Monday, January 13, 2014

Coming Back From Here: Reverse Culture Shock

If you never leave home you can never truly view your own culture clearly. Like a toilet, you can be comfortable while your buns relax upon your own familiar seat but, you probably don't know exactly what it feels like in comparison to  the numerous other toilets out there (even those gritty college bachelor pad ones that make you happy you took a few minutes to clean yours). I recently returned home for the holidays and although it t'was a short trip, there were some things that definitely stood out to me as odd. Now, let it be known these aren't meant to be degrading but rather a way to share how my own views on home have changed. Of course everyone will have a different experience; Alas here are a few of the most memorable things that caused me to take a step back and philosophize, jump back in wide wonder or satisfy some deeply rooted part of my own human experience. Regardless of where you go or how long you're gone for home will never be exactly as you remember it. 

Everything is Bigger in 'Merika!
Even the Wildlife is bigger

The buildings, the cars, the ideas, the portion sizes, and the people are bigger than most places I've had the good fortune of traveling to. OK, lets not kid ourselves almost everything is bigger in America. The first time I returned to my homeland after an extended stay abroad I was surprised to see just how big Americans are. Now, I don't mean just tall, or just fat, or just big boned. It's a combination of all the above. Most folks in Korea and Japan are slim. You'll happen across a few large people but they are a rarity. Now with that said, the tallest man I've ever seen in my life actually worked for a hotel in Daegu, South Korea (he must have been over 7' )   Though he was still very thin. For me it was a shock to go from a slightly above average height and thin build to a short and skinny build in less than 14 hours of each state of being.

 Next up was the portion sizes. At my first meal out I was astounded at just how much food I was given. Looking down into the sea of french fries and the massive slab of meat someone said was a hamburger I pondered if this was meant to be shared with everyone at the table. I can't say I can complain about the size of alcoholic drinks though...

Big pick ups and big statements

Lastly the BIG open spaces always amaze me. Even though the USA has a large number of people the sheer size of space not used is probably the best BIG aspects of America. One Bald Eagle salute.
So much room for activities!!

 Beer for You, Beer for Me, Beer Everywhere!
                                (Except in Public)

In my time abroad there has been one consumer item I have missed the most, beer. Now don't get me wrong, beer is a universal drink. I wouldn't be surprised to find out when some intergalactic race finally decides to meet us face to face that it will be over a beer. Beer is indeed everywhere, but for me it is the quality of beer that makes it enjoyable. During my time in Korea I was subjected to the piss colored water they called beer. Hite and Cass were staples of the drinking life. It was cheap, the quantity was fair, it still played the devilish tricks all alcohol plays on the mind but, the quality lacked a certain something... mainly flavor and depth. Basically it reminded me of summer nights as a college student, with only a few bucks to spend, drinking PBR or Coors Lite, playing beer pong. It's fine for the time but there are better options out there. (Sorry dad! Your Budlight Lime falls into the lackluster beer category).


Now of course foreign beers are available Hoegarden, Budweiser and Heineken are some of the more popular brands; you're going to have to pay a bit more for them though and they are rarely on tap.  Japan offers a better selection of beer from more established breweries such as Sapporo and Kirin. They also have a variety of light and dark beers. I'd rank them above Korean brews but they still lack a certain something. Here in Okinawa Orion (Oh-re-on) is popular, cheap and holds beer festivals every now and then; This is usually my go-to beer on nights out.
Not Half Bad

Now America... You're doing beer right! Not only do you have the cheaper options but also craft brews of all flavors, sizes and strength. Going back to America was like going to Beer Disney Land, you just have to try every one you can. You know you can't just linger at "it's a small world" all day with so many choices (well you could but that doesn't seem like an adventurous option). Good job 'Merika! This was one aspect of reverse culture shock that I'm more than happy to relive time and time again. The only downside I can see is not being able to drink in public. Call me an alcoholic if you want but there is nothing quite like the feeling of buying an alcoholic beverage, paying for it, walking into the fresh crisp outside air, popping open the can/bottle and drinking while you walk from from here to there. 

The Magic Touch of Paper Towels

As the old saying goes, "You never really know what you got until it's gone," this is true of paper towels in public restrooms. Since being in Asia land I can't name one time when I've regularly spotted paper towels in any public bathroom. I'm all for saving the tree's and protecting the environment from waste but it would be nice to not have to do the magic hand dance to dry my hands every time.  Besides automatic hand dryers don't always get the job done. Good looking out former colonies of Britain!

The Sports Bar Cathedrals

I hope our future descendants one day dig up a fully intact sports bar (maybe in the ashes of the Yellowstone Super Volcano... Pompeii style). They will gaze in wide wonder and postulate as to why one place needed so many video screens. They will wonder why so many chickens were sacrificed to the American football gods and of course they will taste the millennia-old beer and spirits left behind. I used to think nothing of these places. I'd simply come, order my food and drink, watch 8 different sporting events on 8 different screens and then would be on my way. Now, I need to be on speed just to keep up with the events on each TV. I have to seriously question my priorities, Should I watch tennis, UFC, Football, "Soccer," or simply watch Sports Center to get the best of all of them? Maybe it has to be the sports cult--ure in America but I simply don't understand the these places anymore. Sorry motherland this one isn't totally positive experience but good lord the food and beer are great!

Shoes Inside the House

Oh I can wear shoes inside the house? Sweet! Don't worry I've only stepped in an incomprehensible number of disgusting things on my way here... Now I can pick up some more from your floor! YES!


Unabashed public displays of affection. This was one of the things I think is kind of cool... until you see two people dry humping against a slot machine at 1AM.


Sometimes you just want to shoot some shit. Nuff said.


gun... check, taser... check... face mashing club of doom... check... burger check...

American Police are intimidating. Not only do they have a gun, a taser and a gadget belt to rival Batman's, but even their cars are crime stopping beasts! Here in Japan police carry guns... but they are small .38 caliber revolvers (with the exception of special duty police officers). In Okinawa many of the police drive in K-cars (think of a car about the size of a Mini-Cooper) and there is no shatter-proof glass guarding the police from anyone in the back. As a matter of fact if you get pulled over they let you sit in the back of their car to fill out the paper work and may even have a nice chat with you (this is not sarcasm). 

Tokyo Police rocking helmets

Meanwhile in America Police walk up to your car with their hands near their semi-automatic/automatic handguns of doom. It's a given that America can be a much more violent and dangerous place for police officers, making these things necessary. With that said though it's hard to describe the unease you'll feel when this is not part of your regular life anymore.

Even a mob of Korean riot police aren't that intimidating

How about you? Have you ever experienced reverse culture shock? If you have feel free to chime in, drop your 2-10 cents into the opinion pond, or if you don't ...postulate about something you think would cause reverse culture shock!

Don't hide in the shadows like this guy! Let me know what you think!


  1. I enjoy the freedom when standing in a chekout line not having someone breath down my neck or observe my credit card pin.

    1. It's the small things that make a difference isn't it?

  2. > Going back to America was like going to Beer Disney Land, you just have to try every one you can.

    In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king...

    ... come to Germany and learn what beer really is.

    1. Ok if I come to Germany are you willing to play Jesus and heal the blind?

  3. I'm going through the exact same thing.
    The biggest thing for me is driving! Having to drive everywhere in order to get anywhere is a huge change in lifestyle.

    Also being able to look like myself without feeling different is nice aha.

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