Reverse culture shock hit me hard my first week back. For those that are new to this “travel overseas” game, reverse culture shock is when you find things in your home country confusing, overwhelming or difficult. Usually when one travels overseas there is an expectation of “different”. Food may be strange, buying necessities is not as easy, and figuring out how to say “hello” can take time. Coming back, however, can be just as hard because it is so unexpected.
I went to Target the other day to pick up some shampoo and restock on socks. Usually this is my favorite place to shop. Not sure whether it’s the smell of popcorn as you enter or the bright red colors that scream “this is fun”. Either way Target is my comfort zone.
I had about an hour before I was supposed to meet Ed- a good amount of time to pick up what I needed as well as browse clearance clothing and furniture.
I walked straight in, shoulders back, feeing confident this was going to be a breeze. I took an immediate left to the women’s clothing and started perusing the clearance section. As a slide over hanger after hanger, I could feel my disposition start to shrink. I had no idea what I was looking for and in no way is $20 is a good clearance price. I remember better deals!
Giving up on clothing I decided to look for shampoo. I have a favorite shampoo here in the States and was looking forward to buying the big bottles to last me all summer. As I headed down towards the health and beauty section I could not find shampoo. I knew I had gone too far when all I was seeing was dog food. I did a 180 and started walking back. Still no shampoo. Another 180 and another until finally it caught my eye. Darn end-cap advertising deodorant distracted me!
I grabbed my bottles, because you have to get conditioner too, and decided to browse again. By this point my thrown back shoulders were officially slumped and I still had half an hour to kill before Ed arrived. I started doing laps.
In the electronics section a worker asked me the typical question of “can I help you find anything?”. Since I wasnt looking for anything, I said no and continued on my lap. As I rounded electronics again- I was asked the same question by the same person. I swear he thought I was lost. or defeated. or both.
I realized I was too overwhelmed to shop. So much stuff that I didn’t need nor did I want to look. I felt like curling up in the aisle in the fetal position and just rock- but remembered that’s not acceptable in North American culture. Instead I stumbled upon the book section and right in front of me was one of Shel Silverstein’s poetry books. I picked it, sat down on the bottom shelf and read. It was my escape- or at least a coping mechanism.
Finally enough time had passed that I could head to the front of the store to meet Ed. I was mentally so overwhelmed that I could have just cried and make a scene. Fortunately I was able to keep it together and I dont think the checker even noticed.