Four years ago I experienced culture shocks when I first arrived to Spain, from the crazy fiestas, to the relaxed life style, to how much Spaniards talked. Now that I moved back home to the US I’ve experienced reverse culture shocks that I wanted to share. Here are my top reverse culture shocks from returning home.
1. Overweight People
When I moved to Europe everyone asked me if I noticed how skinny everyone was. Honestly, I didn’t really notice the difference. But after returning home after four years of being away, it was the first thing I noticed when my mom picked me up from the Philadelphia airport. Fast food restaurants filled the highways and towns we passed as we traveled to Long Beach Island, New Jersey. And the whole summer I saw beer guts left and right. Besides the pumping of crap into our food and the unhealthy life styles we live here in the US, so many people drive! Which leads me to my next reverse culture shock.
2. So Many Cars
Growing up in the Garden State, I never knew New Jersey was the most densely populated state. With over nine million people living in this state, it has been car galore on the highways ever since I got back. In addition to there being so many people, everyone drives. Even the young folk. In Spain it was common for people in their twenties to still be without their driver’s license. I didn’t need a car in Spain. And a lot of people didn’t have cars. A distance I would easily walk in Spain would be driven here in the US. In Spain I walked to work, to the supermarket, to the bars, to the gym, to the bank, everywhere! Living in Spain was the most I ever walked in my life and it made me realize why everyone there stays skinny: because the people keep moving.
In Spain it’s common to find the bathroom light on the outside of the bathroom. This drove me crazy when I first arrived there, entering a dark bathroom, searching desperately for the light in a state of emergency, only to remember that the light was outside the bathroom. But now returning home, I find I’m searching for the bathroom light on the outside before entering. And why is there so much water in the toilet bowls here? There’s way too much splashback. In Spain the water level in the toilet bowls isn’t as high. Why? I have no fricken idea.
4. Money, Money, Money
When I complain how expensive the US is people tell me it’s because people get paid more there. And I laugh because that is no longer true. Living in the US is insanely expensive! I don’t know how any one survives here unless you work a corporate job, slaving your life away. I truly believe that if you proportionize the cost of living in Spain and the salary earned to that in the US, you would find that although Spaniards make less, it is affordable in Spain. The US is beyond affordable.
I didn’t miss tipping at all. But here in the US it seems tipping has gotten out of control. Now people who simply hand me a coffee are asking for tips. With the rising prices of food increasing that restaurant bill, it also raises the price you have to tip. Every single time you’re at a bar or at a restaurant it’s tip tip tip. I felt so relaxed in Spain, only tipping if someone truly goes above and beyond. And you’re only expected to leave a few cents if you do even decide to tip. But fortunately for Spaniards, they actually make a liveable wage in the waitering life unlike here in the US where waiters and waitresses live off of tips.
6. Paying for Beaches
For those of you who don’t know, New Jersey makes people pay for beach badges to access the beaches. We’re talking $12 daily passes if you decide not to buy a season pass. And don’t forget about the $20 parking in a lot of beach towns. And Point Pleasant even closes there beaches at 7 pm. A beach badge checker once stopped my brother, who was in a wetsuit and carrying a surfboard, and told him he had to pay to step onto the beach even though he was obviously only going to surf. Wild! People say it’s to keep the beaches clean and beautiful and to pay the lifeguards but this is a bunch of baloney. Spain has some of the nicest beaches I’ve ever seen, some even have lifeguards and beach cleaners. And you don’t have to pay anything to sit on the beach. In fact, I don’t think you have to pay anywhere else to go to the beach in the US except New Jersey.
Smiling on the beach in Cádiz because it’s free!
7. Houses vs. Pisos
I read somewhere that an average American has twice the living space as an average European. And I totally agree with this after arriving home and seeing all the giant houses and perfectly cut lawns. In Spain, a lot of full families live in small, little pisos (apartments). The apartments are usually old and the walls paper thin, so there are no secrets between neighbors. And a lot of apartments do not have any heating, or it’s just way too expensive to even use a heater. This is probably one of the big reasons why Spaniards live in the streets and return home mainly for eating and sleeping. Spaniards are always out and about either walking around, drinking at a bar, hiking, working, partying, or playing in the many parks and squares. Unless they have an outdoor patio, it’s the only way for them to get fresh air.
Piso life in A Coruña.
8. Work Work Work Work Work
The Spaniards have a saying, “Americans live to work while Spaniards work to live.” When that work bell sounds, Spaniards stop whatever they are doing to go enjoy life. Americans on the other hand never stop working. I saw it with a lot of my American friends who came to visit who had a hard time flipping the off switch for work. I remember going to the bathroom at the end of the school day my first year in Spain. After five minutes, I left the bathroom to find the school deserted. I was literally locked inside. I had to find a janitor to let me out. Since day one of being home I’ve been asked constantly about what I’ll be doing for work and for health benefits. Are these things important? Yes, of course. But knowing how to enjoy life and take some time for yourself is even more important in my opinion.
9. Being Old
Being old is the number one saying I here from most of my American friends. And a lot of these people are twenty-four to thirty. When I was twenty-four years old living in Washington D.C., I also fell into that toxic brainwash and felt old. But when I moved to Spain, I never felt younger. Even as a thirty year old. No one cares about age in Spain. I had friends of all sorts of ages. Even the old grandmas and grandpas go out with their little packs of friends to go eat and drink at the bars. Age is just a mindset.
I miss traveling in Spain and all around Europe. Europe definitely has a better train and bus system than the US with cheap and affordable prices. I can’t even get around New Jersey without having to take a car and paying for gas and crazy tolls. In a lot of countries in Europe they have an app called Blablacar which is like Uber but for long distance travel. So if I wanted to go from Madrid to Barcelona, I could look for a trip on Blablacar and sign up with a driver at a designated time. And usually it was cheaper and faster than taking the bus or trian. For a country that loves cars, I don’t know why that doesn’t exist here. There is word that the carpooling app Poparide, used in Canada, will be available in the US soon. There’s hope!
Faro Punta Cabalo in Galicia, Spain.
11. Dog Poop
I never paid so much attention to the sidewalk until I lived in Spain. Constantly I was surveying the concrete in front of me to make sure my path was clear of dog poop. Sometimes I would even find human feces lying in the streets. Yummy. And when I lived in A Coruña I was always surrounded by dog poop on the beach. Even spots I thought were dog poop free ended up having a lingering smell in the air. This was a positive reverse culture shock for me returning to the US. For the most part, you can walk the streets without worrying about poop. And the beaches remain dog poop free. I don’t care what country you’re from, if you’re going to get an animal, pick up its darn poop!
12. Relax, Don’t Worry
This was probably my biggest pet peeve in Spain. Everyone was so slow! If you’re walking on the sidwalk, don’t expect anyone to make room for you to pass. Many times, while Spaniards hogged up the entire sidewalk, having their merry little conversations, I had to step off the sidewalk, into the busy street, risking my life, just to pass them. They will not move out of the way for you. Even if you say excuse me, they’ll glance at you and continue with their conversation. And since this country has the fifth longest life expectancy in the world, old people flood the streets. So prepare to be weaving in and out of all the grandpas and grandmas while you’re late to work. This problem doesn’t exist in the US. It’s rare to see people stopping in the sidewalk for a long period of time to chat. And if it does happen, they most likely will not hog up the entire sidewalk for themselves. It’s all about self-awareness!
There are pros and cons to each country. Spain has cheap wine, siestas, and fiestas. But the US has a variety of beautiful landscapes, more job opportunities, and diversity. Even though I’m back home in the US, getting readjusted to the American lifestyle, a part of me will always be missing my Spanish life in Spain.