When I was about to leave for London, I didn’t think I would be affected by culture shock. After all, they speak English, England is a Western democracy, and it couldn’t be that different than America, right? Boy, was I wrong.
In fact, I experienced more culture shock in London than I did in Paris, especially after the ‘euphoria’ wore off. After I learnt from my London culture shock, I knew that returning to America after 10 months would trigger that uncomfortable feeling again. I prepared myself for this reverse culture shock, but there’s only so much you can do. Below are only a few examples of little frustrations, both in London and returning to America. They might not seem like drastically intense experiences, but they were instances that kept me feeling a little ‘off’ for a few weeks.
Nothing is more nerve-wracking than having to navigate the coins in the British currency with a long queue of impatient people waiting on you. The coins are not organized according to size, so, to a newcomer, it’s a very overwhelming experience! I figured it out after probably way too long, and am now an expert at paying for things in change. Too bad that doesn’t really happen in America! (This happened in every destination we traveled to, and Swiss Francs were the hardest, as they all seem to look exactly the same!)
America is a virtually cashless society: almost everything is paid for by card. In London and on the rest of my travels, I used pretty much only cash for payments. It’s a little bizarre paying for everything by card again.
I’ve never been the most confident driver and not driving for 10 months certainly didn’t help. Driving is a little like riding a bike, in that you don’t actually forget how to accelerate, brake, and turn. But whatever confidence I had vanished, and I had to retrain myself to look the correct way when turning. I still catch myself making sure I’m driving on the correct side of the road when I’m on an empty street. Needless to say, taking the wheel again was a scary experience!
In the land of tea, I only had to say ‘white breakfast tea’ at a cafe and would be given what I wanted. Back in the States, I’ve had to specify: “a hot English Breakfast tea with milk”. Only a little annoyance, but still: why can’t they know exactly what I want?
Grocery Shopping & One-Stop Shops
In central London, I had to go to two grocery stores to get what I needed. If I needed school supplies, I had to go to the school supply store. If I wanted a kettle, I had to go to an appliance store. I never thought I would miss Target so much when I was in London. I missed going to a store and being able to get anything I needed. I also missed only having to visit one grocery store for my groceries. While it is wonderful having these things again (thanks to suburb life), visiting Target and Publix again was quite overwhelming!
In Tampa and around Davidson, you drive everywhere. If I tried pedestrian life in Tampa, I’d probably get hit by a car or kidnapped. In London, if something was under an hour walk away, I would walk. I had the displeasure of driving 1.2 miles to dinner one night, a distance shorter than my walk to LSE. It really annoyed me that it wasn’t safe to walk, and I miss getting such an easy, scenic form of exercise.
My ‘sense of fashion’ has finally emerged, and did so while in Europe. Returning to American malls left me wondering why all the clothes were so bright-colored and tiny looking (i.e. short shorts and thin tank tops). What happened to the neutrals and black? What happened to the jackets, boots, and jumpers? I can’t wait for winter when things will hopefully be my speed again.
I’ve written about this before, but American English and British English are different. I’ve picked up a few words from England (e.g. ‘lift’) and hearing them said differently back in America is a little weird. I’ve also gotten poked fun of for saying words such as lift when talking to friends and family.
Americans are loud. The day after I got back to Tampa, I went to lunch and was physically overwhelmed by the volume in the restaurant. It seemed like people were shouting their conversations to each other, for no reason whatsoever. This happened when we were traveling as well: you can always point out the Americans by their volume. Not a fan. I still get physically uncomfortable in these situations.
When I left London, it was in the 60s and 70s, and I was wearing jeans, a shirt, and a light jacket. Going from that to weather in the 90s is horribly unpleasant. I’ve never been a fan of Florida weather, but this drastic change took its toll on me. Not to mention that I hadn’t worn shorts since I left Tampa in September. I get sunburnt in ridiculously short amounts of time and I’ve had to completely change how I dress.
Like I said, culture shock and reverse culture shock are both much more complex than these little instances. These are just a few examples of annoyances I was able to pinpoint during the ‘frustration’ phases.
Have you experienced culture shock? Did you experience culture shock in a location that was supposed to be similar to your home?