Culture Shock in My Own Country
I arrived in Buenos Aires on June 23, 2010. I had been there twice before, but never for more than 5 days. I also spoke the language. However, I still had a lot of adjusting to do. Over the next 14 months, I adapted to cultural differences, new slang, and the small annoyances that were really only annoying because they were different from what I as used to. Was I slightly culture shocked? Yes, but I had always expected to be.
I am currently back in the US for a 6 week, 5 city trip of awesomeness. I have been looking forward to this trip for months. All of my friends, 5 different cities, free refills, spicy food, clothes that fit me – I thought I was prepared for everything.
I speak English in Argentina all the time. My office job requires me to speak to clients in the Europe and the US. I have tons of expat friends. While I also speak Spanish every day, I still speak English as my dominant language. The thought of going back to the States and not having to think twice about difficult phone calls or situations was so exciting. It never occurred to me that I might forget to use my own language.
It started on the plane to Dallas. The flight attendants were all Texan. They spoke Spanish, but it was clear that English was their native language. Why, then, did I answer them in Spanish every time they spoke to me? Water? Si, porfa- Yes, yes please. Chicken or beef? Pollo. Chicken. Chicken, I want chicken! I felt both pretentious and spazzy.
Then I got to the Dallas airport. I was finally back on US soil. The airport was busy, so I ran into a few people. Each time I caught myself saying “perdón…disculpáme….estás bien?”. Each time I was more and more confused at why my native language refused to come back to me in these surprise situations. Even a couple weeks into my trip, I still find myself saying “perdón” a lot more than “excuse me” and “gracias” a lot more than thank you.
Coming to America
My first few days I felt like Eddie Murphy in Coming to America. The most unexpected things amazed me. For example, buying toothpaste with a $100 bill. In Argentina, all the ATMs give you $100 peso bills. No one ever has change for these bills. It often becomes a game of finding a location where you can buy enough stuff to warrant the merchant giving you change. In Dallas, I knew I only had the $100 dollar bills the bank in Argentina had given me. I wanted to buy a small toothbrush and tube of toothpaste. I sheepishly went up to the cashier saying “I think I only have a $100…”. I don’t know why I said “I think”. Perhaps I thought it would soften the blow. The cashier looked at me and said “okay” and allowed me to buy a 5 dollar item with a $100 bill. America, you are wonderful.
Another ridiculous moment was when I went for a run in my old neighborhood. It was about 90 degrees and I had not considered bringing a water bottle. As I jogged through a park, I thought to myself man, I am thirsty and then, like magic, I happened upon a water fountain. I swear to you I had basically forgotten that water fountains existed. I approached it like it was a trick, as if maybe the fountain would suddenly turn into that horrible monster with eyes in his hands from Pan’s Labyrinth. However, it did not. It simply offered a stream of fresh, mildly cold and ultra refreshing free water.
Clothes, Cereal and Deals – Oh My!
My first day back, my mom took me to Target. I walked into that building and smiled like a maniac. I looked at my mom and proclaimed “it smells like Target!”. I practically skipped through the aisles, touching clothes and letting out “oohs” and “aahs” and the occasional “This is so cheap!” I literally hugged a clothing rack. Yeah, that happened. I forced my mom to take photos of me with the cheap clothes that actually fit my chubby body. I don’t even like shopping, but after 14 months of buying only 3 items, none of which were particularly awesome, I was totally overwhelmed with joy.
As we walked past the food aisles, I again made a fool of myself. “Mom look at all that cereal! IS THAT SPECIAL K FOR ONLY
$2.99?!”. Then came the peanut butter aisle. Mom! That entire AISLE is peanut butter! I want to LIVE in that aisle!” I can only imagine what the people around me were thinking.
Driving? What’s driving?
I have never enjoyed driving all that much, so I was more than thrilled to move to a city where buses, subways and trains take me everywhere I need to go. My first day back, I had to hop right back into my car. My mom and I walked to the driveway and I saw my brother’s car sitting behind mine while the other side of the driveway was wide open. I looked at the tricky situation and then at my mom. “Do I have to maneuver around this car? What am I, a wizard?!”.
Then came getting gas. My mom lives in the suburbs, a trusting place, as long as you are not of color. Honestly, I was always a little too dark for that place. The point is, our gas pumps were always pay at the pump or pay inside when you are finished. When I went to get gas, I was shocked to see that I had to pay first. Once I got to the register I realized I had no idea what gas cost. I stared at the cashier, looked at my wallet and just said “Um…25 I guess?”.
Being back in the US is wonderful, but I definitely feel like an alien a lot here. I also feel like people are constantly quizzing me or looking to me for incredibly adventure filled stories. My second day back, some friends introduced me to a new guy and told him I had been in Argentina for the past year. His first question? “What kind of feral animals do they have in Argentina?!”
I simply stammered “Um…I’m not sure. They have these things called Maras. They are like a rabbit and a dog…there are really cute…not dangerous…”
I fail at interesting facts, clearly.
Despite the unexpected culture shock, being in the US for awhile has been great so far. Have any of you every experienced culture shock in your own country?