Reverse culture shock

How long do you have to live somewhere before going back to the place you came from gives you reverse cluture shock? I had lived in Taiwan exactly a year, and had been out of the US a few additional months, before I went back the US this past January. I expected it to be tough, but honestly, it felt like I had never left. Then I came back to Taiwan in 3 weeks, and it felt like I had only dreamed about going back to the US.

I’ve had regular culture shock before – the worst was in Russia, a country where I least expected it, and knew nothing about the country before I decided to take a 3rd class train across it by myself. But whenever I’ve returned to the US from anywhere, it’s not hard to get back into the old groove I find. Does this say something about the US, do you think?

…I’d always stand in front of 7-11 waiting for the $#^* doors to open.

Also my girlfriend cracking open a pijuo on the counter of the 7-11 to the shocked dismay of the guy working there :slight_smile:

It could be just Taiwan? I felt that way when I first went back there after being outside of Taiwan for about 2 years. After that, everytime I went back I felt like it was new to me even though I was brought up until 8th grade. Taiwan changes so rapidly that I am now in withdraw. All I want to remember now is the Taiwan I remember from the 8th grade.

My wife and friends all laugh at me for being a dinasour refering to my memory of Taiwan. I haven’t been back since 1998. I heard it’s way different now. But you are right about the U.S. I can go on a vacation for a month, come back here and feel as if I have never left it. Does this mean most U.S. cities are more “matured” and thus more stable in terms of developmet activies? But then I have also heard an American friend from Austria saying similar things about his hometown in Michigan as I did about Taiwan.


Every time I go back to the US, the reactions I have are:

  • “Whoa! Commercials in English!”

  • All that space on the lower part of the TV screen–and no subtitles!"

  • “I’m driving – and yet I feel safe. It’s so . . . so relaxing.”

  • “When the hell did Americans get this fat?!”

  • “Good Lord, this supermarket is huge.”

  • “I can’t sleep. It’s too quiet.”

Let me share with you my impressions of Taipei everytime I went back:

~ Holy crap. That’s a lot of people in that tinny little store.
~ That building looks much older than I thought it does.
~ Hey, this food taste just like how I remember it!
~ What road crosses with what road again?
~ Which number bus goes to Chung-hsaio East Road again?
~ There’s no way in hell I can cross the street with so many bikes/scooters on the street!
~ I have got to watch what I say. These people can understand Chinese!


scchu wrote; "~ I have got to watch what I say. These people can understand Chinese! "

That’s the funniest thing i’ve heard in a long time. Nice, sccchu!

I usually forgo the vomit on television and spend most of my time availing myself of one of the best things America has to offer–breathtaking outdoor landscapes.

I also avail myself of the bookstores. And record stores. And stores that sell pants in a 34/34 size and size Large shirts that aren’t made for a guy who weighs 150 pounds. And stores that sell size 12 shoes. “Big-guy” consumer heaven!

I also enjoy the supermarkets–so many choices! And Mexican food, as much as I can stuff into myself in a few weeks.

The materialism and “is he wearing better shoes than I am?” mentality drives me nuts. For some reason, the Taiwanese version of materialism is much easier for me to stomach.

I enjoy both the wide variety of beautiful American women…until I remember that finding a woman of any substance is getting harder and harder in my homeland, unless you’re willing to go the Church route. Dear Lord, no.

Going home reminds me that I am an American, through and through…and reminds me of why I choose not to live in my homeland.

Don’t know about the US but returning to Australia tends to see me suddenly hungering for the celebrity status implied by the stares (which I hate with a vengeance while I’m here) and cringing at the possibility of being embroiled in a random act of violence.

Waiting by the cash register for my ‘fa piao’.

The kicker is forgetting that zebra crossings offer a cherished sense of entitlement to Australian pedestrians. Each time I’ve been back I forget this strange phenomenon and end up barreling through cursing at the idiots who’ve stepped onto the road without looking.


Can you elaboate a little on the last part about materialism? The part about wearing better clothing drives me crazy too. I was going to school in Georgia for a few years. And most of my close friends were Americans. And naturally, Americans don’t care what they wear (this can be a good or a bad thing) and hanging out with them meant wearing jeans, t-shirts and just running shoes. It felt great.

Then I got a job in NYC. Wearing just the jeans and t-shirt all of a sudden becomes a “geek” thing among the Taiwanese groups here. They carry LV wallets, wear Gucci watches, Prada shoes and other material possessions. Things I know I’d never be comfortable with. And of course, I had to “go”. Not a right fit. Maybe this is a more extreme case. But are people in Taiwan like that nowadays too? (Are those the latest _______ shoes?) Or maye just Taipei?


