So I’ve been home a few days and it’s definitely weird. Here are some of the biggest things I’ve noticed.
No one is looking at me, but everyone’s paying attention
I’ve said again and again how much I dislike being stared at in China. What I haven’t said though, is how there is a certain freedom in it. If I speak normally and quietly people will look at me. If I scream and swear people will look at me. If I walk down the street at a typical pace, people will look at me. If I walk backwards, clapping my hands and singing at the top of my lungs, people will look at me. But despite being the center of attention, there is no judgement. They’re curious about a foreigner and how we look and act. When I sing they don’t snigger or roll their eyes. If I walk with a little bit of swagger they don’t laugh at me and say I look stupid. I’m pretty sure I could take a dump in the middle of the street and they would only look to see if a foreigners shit was different from theirs.
But in America it is different. No one stares at me, but everyone is aware of me. I have to be conscious of things like personal space (which is different in china, and something I need to readjust) I have to be aware to not sing out loud or even hum a little (or else I’d look like a crazy person) and I have to be on high alert and know where everyone is around me so I can act accordingly. A person a few paces behind me? I better notice them so I can hold open the door lest I look like a jerk. Someone two seats down from me sneeze? I better pay attention so I can say ‘gesundheit.’ Drop a tiny piece of paper? I better pick itup right away before someone tsk’s at me.
I was in a store and I accidentally clipped a ladies heels with my cart. Not rammed, just kinda nudged. I immediately said sorry and she kinda rolled her eyes at me. Then another guy nearby said to the woman, “You getting run over today?” in a friendly tone but I wanted to be like, “WTF, did everyone notice?!”
So while people stare at me in China, and I can’t be incognito like I can I’m America, I still have this new added pressure to behave properly in America. It’s a little tough being thrown back into that after you’ve been out of it so long.
Everything is BIG
This needs to be explained because to know big is to know China. Population, buildings, even the worlds longest escalator, china has it. But there is also a compactness and efficiency to it all, because they have to fit so much stuff in a relatively small place. America has the opposite problem. Every building, from the bank to Home Depot, has a huge parking lot surrounded by a huge well manicured lawn. Everything takes up so much space, it seems like an awful waste.
But it doesn’t just stop there. On my way home from the airport my dad and I stopped off to get dinner at a chicken place. They gave me a soda and the cup was the size of my head. Literally the entire length of my head. The toilet paper rolls are huge, the garbage cans are big enough to hide in, and the size of a sandwich is frightening.
Also, why do our toilets have SO MUCH WATER?! I have a western toilet in China, so I’m used to that, but I feel like the toilets in my mom have an inordinate amount of water. It’s almost obscene.
Toilet paper rolls the size of my head. Only in America.
It’s So Quiet and Empty
Maybe this would be different if I lived in New York City, but my parents live in a suburb outside New York and this place is s-o-o-o-o-o-o quiet. I used to hate the constant noise in China, but like most things, I got used to it. And I find china so 热闹 re nao, like, active and fun and exciting. I love my nightly walks where kids are skateboarding, ladies are dancing, lovers are walking hand in hand. Even at 2, 3, 4am you can find people out and about on the street, hanging out playing cards, selling BBQ, (eating BBQ). In America it gets so deathly quiet at night and I’m afraid if I go out someones gonna call the cops on me. It feels lonelier. I was walking in the downtown street of my parents hometown at 8:30 pm and there wasn’t a soul in sight. Spooky
Not even dark and totally quiet and empty. It’s never this quiet and empty in China.
We are Nice and Good Drivers
I know, when I lived in America I thought everyone drove like assholes, but the courtesy on the road is shocking to me. There is lots of waving to each other to go first, stopping to let someone enter the road, stopping at stop signs. It’s actually quite nice, like it feels like people are being courteous to each other.
I’ve also been shocked at how nice people are. On my first day I went to the bank and the guy was making small talk but it wasn’t just rote, “how are you,” he actually listened and responded. Then when I had the wrong account number he helped me out and gave me a ton of information I didn’t know I wanted (but I actually did). Then I went to a deli and ordered a bagel and stood there for about 10 minutes talking with two of the workers. It seems like everyone here is happy to chit-chat at anytime.
Chinese people are friendly and as a foreigner they will often chit-chat with me. But its more out of curiosity then friendless I think. Here in America people just seem so nice. And this is in New England where we have a reputation of being cold and unfriendly.
Listening to English is Tedious
When you live in China you ear kinda hone in on English. You know how you could be in a loud room but someone says your name quietly you always hear it? Thats what hearing English is like in China. You are subconsciously always listening for it because when someone speaks it, there is a good chance they are addressing you.
So when you come back to America your senses are overwhelmed with English and you can’t block out everyones conversations for the first days. At restaurants, on the street, in the library I can’t help but overhear what people say. And guess what? It’s boring as shit. I listened to a 10 minute conversation about two peoples favorite Honda dealer in my hometown. Yeah, 10 minutes about Honda dealers. And that was one of the more interesting conversations because at least it was a little debate.
When I overhear a conversation in Chinese I’m just proud that I can understand them, regardless of the topic. Because it’s in another language it is somehow more interesting. But most conversations I’ve overheard in English? Tedious.
A few more observations:
Paper towels are insanely absorbent.
Americans really are fat.
There are a lot of American flags everywhere.
The sky is wonderfully blue.
My nephews are adorable.
Oh, and the food kinda sucks. It tastes good, but after the fresh chinese diet, trying to get readjusted to the american one is tough. My stomach has not felt good once since I got here and I’m eating about half what I do normally (which maybe is a good thing).
After eating this bagel with cream cheese and lox for breakfast I couldn’t eat anything, even snacks, until the evening.
And all of this reverse culture shock is from someone who spent the majority of their life in America, so nothing is new per say, but rather, things I forgot. I cant wait until Jason comes next month to see some real culture shock. And soon I’ll be used to everything again and when I go back to china I’ll have to deal with getting accustomed to things again (reverse-reverse culture shock).