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The Cold Comfort of Reverse Culture Shock

reverse culture shock

In case you’re not up to date on my comings and goings, I recently moved back to the UK from Mexico to Sort Shit Out and because of teeny, tiny issues like Not Having a Visa anymore.

On the one hand, I was ready to get home, purge the belongings I no longer needed and settle back in to the box room womb of my childhood (‘of my childhood’ is a flowery exaggeration to be honest, because it only became mine after my sister took the bigger, better bedroom when I left for university, but let’s go with it).

On the other hand, lol no, I was not ready to come back home to a world where everything and nothing was the same. My mum’s love of redecorating the house every two-to-three months seemed to have remained as reliable as ever, though.

Walking out the airport and into the chilly embrace of a brisk British morning was bizarre, to say the least. It had been so long since I’d been in the motherland and yet I felt like barely a week had passed. Only the overstuffed suitcase and hefty debit card charge for surpassing my weight limits marked the physical passage of my time away. That and the green tinge lingering in my hair from an ill-advised home dye job in my Mexico City bedroom a year prior.

reverse culture shock

© Unsplash

Let me tell you a little something about myself, something ~personal~. Here goes:

I am not a crier and my heart was once a mere cold, dead shell inside my toasty meatcage of a body; yet, I will admit that Mexico softened not just my midriff, but also my disdain for acting like a real human person with feelings and emotions.

I even hug people sometimes now! I hugged my mum and dad when I landed in the UK after being away for two years! I sometimes tell my friends I love them (I obviously use the ubiquitous ‘u’, not ‘you’ though)!

Related Post: How NOT To Tell Your Mum You’re Moving to Mexico

But I cried when I left Mexico. I never cry the other way around. Leaving the UK? Pah! Get me some headphones and an overpriced bottle of aeroplane wine and I’m fine. Leaving Mexico? I just sit longingly staring out the window like a badly acted character from an indie teen movie, willing someone to ask me why I’m upset so I can regale them with my tales of living there and loving it and never wanting to leave. No one ever does ask though, instead ignoring the weirdo girl silently crying to herself. ‘She’s probably just scared of flying’, they think, absolving themselves of any responsibility for compassion.

(I kind of am terrified of zipping through the air in a tube of metal, but that’s not relevant right now. And that’s never why I’m crying on aeroplanes, anyway.)

So why do I cry when I leave Mexico?

It feels like a regression to an old life, for a start. A backwards movement, rather than a forwards motion. It feels like I’m cutting off a crucial part of me, the part that says ‘she lives in Mexico’, the primary subtext of which is ‘she does cool shit’ and the secondary, shameful subtext of which is ‘she’s a bit better than you, probably’. I haven’t changed my Where I Live section on Facebook yet.

But the flight home did nothing to dispel my entirely judgment-worthy sense of bilingual superiority, as the brusque northern vowels of the Thomas Cook air hostesses proudly proclaimed that ‘they’ (read: Mexicans) outnumber ‘us’ (read: Brits) on the flight but don’t-worry-because-I-have-a-Google-translate-app-on-my-phone, so we’ll be OK. I wonder if the passengers they just talked a bit louder to felt the same way.

Welcome home.

reverse culture shock

© Unsplash

The reminder of our nation’s disdain for foreign language learning hit me in the face about as viciously as the cold-fucking-toilet seats reminded me with an early-morning grace that I was very much back in England.

And it was sitting on that chilly toilet seat that I realised what the real meaning of reverse culture shock was. Quite the convenient bathroom revelation, right?

Reverse culture shock doesn’t hit you like a wave, it drips, drips, drips from the tap making everything that bit more annoying or irritating than it was before you left for pastures new; it’s a tiny grain of disdain that you didn’t really know you harboured until you’d experienced an alternative; it’s shock at the amount of plastic fruit comes wrapped in in the UK and how fucking expensive it is too, even though you never really shopped at Mexican tianguis anyway, instead preferring to buy your food pre-prepared and fuss-free from street vendors; it’s realising that British licence plates are weirdly big.

Basically it’s stuff that makes no impact on your life but annoys you anyway.

Given that I was called maudlin and depressive for writing a blog post about living abroad expectations vs. reality, I feel I should counter this over-indulgent recognition of reverse culture shock in all its mundane forms by saying that, yes, there are some nice aspects of being back in the UK.

For one, I can’t say I was sad to have decent chocolate options stocking the shelves and, subsequently, my bottom bedroom drawer. Nor was it a shame to want to bury down under my duvet in a morning, as the sound of Radio 2 gently nudged me out of my sleeping state. Meanwhile, access to pork pies is a revelation.

I love being able to have a bath and unpack my stuff and hang my Chiapan pompoms from every spare nail, nook and cranny in my box room womb.

In short, it is comforting to be back, although that warm embrace of the motherland will always, always come tempered with the unpleasantness of a cold morning toilet seat from now on.

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