Skyscrapers + America

Reverse Culture Shock

It’s officially been 2 weeks since I first landed back in the United States. I’ve tried to keep a list of everything that has hit me as strange, uncomfortable, exciting or just plain weird about coming back to the United States (specifically the New Jersey suburbs of NYC) after my 11 months in Znojmo. I think I have definitely been looking at my old usual life in a very strange new light. Here’s my list (with some pictures I’ve taken the past few weeks thrown in):

  • Up and down light switches
  • Toilets that don’t have 2 flushing options
  • CVS—a drogerie + lekarna + potraviny + foto + papírnictví
My Breakfast in America: Starbucks, Iced Coffee, Pumpkin Bread
My First Breakfast in America: Starbucks, Iced Coffee, Pumpkin Bread
  • Starbucks (everywhere)
  • Iced coffee
  • Clothes dryers
  • English (everywhere)
  • Sometimes phrases like “I don’t know” or “Why not?” or “Thank you” or “Really!” first come to my head in Czech
  • A lot of people here wear suits and ties (especially when walking around NYC or DC)
  • Using American slang—not so much the case when speaking to English learners
  • Not being sure how to politely use English in shops and restaurants (aka where I used most of my Czech)
  • Not being sure how to correctly pay and tip
Times Square, NYC
Times Square, NYC
  • Modern buildings
  • Skyscrapers are really tall
  • American flags everywhere
  • Pickup trucks
  • 4 lane huge highways where you can’t see anything to the sides of the road in front of you
  • Friendly people in shops and restaurants
  • Being asked whether the Czech Republic is a third world country
  • Being asked what language they speak in the Czech Republic
  • Big wide roads with big houses set back from the road by big yards
  • Big tall trees on the sides of the road
First Official Dinner in America
First Official Dinner in America
  • This concept: sushi delivery
  • The variety of ethnicities, races, languages being spoken when walking around the touristy areas of Washington DC and NYC
  • Rap music on the radio
  • Paying with credit cards everywhere
  • This snack: long green celery stalks and RANCH DRESSING!!
  • Remembering the quantities of American money that are normal
  • Americans take pictures to post on social media of everything!! “If there’s no picture it didn’t happen.” Exhibit A was when I watched the World Cup final in Prague. I think before Germany even scored their first goal all of the Americans around me somehow had their phones out to video the reaction of the overwhelming number of Germans in the crowd.
My Choice of Road Trip Snacks
My Choice of Road Trip Snacks
  • The fake “How are you?”
  • Texting All. The. Time.
  • Satellite radio
  • Small lunch, big dinner
  • Having friends/family/people to be with all the time
  • So many TV channels
  • So many TV channels in English
  • Pancake breakfast
View from the Lincoln Memorial, Washington DC
View from the Lincoln Memorial, Washington DC
  • Brunch
  • Brunch as a DC social event
  • No smoking in restaurants
  • Dress codes to get into bars
  • $20 (400 CZK) for lunch at a diner
  • Chocolate chips
  • The frozen yogurt experience, with iPads at the tables
  • American bacon
  • Free plastic bags for all purchases
  • American product packaging and marketing (I spent a lot of time at CVS just looking at how pretty the shampoo bottles were)
  • Industrial areas surrounding cities
  • Criss-crossing major highways
  • Americans don’t use smiley faces in texts so much, I now do
A Food Truck. That only sells mac n' cheese.
A Food Truck. That only sells mac n’ cheese.
  • Automatic to-go cups
  • Beer with no foam
  • Really interesting experimentation with food combination and fresh/organic ingredients that make me feel overwhelmed when eating out
  • Everything is so expensive!
  • Driving all the time
Main St. Ellicott City, MD
Main St. Ellicott City, MD
  • Everything is new (and not as cute/beautiful). Actually just when I was giving up on America in general my lovely friend took me to the cute historic town of Ellicott City, MD. This slightly restored my faith, I would highly recommend going there!
  • Sweet potato fries
  • Reese’s
  • English wordplay in songs. Example= Miley Cyrus’s “We Can’t Stop” has the lyric “We run things, things don’t run we.” To all the English language learners out there, this is NOT grammatically correct!
  • Cultural references in songs. Example= Jason Derulo’s “The Other Side” has the lyric “Sparks fly like the Fourth of July” as a simile to illustrate the spark of attraction between two friends. From the point of view of non-English speakers and even non-Americans…Do other languages even describe this concept as a spark? What is the 4th of July? What do sparks have to do with this particular date on the calendar? Our music goes all over the world, but do the cultural references and therefore the actual meanings of the songs actually translate all the time?

So these are the things that I think about now when 11 months I probably wouldn’t have thought twice. I think the weirdest thing is that after 11 months of imagining and talking about a place and culture over and over, I am actually here. Sometimes it feels like I’m in a dream or rather that I’m on vacation from some other life. Mostly I’m trying not to annoy everyone by constantly verbalizing my comparisons to the Czech Republic. Also, I’m now remembering so many things I forgot to tell my students and Znojmo friends about America. It’s hard to turn off the Fulbright teacher habit. Overall, I’m still figuring it out, but trying to be entertained by the process of it all 🙂

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