Monday, August 16, 2010

Reverse Culture Shock

Reverse Culture Shock is real. It affects people who have spent time living away from their home culture and then return home but experience culture shock. From my personal experience and talking with friends I think the biggest place for reverse culture shock is the grocery store. Maybe that is why I needed to make some that will help to make grocery shopping fun.

Have you ever stood in the grocery store and just stood frozen in time and space wondering what to buy. I stood in the spaghetti sauce aisle looking at the brands and then the varieties. Should I buy Ragu or Classico, or Hunts or the store brand, what about that brand. Should I buy garden vegetable, mushroom or maybe plain. I stood frozen and watch people come through and wondered how they knew what to buy. I don't remember exactly what brand I bought or maybe I just walked out of the store without buying it. It doesn't help that I look and sound like I belong here.

After living overseas where you don't have the selection, it can be overwhelming. The stores here are big, the carts are big, the sizes are big, okay you don't have to carry them home in your arms so maybe that makes it easier. In Taipei I shopped local stores for most of the things and would travel about an hour to a foreign grocery store about 15' x 25'. You didn't have a long shelf of spaghetti sauce. I will admit that once a month or so I would go to Costco. Yes, we had Costco and it sold the large size things just like here in the USA. You often had to carry it home so they sold wonderful Costco bags which I still have and love.

When we were in Hong Kong, I shopped at a local grocery store and until we had a car I walked pushing a stroller which was nice having the basket for filling with groceries. I did go to the island and that is where I could buy Tostitos. In both places I loved going to the wet markets (called wet because the floor is wet) there I could buy meat, fruit, and vegetables.

So I spent years learning how to grocery shop overseas.

1. Buy what you can carry.

2. Buy it now because you might not find it again. For some reason I have had an urge to buy Crisco everytime I see it but that isn't necessary here.

3. If you find something that you have not seen, call all your friends that might be looking for it and let them know you found it and ask how many you should buy for them.

4. Tell your friends what you are looking for.

5. Don't bother to convert the prices of the things to buy to US$. When I realized that a gallon of milk in Hong Kong cost over $7 US. I about how a cow (I just had to put that in here).

Take these rules that you have learned and followed for years and move back home. They don't apply. You begin to experience reverse culture shock. For some reason the other week after being back in the USA for 18 months I went grocery shopping and had some major reverse culture shock.

Have you experienced reverse culture shock? Which aisle did it happen in?

By the way, I no longer buy spaghetti sauce I have since begun to make my own so I don't have to face that aisle.


  1. Cereal and tortillas do me in every time.

  2. Beth - you are right'on sister! WE just spent a month in TX & the restaurant menus about did me in! So I figured out: when I found out where I would meet someone for lunch - I looked up on the internet in advance and took my time learning about different dishes. I'd arrive and order a dish w/out my friend witnessing my shock of choices! As for the grocery store....I do my best choosing in the ice-cream section :) [buy 4 buckets for $10.00!]

  3. One area that gives me re-entry shock is the pencil aisle. Wood or mechanical? What size lead? What brand? The five pack, the two pack, the ten pack? Which is the best deal? How much per unit? Will I need erasers with that? Which one is truly more eco-friendly? Plain or snazzy design? Would I honestly put more lead into a disposable mechanical pencil or throw it away and use another one, especially if the tiny white eraser is flat? What if I cannot find the sharpener for my wood pencil? Will I need #2's for standardized testing? Is #5 or #7 lead anything close to a #2 wood pencil lead? Which brand? Store brand, Paper Mate, Ticonderoga or other? Do I have a coupon somewhere? Is 2 for one for a brand name cheaper than 2 boxes of the store brand? Shopping makes my brain tired in America.


  4. Just reading the options on pencils sends me into reverse culture shock. I do remember you talking about this a few years ago. It sounds fresh -- was shopping for back to school supplies difficult for you.

  5. [...] Jump to Comments Since I just wrote about reverse culture shock, I thought I would share what culture shock looks like. When I write my book on overseas living, I [...]

  6. I have learned all those things you listed. I often agonize in the grocer store, thinking, "If I buy rice (10 lbs), I can't buy milk (big box) or oil (huge jug) too. Too heavy." Or, I can buy a bit more in this store because the security guards will pity me and help me to the taxi.

    I am also terrible about buying everything of something good. Store has cereal? Not anymore. I just bought it ALL. Doritos? Nope, they are ALL (all 25 bags) going in my cart.

    Shopping in America is stressful. Low salt, low fat, organic.... TOO MANY CHOICES! We usually have only one option on most things unless it's rice, oil, vinegar, or soy sauce. Those items have boundless choices. Peanut butter? Only one store in my city sells it. There is crunchy and creamy. One brand. I'll take it. I'll take two or three jars each. Who knows when they may decide NOT to carry it?

    Love this post. Resonates with me so well.

  7. I'm having culture shock going from Indonesia to Singapore. We keep thinking we should go over to Malaysia to do our shopping because it'll be more familiar feeling. There are some things here we just can't find and we have my husband bring it back from Indonesia.

    The malls & big stores here are overwhelming - just the sheer size. I also calculate what can be carried home, esp. if taxis are out because it's prime rate time.

    Sticker shock is the worst, especially when we compare prices to Indonesian rupiah!

  8. Rachel, I understand. I used to say that going to Singapore was like going to the States but without the jetlag. You need to go to Malaysia just for experience and to add another country to your list.



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