Monday, August 05, 2013

Reverse culture shock even after a month in Europe

When I returned from living abroad in Europe and Asia for more than five years, I suffered from some reverse culture shock: I found it hard to settle back in to "normal" life in Australia, I felt detached from my friends, and I was sad that nobody seemed to want to hear about my time away and many didn't even remember which countries I'd been living in. I eventually got over it (more or less), felt at home here and just looked forward to more trips in the future.



Then this year, I finally got to take what felt like a "real" trip, backpack strapped on, wandering through different parts of Europe, seeing new things and visiting old friends, and being able to feel like I was back in my long-term travel days, even though my gorgeous three-year-old was at my side. That real feeling of immersion in being abroad was back and I loved every minute of it.

And then I came home and it was actually only a matter of hours (less than two, in fact: just long enough to get home and shower) before I was re-immersed in the daily life of a mother of a toddler. We were off to my son's friend's birthday party just after our plane touched down and straight back to talk of children, the TV gossip, the weather, more about children, and food (most of which are not intrinsically bad topics to talk about, of course, especially food!). During that day, and the weeks that followed, I was reminded of one of the things that made my initial reverse culture shock so hard - that most people don't really want to know too much about your travels. I understand it (to some extent) and accept it, but that doesn't mean I have to like it, right?

Exploring Ireland
I have all kinds of strategies (developed during my more dire years of reverse culture shock) to try to encourage someone, anyone, to talk to me about my travels. They work, to some extent - for example, I do a huge cull of my photos and pick a really small representative sample of the trip and post them on Facebook for my friends to see (along with hopefully interesting, but short, captions), and I had a few friends comment online and later chat to me in person about it. I've also learnt to answer the standard "How was your trip?" question as succinctly as possible, realising that most people aren't really looking to hear much more than a "It was great, thanks" (a bit like when someone asks "How are you?"), and knowing that those who really want to know more will ask. And I must admit I have a handful of friends who have a bit of the travel bug themselves and were genuinely interested in where I'd been, and a few who are contemplating a big trip with small kids and were very keen on advice for managing that. But on the whole, I didn't get to drone on about my trip as I really would have loved to do - thank goodness for my blog, where I can!

It was also somewhat depressing to get straight back into that daily routine of looking after my toddler, working, going to playgroup, doing the shopping and the cooking and worst of all having to clean the house (my least favourite chore). I know that holidays and trips can't last forever, but it was still a shock to the system as I felt like I could have kept on travelling forever!

Anyway, after only a month away I managed to fit back in reasonably quickly, but it did reignite those old reverse culture shock feelings. Shortly after that my friend Maria, who we'd visiting on the remote island of Inis Meain, had to return to Australia after six months living over there, and I could recognise my old reverse culture shock feelings in the email discussions we had as she settled back in to Aussie life. I almost want to say it is a downside of travel, but really, I try to see it as validation that travel is necessary, life-changing, perspective-altering and also a great deal of fun! You just have to take the little bit of bad with the huge dose of good.

Have you ever suffered from reverse culture shock?

18 comments:

  1. Ahh so much of this rings true with me! My bf and I got back from a one month trip to Japan in January this year. When we got back I totally felt like nobody wanted to hear about our stories and I remember when I was telling my mum all about it on the phone she didn't have any idea about the cities I'd visited in Japan and I could basically feel her boredom through the phone line.

    It's funny though...because I feel like I listen patiently and ask appropriate questions when people talk about their trip...but I don't often find I get the same courtesy.

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    1. I promise I'd listen to your stories about Japan (it's such a fascinating country)! I think people who really love to travel are good at listening (and want to) but we are probably few and far between. That's probably why travel bloggers love to read travel blogs!

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  2. I love your stories about travelling!!! Also, loved having our shared overseas experience with you, Jan and Ruben. So lovely to have shared memories. One of my work colleagues told me today, "It's nice to have you back but it seems a part of you is still away." Spot on:)

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    1. Yes it was lovely, wasn't it!
      Love your colleague's comment - very telling!

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  3. So true! Luckily we do have friends who are genuinely interested in travel, so those people ask us about our trips and want details, but most people want to go through the Facebook photo highlights and call it a day. Which is totally fine, but I'm a writer, haha, and a NOVELIST, at that. I LIKE TELLING LONG STORIES WITH LOTS OF DETAILS. :P So I usually pick a few choice anecdotes to share on my blog, and that helps satisfy me.