[quote=“scchu”]But are people in Taiwan like that nowadays too? (Are those the latest _______ shoes?) Or maybe just Taipei?


Depends. Young hip females working in the creative industry in Taipei will spend a major portion of their salary looking right. (Or they will get the fakes at the nearest night market). They will also change their cell phone more often than I change socks.

Middle-aged females liking in villages in central Taiwan are much more likely to wear cheap stoff bought off the street.

If you are a young female professional in NYC and intend to be part of the same group here, things are most likely to be the same.

I guess I can imagine girls in the creative fields doing that. Image is 1/2 the battle for them (don’t flame me, I know I am stereotyping; it’s a 1/2 joke). But some of those people I described are GUYS! Which makes even less sense. But what do I know.

As for spending, I don’t think it’s limited to girls. Us guys can get materialistic at times, I guess… latest PDA, computer gadgets, digital cameras, flat panels… etc. My justification to my wife is, “well, these are ‘practical’ things”. But of course, that never works. And I suppose that applies to all cultures everywhere… shouldn’t be a “shock” per se.


Males even get facials here. (Or was it farcials)

Oh, wait, my wife forces me to do facial occassionally. Her logic is that “looking good is a social responsibility”. Now, how can you argue with that? Sigh…


Do you smell something!? :wink:

No culture shock, reverse or otherwise, for me - I enjoy going back once a year to my parents country-side home between a military airport and a freeway but at least the air is fresh and clean.
Most I miss the good food - mum’s cooking is of course the best.
But usually it takes only 2-3 weeks and I wish myself back here.

Living in Asia has numbed my sense of smell :smiling_imp:

That long? :wink:

Living in Thailand numbed my sense of taste. Anyone care for a hsiao la jao?

I think the “materialism” thing applies everywhere. You’ve got those people in the US, in Taiwan and Europe as well. You can’t really consider it to be something “Taiwan”-specific or whatever. I used to have school mates who’d compete in brand-consciousness (is that a word?) and having the most expensive clothes, and I’ve heard stories like that from a lot of countries. Cosmetics and cosmetic treatments for men seem to be a hype in Germany these days. And people in the “creative” field in Germany are probably not that different from those here. But …

I just don’t hang out with them, neither here nor in Germany. I can’t really relate to them (as they probably can’t relate to me). And it seems easy enough to find friends who don’t care much about Gucci handbags, Prada shoes or Hilfinger sweaters, here as well as there. :wink:

As to the culture shock when going home: I usually have feelings like: “Wow, so many Westerners here, and nobody takes any notice of me” and, just like scchu,: “Ooops, I have to watch what I say, everybody here understands German” for the first couple of days. Apart from that, as soon as I sit in my bfs car driving home from the airport, everything feels like I’d never been away (more or less :?).


Agreed. But it’s kind of odd. It strikes me that Asians (in general) seem more obssessive with those things than most “Westeners” I personally know. I know I am generalising again. But that has been my experience in 4 different cities I have lived in from Asia to the States. Maybe I have been bumping into wrong groups…

The language thing isn’t funny, man… Even in New York, I’d accidentally make some smart ass remark about someone, and sure enough, that person would always turn out to be capable of whatever language you speak (even freak’in Taiwanese!). I have learned my lesson… I wish my wife speaks Thai… that’d really narrow down the chances of people understanding me (well, maybe not in Taiwan anymore with all those labors there)… Maybe I should just keep my smart remarks to myself…


I seem to be in the minority, but I definately experience the reverse shock of my homeland. My first thought, while making my way through the airport, is usually “Where’d all these big, white, hairy people come from?” On the drive home I wonder “Where did everyone go? No one drives anymore?” At the grocery store I marvel at the different options I have for pickles and mustard, with nary an odour of durian wafting my way. On the tube I surf from hockey game to basketball game to football game without once hitting billiards or bowling. Looking out the window I gawk at the vastness of space, unobstucted views of mountains and sky. So much space. My lungs experience the shock too. They can’t get enough of the air. Deep breath in. Exhale. Again. The best thing about reverse culture shock is the appreciation I’ve developed for home sweet home.

Zen, you made a good point about being more appreciative for homeland. I also noticed that one tends to become more obervative and sensitive to certain things you one never paid attention to before; it’s a nice feeling in an awkward way.