I’m back in Canada now for the summer.  While this should be easy for me after spending so much time in China, it’s not. This is a strange, strange place to me. What makes it worse is that I feel like I should get it, and people around me feel like I should get it too.

Over the last week or so, I’ve come up with a list of questions about this strange place called “North America” that I’m hoping some of you out there can answer, or provide other questions for your own reverse culture shock.

  1. Has everything always been so expensive?
  2. Has the air always been so clean?
  3. Have people always spoken English so freaking fast?
  4. Have we always given waiters so much in tips?
  5. Have Canadians always apologized so bloody much?
  6. Has tap water always been drinkable?
  7. Have I always blended in with everyone else?
  8. Has outside always smelled so good? (as opposed to pollution and urine)
  9. Have people always understood what I say?
  10. Has everything always been this easy?
  11. Has the internet always been this fast?
  12. Have I always been so glad to be home?

Any help would be much appreciated…


  1. 1) Yes
    2) Not during the industrial revolution
    3) Most likely
    4) I say let them spit in my food
    5) You mean I cannot push the old lady down to get a seat on a bus?
    6) Since sewage treatment plants were invented
    7) At least you’re not albino
    8) You DON’T like the smell of urine?
    9) Unless you’re speaking in tongues
    10) Remember kindergarten?
    11) Have you been to a wangba lately?
    12) Never in your entire life

  2. I’m a North American myself. In December I returned home after a semester in China. Even though I’ve been home for seven months, there are times when I think that being able to drink water straight from the tap is a really awesome thing.

    Have you adjusted to the obsession with ice water yet? After I first came home, I couldn’t drink cold water at all, because it would give me a stomachache.

  3. As a chinese who has been living abroad for 2 years, I experienced the same kind of reverse culture shock – only the other way around! You may find my blog here.

  4. I just got back to the US for a short vacation. The first that struck me after getting off the plane, in NYC, was, “Good god the sky is blue.” This is New York we’re talking about. Now I’m off in the woods and enjoying the air that doesn’t make me sick when I, you know, breathe it in.

    Your list of questions is great, I’ve been asking the same things as I’ve tried to re-assimilate.

    Here are a couple questions I’ve got:

    Has the sky always been so blue or is that some sort of illusion?

    Is it normal for cars to stop for people in the crosswalk? Why don’t I have to run and jump out of the way?

    What’s with this waiting in line business? Aren’t you just supposed to push your way to the front?

    Can I get some pesticides on those fresh veggies?

    What’s up with free access to information? I need my internet censored.

    When I go to a restaurant, why is everything so clean?

    • Great follow up list Meng!!! I love the Blue Sky bit, that really threw me off.

      When we landed in LAX for a layover, my girlfriend and I went outside to breathe in the clean air and look at the blue sky. Sadly, that’s not a joke…

      • I thought the same thing! I live in a coal-mining town in China, and in comparison, LA isn’t polluted at all! I could actually see the sky!

      • oh sad, guys!! This past fall & winter I visited eastern China a few times (Nanjing & Beijing) and, while it was great in many ways, I’ve gotta say I love living in western China. I know the west has its share of polluted cities too (Chengdu, Lanzhou…), along with other issues, buuuut all the same, where I live in NW Yunnan it’s blue skies, bright sunshine, trees, grass, and flowers always, with the random yak, horse, or pig wandering the street from time to time. It’s really not the “China” that most people think of or that’s mainly portrayed on the NYT, CNN, etc.

      • I agree, Kailah. Western China is great. I’ve been to Guizhou and Guangxi — definitely want to explore more. Aside from less pollution, the cultural diversity is a big draw for me. Since visiting, I’ve been trying to persuade people to go to Southwest China too, but it is so ingrained in their minds that they have to go to Shanghai, Beijing, see the Terracotta Warriors and the Great Wall. So extreme is it in some cases, that people would even feel embarrassed to say they hadn’t seen the Great Wall when asked. I’ve been to China a few times, and lived in Hong Kong, and haven’t seen it yet.

  5. I just got back too.

    I live in a small town in north central Pennsylvania. Everything is blue sky and green hill all around. I can’t get enough of the blue sky, the sun, the wild animals (so many birds, hawks, buzzards, chipmucks, squirrels, rabbits, woodchucks, and deer and it’s only a matter of time before I see a bald eagle, elk, and black bear). I told my Chinese friends about this, and I’m afraid they wouldn’t believe that we would let dinner run loose.

    The first thing I did when I came back was show my dad how the Chinese drive. Despite living in an area that is practically deserted by Chinese standards, he made me stop as soon as we left the driveway. He was worried the police might see. Yes, I now realize how we Americans not as free to disregard law.

    And then I had a 6 oz. serving of filet mignon. Suddenly there was more meat on my plate than I had had in a month of meals in China.

    And the beer! The beer actually has taste here!

    It’s great to be back. It’s a good place to catch my breath. But I already miss China.

  6. You should come to my neighborhood. My internet is painfully slow (I think it was faster in China when I wasn’t using a proxy). And I don’t fit in here because most people don’t speak English as a first language. And people here (especially drivers) are quite rude.

  7. Pros and Cons!

    Chinese people are more friendly, no crime, exploring is fun.

    However, blue skies, clean(ish) streets and underground clubscenes are hard to beat.

    • Yep…when I think about the things that make North America great, ‘underground clubscenes’ always jumps to the top of the list!

      Oy vey iz meer.

  8. Fortunately, before I left for Asia, I received some training in cross-cultural communication which included culture shock. An awareness of it doesn’t necessarily prevent you from experiencing it, but it does arm you with an understanding to better deal with it.

    Reverse culture shock, I think, comes as the bigger surprise for people who have lived overseas for at least a few years and acclimated to the culture of their adopted country. They think going home shouldn’t be a problem as it is just returning to the way things were, only with new experiences and adventures under one’s belt. Well, those may very well have changed your views and values, and things may have also changed at home while you’ve been away. All of a sudden, home doesn’t feel like home any longer. Perhaps, home may no longer be associated with a physical place but becomes more a state of mind.

  9. Good article. The other day in a parking lot, a car stopped and the driver actually waved me to cross. For a brief second, I didn’t know what the hell was going on…

    • yeah! When I went back to the US over this 春节 after a year and a half in China this was one of the biggest areas of reverse culture shock. The other was going into organic food coops.
      oh yeah, and the excellent beer… and visible gay couples… and and and

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