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    1. Ah yes, so true Kristan that being a storyteller makes it even harder not to share stories, doesn't it!! Thank goodness for blogs, I say. What would we do without them??? (Probably bore a few more friends to death I suppose.)

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  4. It is a little depressing I admit. Luckily I have one good friend who loves to hear about our travels - she has done a lot of travelling in the past and truly does love hearing about places. Luckily she is going travelling herself in Europe for three weeks shortly and I hope to be able to return the favour ten fold. House cleaning is my least favourite part of housework as well. I don't have any young children so it does not really matter if I do it or not :)

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    1. Yes Jan, one or two good friends who love to hear about it is really enough if you accept that most people aren't so interested. Glad to have some support on the house cleaning too! (I'm not sure that having young children makes me do it more - I use a lot of "it's good for his immune system" justifications!!!)

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  5. Some travellers' tales can be boring and self-obsessed -- the look-where-I've-been version of look-at-what-I-have. They are also difficult for some people to identify with. When your life is just about diapers or bad bosses or whatever, hearing about tropical palms and mountain vistas is plain insulting.

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    1. Oh yes, I know the "show off" version of travellers' tales (I hope I've never told them). Like the slide show kings who put up every single photo they took on the whole trip and expect you to be interested! But I disagree with the second half - when I was knee-deep in diapers then I was really keen to hear about friends who were still travelling because it gave me some memories of my "old life" and something to look forward to as well!

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  6. I think a lot of it is envy. A friend and I backpacked through Europe in 1989/1990, then met up with my friend's sister in Austria. The sister was on an organised tour for a couple of weeks -- as compared to our leisurely, itinerary-free roamings over several months. When my friend and I started telling the sister the tales of our travels, she'd counter with tales of her bus tour, or look around the room and change the subject. I felt quite annoyed -- this was the first person from 'home' we'd met and been able to tell our tales in any detail and here she was completely disinterested. After the sister moved on, I complained to my friend (as you do when you're in your early twenties ...). She said she'd talked to her sister and her sister said that listening to our tales (and there were many -- two girls in their early twenties travelling Europe on their own. Yes, let your imagination fly ...) made her jealous.

    I think you're doing the right thing writing it in a blog -- you get to tell your stories and your friends/family can read it surreptitiously! Win-win! Ah, thank God for the written word, eh?

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    1. Exactly right Louise - blogging it easily wins out! Also I'm sure you're right that for some people it's jealousy. For some it's pure disinterest (the way my eyes glaze over if you start telling me a detailed account of an AFL match) but for others, definitely envy.

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  7. I just found your blog and came for a visit. I don’t think I have experienced reverse culture shock – I think I have been in shock at the US culture for a long time! But, truly, every time I went home to visit my parents in Paris and came back here in the States it was hard. I have visited 58 countries so far but people usually ask me about my home country, which is France, and rarely are interested in my trips. So, like you I write about them on my blog. When I went to Paris I usually left the girls at home, although I did take the eldest, Celine, to my parents when she was a baby – then I left her with them and went to the island of Djerba, in Tunisia, for rest and relaxation. My parents loved to have her anyway.

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    1. Yes I can understand that kind of shock, Vagabonde!!
      And oh, I've been to Djerba too and just loved it! Lucky you.

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  8. I also find most people just ask you about your trip out of politeness, but the people that are frequent travellers show a lot more interest. I like to ask questions, see the photos, get tips...

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    1. Yes, I agree - fellow travel lovers probably have a bigger base of questions to choose from as they can relate to the experience more - I know I ask a LOT of questions and I can imagine you would too Sami!

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  9. Hi Amanda - just came across your blog via All Abroad baby and I love it! I can definitely identify with this post - have suffered reverse culture shock many times after long stints living away from Australia or travelling long term than returning. Especially after living in Asia - I moved back to Sydney and found the streets so eerily quiet and deserted (and I live in the inner-suburbs too!). Can also identify with the sad fact that some friends just aren't interested in your stories - they're usually just envious or it's so far removed from their mundane lives they can't comprehend your adventures. Thank god for blogs and social media, where like-minded people can share their lives and find people who are interested! Anyway - will be reading from now on :-).

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    1. Lovely to "meet" you Liz and glad you found me! So, so true that thanks to blogs and social media we can find like-minded people so much more easily these days. Phew!!!

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