly very clean and well maintained.
I missed the convenience of knowing exactly what store to go to when I’m looking for product x,y,z . In Germany I never quite got fully comfortable with the stores. A combination of not knowing which stores were selling quality items, not speaking the language, things being just a little bit different, and products being more expensive. Here it’s like I know the stores I like and what kinds of things are sold in most of the big box stores like Target, Kohls, Michael’s, etc. I also relied heavily on shopping online via Amazon and other stores. Maybe if I hadn’t had that to fall back on, I would’ve gotten out and explored the retail options in Germany a bit more.
4. Friendly Strangers
It is very refreshing to be back in a place where people smile and say hello while passing by on the street. It’s just not a part of German culture to be overly friendly to strangers. Not that Germans are rude or mean people by any means, but it’s just not normal over there to be so forward and friendly with people you don’t know. For now I will appreciate the smiles, waves, “good mornings” and other the other niceties that come along with living in a happy California town.
5. Less severe garbage rules
In Germany we had 4 different trash cans in our kitchen. One for food waste, one for metal and plastic, one for paper, and one for all other trash. Oh yeah, and don’t forget the special grey bags for diapers! And don’t think about throwing glass away, that you have to take down the street to the glass recycling bins and sort it out by color! Our regular trash bin was tiny and was only picked up every other week. It forced us to be very conscious of our waste and how we dispose of trash, but what about when you have visitors? Or when you just have one of those weeks where you have a lot of trash? And forget about placing extra bags out next to the bin. If you do that, none of your trash is getting picked up! We still recycle here, but our trash is collected weekly and we have garbage bins that aren’t so small and restrictive. I must say it is very nice.
6. Garbage disposals
No one I knew in Germany had one. Why?? Maybe it’s related to the trash system, I don’t know. But I never realized how nice it is to have a garbage disposal and I never want to live without one again!
7. Drive up services
The only places I saw in Europe with drive-thrus were McDonald’s and Burger King. No drive up ATMs, no drive-thru Starbuck’s, no drive up pharmacy windows, and no pay at the pump gas. I guess it’s kind of lazy when you think about it, but it is very convenient at times. Especially when you don’t want to pull your toddler out of the car seat to just grab a quick coffee.
8. Everywhere takes credit card
Europe is modern and when you’re out shopping at a mall or any big store, they take cards. Sometimes not the american cards we have though. And there are still a large number of restaurants that only accept cash. We often found ourselves searching for an ATM to withdraw some euros to deal with this. I’m hardly ever prepared with cash, and I love that even the local farmer’s market here can take cards. Again, another nice convenience to have.
In the grand scheme of life these are small things. But they are things I didn’t think about before they were not available to me anymore. Not saying one country is better or worse in these terms, but just noticing little differences in ways of life. I will have to do a follow up about things I miss from Europe…stay tuned!