Aunt Alice in Arabia – Reverse Culture Shock

March 22, 1990

Last summer I returned to the States.  The Midwestern oaks, maples and elm trees were in glorious green-leaf flower on streets and surrounding unwalled houses while grass was everywhere. No wonder American money is green!

Most everyone spoke English. I loved the overflow of conversations on airplanes, in stores and while standing in movie lines but I soon tired of eavesdropping after hearing one too many, “He don’t….”

Companies have 1-800 telephone numbers:  free long-distance phone calls to sort out plane reservations or to order products.

Summer school registration with computers was quick and easy. Dormitory living became tolerable.  I went to a movie with a classmate, and then for a beer in a cozy college bar because it was so normal and everyday easy to do.

Many other over-30 adults were in class so I didn’t feel too alien.  In a multi-cultural course, I didn’t fit the “middle-class American norm” and applauded minority cultural values about family and lifestyle that reminded me of the Gulf.

A lot of cars were old and rusty.  The small college town had few taxies. It rained the first week and I thought I’d never be warm! People weren’t introduced by their nationalities. I didn’t respond to casual references to television shows nor did I hunger for a Big Mac from “MacDonald’s,” but I smiled when I saw “Pizza Hut” and “Kentucky Fried Chicken” in town.

One day I walked into a summer arts festival with mothers pushing strollers, toddlers sucking lollipops, fathers wearing baseball caps and t-shirts, teenage girls with halter tops and the boys, some without shirts – all joking and laughing and ALL, to my amazement and new-found Arabic shock:  wearing shorts!

Another time I found 50 bicyclists swishing down the blocked-off college streets on their almost silent designer bikes and in their designer biking shorts.  The Tour de France? Or was America becoming more international?

 I had been warned about reverse culture shock. Everything I had missed was in full abundance. But I found myself missing something from the Gulf, something more precious than what I had missed about America.  What was it? See if you agree with me next week. HINT FOR THE BRITISH:  No, it wasn’t the sunshine!