Reverse Culture Shock

Culture shock.  I can't think about returning to the States without considering it.  My days here are numbered, and I'll be best able to adjust to the States if I prepare myself for it.  So, here are a few cultural scenarios/aspects that I'm nervous about encountering again:

Extra-friendly service staff: Not speaking fluent Czech here doesn't really hinder commercial experiences, because customer service is a newer concept here.  Enter bakery.  Woman says, "Prosím."  I order what bread I want.  "Všechno?" (Everything?)  "Ano." She tells me the price and I pay.  Similarly, at restaurants there is minimal interaction between service staff and customers.  There is no rush to order or to pay and no frequent inquiries about the taste or whether we'd like some dessert.  When I picture the artificial smiles and frequent visits of wait-staff in the States, it makes me want to pack a lunch and eat it in the closet.

Driving: I am accustomed to walking or taking public transit.  Today I missed my bus (it was a minute early and I was 200 m away and not feeling like running), so walked the remaining 2.5 km to school. Rarely do I ride in cars, and sometimes I get carsick now when I do because it's unfamiliar.  The idea of writing down directions, spending money on petrol, killing the planet, and finding parking is not appealing in the least.

American English: Don't get the wrong idea.  I am not a convert to British English, but teaching it here makes me say things like:  Have you got the keys to the flat? Should I meet you at the bottom of the lift?  I used to live in a semi-detached house.  I can't believe petrol is twice the price here as in the States.  I plan to go to Slovakia on holiday.  Moreover, I find myself spelling things in the British fashion: travelled, favourite, saviour, colour, civilisation.  At times my pronunciation changes, and I do things like omit the "i" when I say "medicine" or say "adVERTisment" with the "i" pronounced as "in."  Granted, I still can't make myself say "at the weekend," but I have made a lot of alterations.

Imperial/US Standard Units: Living here, I have switched to thinking and speaking in Celcius, meters, grams, kilograms, dekagrams, kilometers, and so on.  When I order meat, I order in dekagrams. When I order nuts at the counter, I order in grams.  I think of hikes and bike rides in kilometers.  I know my weight in kilograms.  I don't know what I'll do when I return to feet, yards, ounces, and so on.  I actually feel confident at the meat counter here, but to order in ounces?  I'll be completely lost.

Pace of Life: I am accustomed to coffees or meals taking about 2 hours or more.  Waiters let us be, and typically I don't have some other appointment to rush off to.  There are 5, 10, or 15 minutes between lessons, leaving time to assemble materials, make final notes, and even give your colleague a nice greeting.  The prospect of teaching in an American school and not even knowing where I'll find time to go to the bathroom and wondering how I'll find time for a mid-morning snack aren't appealing.  Moreover, the common use of public transit here makes arrival times a little bit more loose than in the States.

Food: To be completely honest, I'm a bit scared that I'll gain an automatic 2 kg at customs.  I've become aware of various speech and actions used by Americans in regards to food that encourage extra consumption.  I feel healthy, energetic, and able here, and I'm scared of the prospects of eating out, being offered processed foods and snacks, and facing up to the inevitable buffet.

Sedentary Living: This morning, I had time to work out, have eggs for breakfast, prepare vegetables for a future meal, and spontaneously walk 2.5 km (when I missed the bus) to work.  In the States, I would have gotten up early for some long commute, not had time to cook a nutritious breakfast or work-out, and rushed the 15 meters to my parked car outside, and driven to work.  Here I walk to get my groceries, I walk up three floors to my flat, I go on hour-long walks with friends when they need to take out their dogs, or 5-hour hikes on the weekends.  Pedestrian zones exist, and I have the time to access things by foot.  I'm hoping I can continue some of the lifestyle habits I've formed here back in the States.

Unnecessary spending: The average salary here is less than $16,000 a year.  Granted, cost-of-living is also lower, but Czechs count the cost of leisure activities.  Dining out is a special event, and can be done more cheaply by going out for lunch and ordering the "ready food"--some meal is prepared in large amounts and served up cheaply till gone.  I see my American friends here dining out with much higher frequency than my Czech friends.  Moreover, with clothing being almost the same price as the States (even though everything else here is cheaper), clothing is typically bought out of necessity rather than for pleasure.  Granted, there are exceptions to this and I'm making generalizations, but Czechs see that every cost counts, and they don't see credit cards and loans as valid means to maintain a standard of living that's above their income.  Those activities that are common among people my age as ways to hang-out or catch up, just seem to be unnecessary money spent when things like dining in, doing outdoor activities, or staying local are all possibilities.

English-only: Everyone reminds me of how Czech is spoken in only this little country, and when I return stateside, I can't just insert convenient Czech phrases into conversation like I do with Czech and non-Czech friends here.  I'll have these phrases and this vocabulary that will be useless.  It will be back to monolingualism.  I hope that things like Skype conversations, email correspondence, or reading will keep my Czech alive.  Moreover, I hope to enroll in some Spanish course to continue on with a foreign language.

There are more things that I'm sure I can delineate and there are definitely aspects of American society that I look forward to, but here's a sketch of some of my areas of hesitancy.  So, when some of you see me in less than a month, and I look a little bit nervous or awkward, maybe you can identify why that is.


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