Monday, June 24, 2013

Reverse Culture Shock - You Can't Go Home Again

My wife and daughter playing with bubbles
in a friend's back yard in Portland.
My sincerest apologies for having dropped out of sight for a bit. I spent two weeks in the US, part of which was in Austin for a conference and also visiting my mother, sister and niece.  It was my first time back in Texas in 27 years.

The rest of two weeks was spent in my beloved Portland, Oregon visiting friends and my uncle and aunt. While enjoying the thrills of jet lag, I'm remembering that there is no past, only a future. I love Portland, but it's no longer home despite all of my wonderful friends there. It was with relief that I arrived at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris and knew I would soon be collapsing in my bed. I had experienced reverse culture shock.

This is not an unusual feeling for expats. Ceri, in the United Kingdom, writes about returning home after 18 months abroad teaching English. While she doesn't describe her situation as reverse culture shock and she's talking about the mess of British bureaucracy, she is nonetheless struggling to readjust to being home. Or you can read Tim Pile's description of visiting his family in the UK while he lives in Hong Kong. Or maybe you should read CNN's reverse culture shock adjustment tips.

And yet those various things they discuss, all of which I can relate to, aren't quite what I had in mind. But first I think I will offset the downsides with the upsides. My wife and I loved Portland and we're considering doing an annual house swap for a month during the summer to give our daughter (and ourselves!) more exposure to the US. The US is great in many ways, not the least of which is the friendliness and generosity of the people (just look at how much money the US donates when an international disaster strikes). The food is great (if not fattening) and thanks to cheap land, houses are huge and inexpensive compared to much of Europe.

Your author (blue shirt on the right) with his
uncle and aunt at the Portland Zoo.
And then there are the downsides. My uncle is paying $1,400 a month (!) for medical insurance that he's about to lose it. More than half the people in the US now believe that a college education costs more than it's worth and half of all Americans live in poverty. And to top it off, despite the real political problems here in France, France is far more of a democracy than the US (honestly, Romney was the best the Republicans could come up with?).

I don't know what the future holds for the US and I certainly hope it goes well, but I'm not seeing any signs of that right now. And to my shock, I've actually had conservative friends tell me that they wouldn't blame me if I gave up my citizenship. Conservative friends! I am not surprised by those comments from those on the left (well, the US version of "left"), but on the right? I have no desire to give up my US citizenship, but hearing conservatives tell me they wouldn't blame me if I bailed was yet another shock. Reverse culture shock usually involves the person returning home realizing they've changed. While that's certainly true for me, it's also true that the country I visited isn't the country I left.

So I'm back in France and I'll resume blogging again, but my last trip to the US was bittersweet. It was lovely seeing family and friends and it brought back many fond memories, but it really helped to reinforce to me that I can't go home. No matter what happens, I am and will always be an American, but I like the values over here in Europe. I like knowing that medical care is a right and not a luxury. I like knowing that my daughter won't be saddled with decades of student loan debt. I like knowing that we get enough vacation time to enjoy life and don't have to hoard vacation days carefully, occasionally spending one for a glorious three-day weekend.

I'm happy abroad and have no strong desire to return to a plutocracy.