Dealing with Reverse Culture Shock

Dealing with Reverse Culture Shock

Honeymoon. Negotiation. Adjustment. Adaptation. These are the four phases when dealing with culture shock. But what about reverse culture shock?

It’s assumed that reverse culture shock has two parts – idealization and expectation. When you’re abroad for an extensive period you seem to only focus on the good of your past and remove the bad. You have this assumption that where you previously were hasn’t changed, but that illusion often shatters upon return. Your previous home did change, fads came and went, new memes become funny and songs faded away and were replaced with the latest stars.

This past February was my one-year anniversary being back in the U.S. after living the abroad for five years in Israel. When I first moved back I anticipated things would be different. Often my friends would say, ‘you’re so Israeli’, or how it was obvious it was that I was new. I’ve always been more on the blunt side with communication, and Israel is a place that embraces the blunt, not considering that negative. I noticed how in the U. S. things are “sandwiched” when we don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings. You give a compliment to start (the first slice of bread), then the meat of the sandwich is the complaint or insult, and you close your sandwich with another slice of nice. There is more of a filter here, while back in Israel I was able to say what I meant without having to sugarcoat things.

I come across as too aggressive or blunt and comfortable with myself here in America, but in Israel I am viewed as this sweet little naïve blonde girl just there on vacation.

We care so much about how others view us, or their opinions on what we do. A word I learned while abroad is frair. Frair means “a pushover”, or that you let people walk over you because you are too polite. I think one of the biggest things I noticed, and still struggle with, is the politeness in America. It’s like a second face that you wear in public and you’re there to please others, worry about what others think, and only once you are in the company of friends are you able to take it off.

Some of the subtleties of communication, such as in the service industry, are a good reflection of the culture of a place. While in America it’s considered that the customer is always right, it is almost the opposite back in Israel–the customer is never right!

I remember when I first got back and went to lunch with my mother. I wasn’t used to the service in restaurants being so attentive. The food had hardly reached my lips and the waitress had already come over to ask how it was and if I needed anything. I felt irritated, and got frustrated that there was such attentiveness and niceness. That was odd to my mother, who had to remind me that that’s the service here: overly attentive. In Israel, if you need something you almost have to shout for it.

I think one of the biggest things I noticed, and still struggle with, is the politeness in America. It’s like a second face that you wear in public.

While dating is hard in any country, there are norms that you have to adjust to. Instead of listing all of the differences between dating in America and Israel, what I notice most is how I am perceived. I come across as too aggressive or blunt and comfortable with myself here in America, but in Israel I am viewed as this sweet little naïve blonde girl just there on vacation.

Although it seems to be more conservative in the U.S., men in America aren’t as scared of talking about their feelings. Relationships progress more slowly. Israeli men, if they like you, introduce you to their entire extended family by the third date!

No matter where you go, there is a level of culture shock, but you get used to it and it becomes your norm. Then on arrival back to your native place, you have the reverse process to go through! This doesn’t happen overnight, and one place is not necessarily worse or better than the other. It does, however, show you the growth and changes that you’ve been through. I like to think that I don’t have to be American to be here, and I can keep my Israeli bluntness.I am what I am, and where I have been adds to my character. I keep a bit of everywhere in me.

About Laurel Silverstein

Laurel SilversteinLaurel Silverstein is from Detroit, Michigan. With her degree in interpretation and translation from Gallaudet University she set off for Israel. During her 5 years in Israel she obtained her Masters in TESOL from Tel Aviv University. Laurel describes herself as an adventurer and ailurophile.

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