Two years ago this coming November marks 2 years living back in the USA after 6 years in Germany. Those of you who recall, may have read a post or two about ‘return culture shock’. Maybe you wonder: was there any ‘re-entry culture shock and if so, how long did it last’?
The short answer is that yes there was culture shock upon returning to the USA for more than one reason. One reason was that, much as I enjoyed how much everyone spoke English and I could finally go to my normal church, the relative lack of good public transit was not good. To my own astonishment, I actually missed people speaking German and in fact, I still do. This is even though, over there, I was only finally getting to be fluent, and still had to fight a cultural bias: a tendency to be dismissive of German language information as irrelevant because I’m an American or native speaker of English. I was quite happy with myself as that tendency declined while living in Germany, but felt mildly stunned by how bad about that I still was after 5 years of living in Germany.
There are a few other matters, such as the amount of brick. Part of what I dealt with was being right near where I grew up.
There were familial issues which seemed to exacerbate a sense of confusion or dismay about it all. My father was never comfortable with my husband being a German or about my son being both German and American rather than only American. He wasn’t horrible about it, and sort of tried to treat that as acceptable but never quite did: this is a man whom I not sure ever wants to really see his daughter ‘married off’. I mean, for some reason, I either can’t tell how he really feels about it or else I can but the truth makes us uneasy. Some days he seems to feel I should be married off, but other times he seemed delighted if some man of his baby girl’s turned out to just be a toy boy or temp rather than anyone who really permanently took her away from him.
Meanwhile, my mother and sister were just sort of nonplussed by my presence. I think they may have tried to enjoy it, but felt bad knowing it was induced more by hardship than by pure love…and sort of trying to ameliorate the problem and to try being kind while making me feel guilty about having turned up and not having left after 3 days….Or even, guilty for seeming to want love and attention from relatives I haven’t spent much time around for 20 years or so. I had hoped that our having time together would be cause for celebration and that we would update our relationships, get on well etc…but instead what happened caused me to nearly regret having even turned up and I nearly went back to Germany rather than staying in the country.
Terrain: in reality, CNY is loaded with hills. They are not giant mountains or anything of the sort, but both Indianapolis and the area around Bremen, are flat lands. I spent a total of 16 years in flat lands having been raised in this hilly terrain. It felt wonderful to be back and yet strange to deal with actual hills and other traits of the land I come from.
Of course not!
In reality, in 1999 I returned to living in the USA after 5 years of living in Southern England, North Greater London, and Slough, Berkshire mostly. That time, I moved to Indianapolis, where I had never lived before in my life. It was most definitely back to living in my native country! at the same time, it was somewhere new. Even so, locals told me that it took a year for me to “lose my accent” by which they meant what I and the English perceived as my “watered down American accent”.
Again, when I reached the point of having lived in the North side of Indianapolis for 5 years I did have weird emotions: it really was as long as I’d lived in England. My second year back I had started saying “Dude” again, which was a major shift.
I’ve been back from living in a village around Bremen, Germany for more than 18 months now. I still miss needing and using German a lot more. I still miss fantastic public transportation. There are other qualities of the nation’s culture that I find that I do honestly miss. Some are the public support system and educational system. Some are much more subtle – I’m not even always sure what it is that I’m missing. There was something different about the air quality there, which I never understood.
At the same time, I’m really finding myself easily ‘moved’ in a happy way about various organizations that are around here – I mean stuff like: the schools I went to growing up actually are around here. The neighborhoods I lived in growing up really are right in my current local area.
Here and there are people I knew, and I fairly frequently come across others who are or have been involved with some organization I was also part of: a a dojo, a school, a Y, or a church, or even a bar or party place.
It is relaxing to have such free use of my native language again and to have it be in common use. Of course, I always knew that people speak any language because that’s what the people around there spoke like when they were there. I realized that in Germany as much as I did here, but that simple lesson has somehow been deeply reinforced.
Different / Changed
I think maybe the truth is that I feel changed, neither in a good or a bad way, but just different. My perspective and experience were definitely effected. My attitude towards foreign residents is nothing like it was 25 years ago. I was never cruel nor malicious but now I’m downright sympathetic and realize that being foreign can be a struggle but also gives a spirit of adventure to every day life.
I certainly wouldn’t say that I won’t live in a different nation again: I would love to live in London, England more: especially if the circumstances would be nice…and I would even brave Germany more, but would prefer to try a city and in whichever nation I would prefer to have a good job or to have plenty of money even if I don’t have a job.