Time-Release Culture Shock? Yep, It’s a Real Thing!

They said it would happen. I was prepared. I was warned that visiting the United States after two and a half years would serve up a hefty dose of culture shock. And for the most part, they were wrong. There were a few glitches here and there, our first trip to Walmart was probably a few…months…too soon, but otherwise, we did OK. The giant picture of Barack Obama welcoming us to LAX was a bit startling, as was the big poster advertising Oprah’s Chai Tea Latte at Starbucks, but we survived. Most of the other hiccups were giggle worthy, but that’s about where it ended. What I wasn’t prepared for was the trip back home. Is there such a thing as delayed culture shock? Because I think I have it.

People warned us about the first “return” to our adopted home as well. “You’ll find it dirty, smelly, frustrating, and you’ll hate it!” were the most common comments. I laughed it off, after all, we had moments when we initially moved here, but never seemed to fully sink into the “I hate it here and want to go home” culture shocked mentality that so many experience at least once. I just knew that I was stronger, more tolerant, and accepting of the place we now called home. Even after just a few weeks in the States, I was ready to come back. And then we stepped off the plane.

Oh Manila...your smog can make Los Angeles envious!
Oh Manila…your smog can make Los Angeles envious!

I don’t even know when started. We arrived home, tired, no food in the house, no propane in the gas tank, and a few broken appliances. These things are to expected. But, the following morning, when we set out to restock our shelves, I began to feel it welling up. The poorly merchandised shelves in the department store. The debit card machine that was out of order. The extraordinarily stifling heat. Then, a 30 minute drive that normally should take 5 minutes a few days later pushed me to the edge. As I sat there watching the normally 2 lane road become 5 lanes as cars pushed, shoved, and honked their way through, I felt tears hovering on the edge of my eyelids. Yes, I was almost crying because of a traffic jam. I was broken.

However, the whole “returning to another culture” experience has really allowed me to see how much has changed within us over the last 2+ years. Our introduction and observations, versus our REintroduction to the culture looks something like this:

First time: “Whoa, check out that dude that just drove up the sidewalk, hahahahaha! That’s sooo crazy! Look at all the people crossing the road wherever they feel like, it’s just like Frogger! Is this road 2 or 4 lanes? I can’t tell, everyone’s just driving where they want! Bwahahaha! Oh so novel and goofy and silly and stuff!”

This time: Driving is more like dealing with a disobedient toddler. “So help me…if you get in front of me…no…you are NOT ALLOWED TO DO THAT. NO it’s not OK to push! What are you THINKING?!?! That is not a lane! I hate driving! (sob sob sob…)” (and yes…most of this dialog is verbal, not mental)

Just a typical day of running errands...
Just a typical day of running errands…

First time: “It’s all good, we’re on Asia time! Half an hour late? No worries! An hour from now? Even better! Now I have more time to hang out and just absorb the world around me. The LTO (DMV here) even has a food court?! Nice! Now I can sit and eat while waiting for my number to be called!”

This time: (waiting to meet someone or start an event) “I was here five minutes early…where IS everyone? (30 minutes after said event was supposed to start). I have stuff to do!”

I will never complain about waiting at DMV again...
I will never complain about waiting at DMV again…

First time: “How resourceful! They can fix anything here, I’m never going to have to buy a new (appliance/alternator/tire) again!”

This time: “Would you please just fix the darn thing RIGHT?!? I am willing to buy a new one, or pay extra! Please!!! Please don’t solder my alternator back together for the two hundreth time! Ya think maybe it might be time to just replace it?”

We'll make it work! No problem!
We’ll make it work! No problem!

First time: “Oh wow! Look at all the amazing, unique types of different food here! Let’s walk to the outdoor market and try something cool and foreign! Chicken intestines? Bring it on! Fried pig skin? Yes please!”

This time: “Who else wants McDonald’s for dinner? Thank goodness they deliver, I don’t want to leave the house and deal with traffic!”

fiesta foods

First time: “Hey, the neighbor has roosters, how fun! A bit of country in the city! And listen to that…karaoke in the distance, it’s a non-stop party!”

This time: “The next rooster that crows at 5 am is going to be dinner. The next karaoke machine that fires up at 10 pm is going to mysteriously disappear”.


Customer Service.
First time: “Wow, everyone is so nice and helpful! So sweet of five sales associates to greet me when I enter the store, and follow me around in case I do need help!”

This time: “No. No, I don’t need bright pink, size 3 Daisy Dukes. No, I don’t need a new rice cooker. Yes, I understand what a t-shirt is. I was actually just passing through the store. Please don’t talk to me, look at me, or acknowledge I exist.” Exception, when you actually DO need assistance: “Where the heck are all the sales associates hiding?! And who trained you? Do you know anything about your product?”

First time: “Wow, look at how many people they can cram on one of these things! What a fun, cultural experience! Sure, there’s room for one more, come join the party y’all! I wish I’d brought my portable karaoke machine!”

This time: “Seriously driver? You are FULL! No, there is no more room! I would love if you could not sit on my lap, fellow passenger, thanks! Oh, you are not bringing that rooster on board, are you?” (but, it still beats driving in a lot of cases, I am thankful for our public transport!)

Always room for one more, right?
Always room for one more, right?

First time: “Woo hoo! Another hot hot hot day! A bit sticky, but I loooove the weather!”

This time: “Hot. Sticky. Can’t. Breathe. What I would give for a 60 degree day!”

First time: “EWWW! There are ants in the sugar! Time to burn down the kitchen.”

This time: “More ants? Give me a spoon, I’ll fish out what I can…then I’ll make cookies as planned. Protein and stuff.”

Just a few ants.
Just a few ants.

Standing Out in the Crowd.
First time: “Yeah, I guess we look a bit different to everyone, I can understand why everyone is checking us out.”

This time: “People! We are just the same as you! Stop staring, stop giggling, stop acting shy when I ask a simple question!”

First time: “HALLELUJAH!!! There’s a Starbucks!”

This time: “HALLELUJAH!!! There are THREE Starbucks!”


On Being Here.
First time: “Yay! I’m sooooo happy we’re HERE!”

This time: “Yay! I’m sooooo happy we’re HOME!”

8 thoughts on “Time-Release Culture Shock? Yep, It’s a Real Thing!

    1. A few days ago a friend of mine and I were shopping, and having just discussing this topic, we separately “serpentined” up and down every single shoe aisle, just to see how long we would be followed. The result? Every single aisle. Sometimes you just have to have fun to maintain sanity!

  1. Your blog made it to Tanzania about the 20 Things. Too humorous. I found this one and can’t stop laughing and showing my husband- “look, that happened to us” “oh, and that too!”. We recently moved to TZ for 14 mo, but have been here before and other countries. This past week we spent 10 days waiting for our car to be fixed, my husband attempting to change a spark plug that takes 20 min to fix int the States, and him getting beyond sick we thought he had malaria. We are right there with you! Thanks for sharing and not making us feel alone. Everyone has told me when we go home for Christmas we will want to come back ASAP…


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s