Friday, January 15, 2010

Musings on Reverse Culture Shock...

A few months ago I first read a post by Miss Expatria about reverse culture shock. Before then I hadn't really given reverse culture shock much thought at all, but I realised that it would exist. It made sense that after going back home after living abroad for a long time that things could seem a little alien, a little puzzling, after living in a different country. But I thought I there'd be a while until that happened to me - until I was home for Christmas, that is.

Next week I'll hit 15 months since I first came out to Italy, in October '08, and so far I've been back to Wales three times, and an additional one time to somewhere else in the UK - namely, London. The best part of seven and a half months had passed by the time I first went home - in August - and by the time I was back in December only two months - not even that - since I had been to London. Those nearly-two-months was the shortest stint I'd had in Italy without going to the UK - even counting the time I was in Urbino! But it was during those few days that I experienced what could, I guess, be described as reverse culture shock.

In London I hadn't thought about it at all, I was there as a tourist, it was a city I hadn't been to since I was 11 years old. Me and my mam were walking around speaking a language nobody else - bar the couple in the queue in front of us for the London Eye!! So funny! - could understand (the look of bemusement on some people's faces when I'd then speak to them in a fairly neutral, almost-Midlandsy sounding English!). I didn't have many memories of the last time I had been there, and a lot of places we went, including where we stayed, were completely unfamiliar to me. It was pretty much a completely new experience, I definitely didn't go there knowing I'd feel completely comfortable and at home.

Christmas was completely different though. That was the first time where I'd really noticed that it was as if I were seeing everything from the point of view of an outsider, a foreigner. That feeling seemed to be everywhere, even when I was at home listening to the radio or watching the TV. Even though I do dip in & out of British radio every so often, I still had a few "People really like this??" moments whilst listening to Radio 1! Walking around the town I grew up in, went to school in, used to work in, I didn't feel completely comfortable. You get used to living in a big city, how to act in shops and on the street... Then I went back to a little town in Wales and I was a bit unsure as to how I should behave - I couldn't remember what I used to do!

The biggest shock was when I went out on Boxing Night with some friends. Again, same town as I'd been going out partying in ever since I could get away with it, and pretty much the same pubs/bars/clubs as always, but it felt completely different. I'd got used to going out with my friends for an aperitivo - have some food, have some drinks, but not too many! But this was proper partying! For one thing I couldn't keep up, and for another - I didn't want to. Last time I was home and went out drinking I got a liiiiiiiittle bit carried away (and ended up with THE worst hangover I'd EVER had!!), but this time I didn't even want to. That whole British mentality of drinking-as-much-as-you-can just baffles me now. I've had so many good nights here where we've only had like a couple of drinks, I don't understand why people drink so much anymore.

When we were coming in to land in Linate I felt as if I was coming home, I didn't expect it. But I was coming back to a country that I was much more comfortable in. I suppose the problems at home would be to do with how little time I've spent there since moving out here, it's not even a month. But still, I'm surprised how unfamiliar day-to-day situations in hour home country can get, after you'd spent 22-and-a-half-ish years there...

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