After being in Thailand for just short of two years I finally returned home to visit family & friends, and to get a small taste of the American lifestyle I had grown up with.
And although spending time back in the good ol’ U. S of A has been a familiar pleasure, not surprisingly, there have been a couple of stark differences between life here and life in Isaan, Thailand that have made me realize that perhaps I am ailing from an acute case of reverse culture shock.
Reverse Culture Shock? I used to scoff.
What a load of hogwash perpetuated, just expats being dramatic!
Well that’s what I had thought…But since being home there’s a couple of things that have made me change my opinion on reverse culture shock.
So let’s get right into it.
Reverse Culture Shock–5 Crazy Differences
People Are Speaking Much Faster
Perhaps I should say speaking English a lot faster. People speak fast in Thailand, but considering the majority of people in the Kingdom are ESL, many of them have to consciously think about how to say what they want to express… It makes sense why they would speak a little slower.
Then I get back to America, and suddenly I’m at a bank in San Diego and the teller is rapid fire speaking a 50-syllable sentence at me so fast that it’s flying past my brain and the only thing I understand is “deposit slip.”
After a while my brain seemed to catch up with the speedy-speech, but for the first couple days back in the states, my intense jet-lag and quick-lipped co-patriots made me feel like I was walking in a land of auctioneers.
2. The Portion Sizes are Freaking Enormous
For two years I had waited for the perfect American breakfast, pancakes, toast, bacon, eggs, hashbrowns… come on don’t act so innocent, you know the one I’m talking about.
Sure, there are some places in Thailand you can get a decent American breakfast, but the pancakes are never even close to as good, and to be 100% honest, it’s just not the same.
Touch down in the good ol’ U.S of A and you better believe the first thing I did was hit the IHOP– Full American breakfast.
And yes… those first few bites were filled with inexplicable joy, almost as if I were greeting a one of my best friends after a long absence.
But long after my salty tears had slid down my cheeks and into my tabscoey syrup, I began to feel full…and more full, and unbuttoning the top of my pants, bursting at the seams, and finally falling into what felt like a full fledged depression as I chomped into gluttony.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m no saint… I knew what I was getting into with the IHOP full American.
But compared to Thailand, it seemed like every meal was double in size.
We met with tons of friends and family, and they all wanted to take us to their favorite restaurants.
To be honest it was a dream come true, but by time we were getting ready to leave America, I felt like the Pillsbury Doughboy.
Don’t get me wrong, I love to grub, and the variety and flavor of American cuisine holds a special place in my heart, most likely in my arteries.
But the monstrous size of meals at the majority of American restaurants was something I just never realized until I left.
3. I Developed an Inherent Fear of Tap Water
“Just get some water from the tap,” my Step-dad replied, after I had asked for a glass of water.
“Are you sure?” I replied hesitantly
“Uh…Yeah, the water up here is great.” My Step-dad reassured me.
Yet after two years of avoiding Thai tap-water, I stared at the faucet in my parent’s house with leery eyes.
Glass in hand, I approached the sink slowly…carefully.
I turned the switch, and watched the water run for a while before sticking my glass underneath.
It looked safe enough.
Holding my breath, I thrust the cup under the stream for a split second, collecting a thimble of water. Here it was, the big moment. All or nothing.
I gulped down the oversized sip, and waited to transform into one of the creatures from the Hills Have Eyes.
Nothing but hydration.
But fear of the tap water was always lurking in the back of my mind, and I’m pretty sure I left back to Thailand before ever getting over my newfound phobia.
4. People Talk About Making Money A Lot More
It’s don’t talk about making money in Thailand…Sure, people talk about work here.
But it’s just nothing like America, where everyone’s phone seems to be connected with a constantly updating work email alert, stocks watcher, opportunity updates.
After being in rural Thailand for two years, I was having trouble keeping up.
In Thailand people have a different attitude and a different intensity when it comes to money. The chase after wealth is minuscule compared to America, and it’s just not something that comes up in conversation that often.
Thailand has less than a 1% employment rate of course, and is a way cheaper place to live than America, so it’s not hard to see why people in America are talking about money a lot more! .
5. Absence of Litter
Pretty much everywhere you go in Thailand you’re guaranteed to see litter. The amount of plastic waste in Asia is heartbreaking and truly difficult to fathom unless you’ve seen it firsthand.
Fortunately on the Western coast of the U.S.A people are progressively getting more and more Eco-conscious, and the effects are showing.
Next to every trash bin is a compost, and recycling bin. Grocery stores are even requiring people to bring their own bags to the store or face a tax.
Clean streets, and sidewalks devoid of the endless plastic bags and candy wrappers blowing across the pavements of Thailand, or the Thailand tumble weeds as I call them.
It’s high time Asia gets the ball moving on reducing plastic waste and working towards a healthier Earth.
So…. As it turns out, reverse culture shock is a real thing after all!
It doesn’t matter where you live, Thailand, Asia, Russia, America….. There will always be idiosyncrasies and nuances to any place you call home. Some good, some bad.
I guess that’s part of what makes traveling fun, and good for the open mind.
Want to read more about expat life in Thailand? Check out some of my favorite simple pleasure of daily life in the land of smiles!