This feeling of bewilderment has haunted me a bit this year. What catches me more off guard is this particular feeling of bewilderment in what is supposed to be my home country. There are many studies on culture shock and the adjustments one will experience in a new place. Just type it in google and you will find websites, articles and blogs written upon the subject. What you dont see as much is articles on reverse culture shock.
I am now entering the longest period I have been back in the States for one length of time since taking that fateful(fateful because I didnt realize how long I would be in Japan) flight on May 18 to Japan in 2011. Granted the circumstances for this time back in the States are a bit different then the usual person's experience considering I came out hospitals and a pretty crazy time with health issues. However, the adjustment to being back in the States has been a more interesting experience then I anticipated.
Growing up in the south you typically chat with your neighbor, the grocery check out person, your waiter/waitress, the list goes on. So one would think that way of life would be ingrained in me. However, adjusting to another culture and the language apparently ingrained another way of life. For an example, the first time I walked into Trader Joe's by myself and was checking out with a couple of grocery items. The cashier just starting chatting away about his day to me and asking me about what I was up too. I was so astonished that he was sharing so much about his personal life with me a complete stranger I just stood there staring at him blankly. When he stopped talking and looked at me expectedly for an answer I fumbled for an answer. Somewhere in the back of my mind I realized "this is supposed to be normal Virginia! come on! just answer the poor guy and stop staring at him like he has grown two heads!" I somehow managed to mumble back a simple answer and inquire how much longer he had on his shift, wished him a good day, paid and got out the door.
As I drove away, this feeling of absolute bewilderment came over me. How come I didnt know how to respond right away? How come that didn't it seem like a normal day to day experience like it seemed it should be? Why did it jolt me so much? Am I not American?? This is just one of many experiences that have happen in the last couple of months that has left me feeling socially out of touch. Through it I am learning to have lower expectations of myself in regards to knowing how life should automatically work here.
Ultimately, I have realized is that it comes down to expectations... In Japan, my expectation going into the country is "I dont know the culture and land so sit back observe be a learner." In America, it is easier to assume I already know how it is supposed to go or how it should go instead of learning to sit back, watch and learn from those around me. This lesson is the neat thing that is coming from the experience of living in a different country. The uncomfortableness is continually teaching me that even if I seemingly "know" a place, culture or person there is still so much more to learn and I need to sit back and learn. As my grandfather Simons often stated " a key to life is to be willing to continue to learn each and every day."(paraphrased a bit)