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"How Are You?" & Other American Habits

June 10, 2018

4 months later and I’m back from my longest trip yet. After a 2 month trip to Israel last summer, I returned and experienced extreme reverse culture shock. I saw everything through a new lens and questioned the way I found happiness in American culture. It took months to adjust. It seemed like just when things felt “normal” again, my semester in Spain came to a start. Of course, I anticipated culture shock while in Spain and reverse culture shock after my study abroad experience. Here I wanted to share some observations with you.

First, as it deserves to be, is food. Going from tiny tapas to huge burgers is a big change in my diet. Eating times are so much earlier here. There are free refills and free water. Junk food and fast food surrounds me. I have to wait until I am seated instead of seating myself. There’s a thing called a TIP. They tell me, “Here’s the check, no rush” but really there is a rush!! Fast and cheap are the two most common words I hear. No one sits and drinks a coffee in a mug.

Things are more comfortable here. I’m not working constantly to understand and make myself understood because it is all English. We are never asked if we speak English or not. I turned to my mom the first day back and said “There is a lot of English being spoken here.” One night at dinner I accidentally said “Por favor” to the waiter. That’s another story...

Driving around town with my mom has me constantly questioning when this new building went up, why this place closed, and if that person still lives there. The transportation system is terrible. The architecture is plain. Cops are always trying to catch people speeding. Back in the land of Uber.

There’s a lot more diversity here. It is easier to be myself, unapologetically, without explanation in America. People are generally a lot more knowledgeable about different ways of life. Here I have a community.

I miss being introduced to strangers and kissing them on the cheek, left then right. So much so that I sometimes forget and kiss my friends on the cheek. Oops.

Alright, these might sound like random thoughts strung together. Maybe something more practical is to talk about how my experience abroad has affected how I will act in the future.

I made some goals for myself upon return. The first being that coffee is sacred and should not be ordered to go from now on. The next is to try not to ask “How are you?” if I am not actually curious about the answer. That being said, it makes sense that when others ask me that question, that I make an effort to think about how I am instead of automatically responding, “Fine, thanks, and you?” I will try to eat smaller, tapa-like portions and drink alcohol when there is a plate of food next to my cup. I want to be more direct. I want to say “See you later” instead of “Bye.” I want to take more siestas. I want to connect with those who are not native English speakers. I want to be a friend to an exchange student at Penn State. And maybe, just maybe, one day I can kiss my friends on the cheek without it being weird.

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