Nothing says reverse culture shock quite like happy hour.
When I come back to visit the States every summer, I'm brutally reminded of the differences between my two worlds. As I bounce between Madrid and Seattle, sometimes I can't help but feel as if I'm living a double life. While there are certain things that I adore about America - like air conditioning, one-stop shopping and oaky Chardonnay - there are too many things that I automatically balk at.
I try to catch myself, constantly reminding myself not to act like a haughty, I-think-I'm-superior-because-I-live-in-Europe expat, because nobody likes that girl. (And just because I live in a foreign country doesn't mean that I'm better than anyone else.) So I suck it up and make small talk with the barista, internally cringe when I have to tip 20%, and smile and nod when someone asks to meet for lunch at 11:30 am.
My reaction to American customer service norms (and eating octopus in Galicia).
Gone are the days of wanting to eat dinner at 6 o'clock, pining for free refills of ice water and appreciating quality customer service. No, no. I've become Spain-ified.
When I first studied abroad in Spain, I abhorred the meal schedule, the slow service, and the aloof waiters whose attention you could never seem to grab. And what was all about that sobremesa business? Sitting around the table, just talking for hours after a meal? Who's got time for that?
And then Madrid happened. The tables have turned, and I now live for the 9 pm dinners and the delightfully cheap wine. Bringing the check with the food is an unforgivable offense, and I find myself unreasonably put off when friends aren't in the mood to sobremesa. Like, c'mon guys, where's the fire?
You can only imagine how well this goes over in the world of American dining.
Cheap wine and phenomenal rooftop views are just a few of the things that Spain does right.
Nobody cares that you live abroad
I love my friends in Seattle. They're my rocks, the friends that I see being my bridesmaids one day, and the people I hope to grow old with. But sometimes I don't know what to talk about when I come home, because you can only start so many sentences with "In Spain..." without sounding like a total dick.
But my whole life is there. I live there, my job is there, my hobbies are there, everyone I've dated in the last two years is from there... how could I not talk about Madrid? Some friends and family members ask me about life in Spain, but surprisingly, most don't.
In the past two weeks, the person who has asked me the most questions about my life in Madrid was my eye doctor. I'm not offended, but it still makes me uncomfortable. I can't help but wonder if people would be more interested if I had moved someplace more relatable, like LA or Chicago.
How some of my friends from home feel about my stories from abroad.
It's a great big world out there
Every time I come home, I'm always amazed by how big everything is. Two weeks ago I spent an entire day just wandering around Whole Foods and Target, admiring all of the things. And speaking of Target, I forgot how good it felt to get everything you need in one store. What a concept!
Even more shocking? Stores that stay open after lunch. The ability to run errands at 2 pm is actually blowing my mind. I might just go celebrate with a green smoothie tomorrow after lunch because I can.
That said, nothing gives me anxiety quite like driving, and in Seattle I find myself growing more and more resentful that I can't just hop on the metro and visit my friends via public transport. Seriously, America? It's 2015. The lack of efficient transportation here is not just inconvenient, it's also embarrassing.
Efficient public transportation: just another example of how America should copy Spain.
In just over a month I'll be back on a flight to Madrid, where I can enjoy all of the late dinners and metro rides I want. Reverse culture shock aside, I still have four weeks to make the most out of the things I truly love about America and enjoy every minute spent with the people I love here. That's why I came home in the first place.
Sure, maybe I don't completely fit in anymore, but Seattle will always have a big piece of my heart. Little things about the USA may bug me and seem ridiculously strange, but I'm lucky enough to visit as often as I do - and I need to remind myself of that.
As much as the little things bother me, I still really love this place.
Fellow expats, do you ever feel reverse culture shock?
How do you deal with coming home?