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My Experience of Reverse Culture Shock

by Gabriella Jan 26, 2017

Reverse Culture shock is a thing.

Growing up in the United States you are used to living a certain lifestyle, getting nice things, and having easy access to almost anything you want. Life is great. I grew up in the “first world” and didn’t think twice about it.

Now I live in Argentina, what some would call it a “third world country” or a developing country. So far within my two short years there, I have managed to get a stable job, find an apartment, created a strong tight-knit group of friends, and be in a relationship with a man I love. I have created a new lifestyle with new customs and cultures that are completely different from my previous life. Now, whenever I go home (which is maybe once a year), I start to compare how different everything is between the USA and Argentina. I have reverse culture shock! When in the US, everything around me is obviously familiar, but there are some things I cannot register in my head. Here’s what I’m talking about…

Bigger is not always better.

The first thing I notice getting off the plane and driving home is how ENORMOUS everything is. The grocery stores, the houses, the cars. When you are used to everyone driving tiny economy cars with two doors or a standard basic four-door family car, you start wondering: who really needs a giant 4-door truck with 6 wheels? What are you really gonna do with that extra turbo engine and enhanced muffler? Who is going to live in that giant 8-room mansion of yours? It all just seems a little excessive. That said, I’m not complaining about the giant groceries stores.

Where is the public transport?

Living in the city center of Cordoba you can get almost anywhere by public transportation. There are plenty of buses and taxis to get you from point A to B. Grocery store? Two blocks around the corner. Park? A 15-minute walk from my apartment. Going to work? A 30-minute bus ride that costs me less than a dollar. Getting home from a night out and not worrying about drunk driving is the best when taxis are available 24/7. What about a weekend trip to another city? No problem, super comfy and inexpensive sleeper buses leave almost every 30 minutes from the bus terminal.

In the states if I wanted to go anywhere I’d need a car. To go shopping, to the city, to a restaurant, to the grocery store, etc. it’s at least a 15-minute drive to any location. Why is everything for far? And gas prices? Nobody’s got time for that!

Where is everybody else?

In the US, my family and I take trips to downtown, and the whole time the city is completely empty of people. The streets are quiet, there is no hustle and bustle like in Argentinian cities. In the Unites States, with the exception of big cities like New York, Chicago, LA, etc. most people live outside of the city center and commute for either work or for leisure such as shopping, dining, or sports games. Big cities mostly consist of office buildings, shopping malls, restaurants, museums and government spaces. So naturally, the cities are relatively quiet with little commotion during the off hours. In Argentina, and almost every city in Europe, people live, work, and socialize in the city center. The streets are always full and there is always something going on.

There are too many rules.

There are so many useless rules. Can’t walk here, can’t smoke here, stop sign here, speed limit there. It’s a constant bombardment of rules and regulations. In Argentina, as long as you’re not hurting anyone, pretty much anything goes and no one cares.

True story; I went to New York/Stanford for business and rented a car. I was zooming in and out of lanes like nobody’s business… until I was pulled over. The officer routinely asked:

“Do you know why I pulled you over today?”
Nope. No clue.
“You were recklessly driving and changing lanes without proper signaling.”

Completely dumbfounded the only thing I could say was, “I’m sorry, officer, I’ve been living abroad in Argentina for over 2 years and that’s how they drive.” In the end, I got off with a warning.

I now make a lot of things myself.

Back home I was used to buying everything pre-packaged, pre-made, and ready-to-eat. Here, everything is in its rawest form. For example; I love hummus and would eat it almost every day for a snack in the US. In Argentina, it doesn’t exist and hardly anyone knows what hummus even is, so I started making my own. I had no idea it was that easy! I even learned how to make my own peanut butter, now that was a game changer. So far I’ve learned how to make everything from homemade soups, bread, pasta sauce, guacamole, cookies, fresh quinoa salad and even RANCH. You may have to go to 3 different stores to find all the ingredients you need, but once you do you feel like you’ve just completed a complex scavenger hunt. I actually like this form of preparing my own food. Now I know exactly what I’m eating and there’s none of this mystery ingredient nonsense. Too much food in the states is packaged processed with who knows what. In Argentina, you get the real deal.

Needs vs. wants

Argentina has a very unstable economy and the Peso is always rising and falling, which creates high prices on many consumer goods. A pair of jeans could easily cost you over $200, a nice quality sweater anywhere from $80. Electronics? Forget about it. You quickly realize that those extra pair of jeans aren’t really that necessary if you have a good pair already.

Going shopping in the states I saw many cute sweaters, shirts, and shoes on sale but I kept thinking, “Do I really need and extra pair of shoes? It’s not going to fit in my suitcase. Where am I actually going to wear this?” I hardly bought anything. Who needs 10 pairs of jeans? There are only 7 days in a week after all.

Over indulging becomes an issue.

In the United States, we take everything for granted. We always want more for less or free everything. Everyone is trying to through the best deal. At a restaurant, you get free water, free refills, free unlimited bread, free salad, two-for-one, and it goes on and on. And if you don’t find these amazing deals, you are somehow being “ripped off”. I sometimes can’t even finish my main course by the time I’ve had my appetizer, bread, salad and the endless supply of free cokes.

You get one round of complimentary bread in Argentina…Sometimes. You want a salad in Argentina? Be prepared to pay for it. Refills? Say what? You have to pay by the bottle, and yes even the water. But hey! It also explains why people are so dang skinny here. I think I’ve changed my eating habits for the better.

Family suddenly means everything.

Family is a very important part of Argentinian culture. Being in a relationship, I have gotten the chance to meet the majority of my boyfriend’s family and there are a lot of family members. I went to a birthday party for his uncle’s 60th and at least 100 people showed up! No matter the occasion; birthday, father’s day, holiday, or Sunday, they always always, always get together for an afternoon asado or just to spend time together.

In my family, on the other hand, we are used to being very far apart from each other. Some live across the country and some even live across the ocean, so if I’m lucky I will see them once a year. Maybe every second year. I have some cousins whom I probably wouldn’t even recognize any longer. So when I go home for Thanksgiving and see my parents, my brother, and several of my close relatives, I am overwhelmed with emotion. I probably cried at least 4 times before leaving the US the last time I was there. Everyone is doing their own thing in the states and sometimes traditional family values get lost.

Some days I prefer to live the Argentinian way; other days I really miss the luxury of living back home. None of these things is necessarily wrong. It’s just a different lifestyle and values.

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