Reflections on Reverse Culture Shock

Brian (in sadness and shock) with his last Pisco Sour at the airport. Our final hours in South America.

Final hours in South America. Brendan, in sadness, with his last pisco sour at the airport.

There’s this amazing line at the end of The Motorcycle Dairies. 

I think anyone who’s returned from living abroad can relate to this:

“Wandering around our America has changed me more than I thought. Me? I am not me anymore. Or at least I’m not the same me I was.”

I’ve been back from South America for several months. Chile’s culture shock sure hit while I was living there, but now, this reverse part is more noticeable.

The big differences I notice are:

 Closeness and greetings In Chile, you greet and say goodbye with a kiss on the right cheek. You do this everyone. I’ve been back to California for several months, and it feels weird to not have this physical contact with people anymore. (So I’ve developed this habit of giving awkward half-hugs when I say goodbye to groups of people.) In Chile, people also frequently touch arms or shoulders in conversation. I love this. Not so much in America, though.

Community Upon returning to the Bay Area, my roommate and I had a talk about the bustling, technology-driven, work work work pace of the bay area. She said it seems like no matter how many events, shows, or meetings you go to, it still  always feels like you’re missing out on something. And it’s true. The Bay Area has everything : every kind of trendy restaurant, live music event, art gallery, film festival, networking meetup, and street fair.  There is always something happening, and it would take talent to be bored. But I find that with this constant stimulation, it’s also more easy to be unsatisfied. Because we move so fast and try to absorb so much, we run the risk of not making connections more than surface deep with the people around us.

My first shock with this was at the Dallas airport, when I first landed in the US. I spent my layover in a cafe packed with people. Shiny grey MacBooks dotted the room. Earbuds in. The only noise was the espresso machine and the staccato “tip-tip-tip” of fingers on keyboards. I remember looking around and being amazed at seeing so much new technology in one room. I hadn’t seen an internet cafe in months. So much happening, but so much isolation.

In Chile, I remember slowing down. I remember not feeling overwhelmed by all of the choices, because, well… there weren’t as many. Sure, there were still modern conveniences and amenities, but people also had this deeper human connection.

Latinoamerica, te echo de menos.

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