Living Abroad: Reverse Cultural Shock

Living Abroad

A Column

Spending some time “abroad” in my home country is always awesome: The fresh air, the first days of spring and meeting friends: What else to ask for? However, I kind of felt like a stranger in my birth town all of a sudden, realizing that what I’ve always considered as “normal” suddenly turned into something unfamiliar and almost annoying. Yes, the reverse cultural shock totally hit me.

From a scientific point of view (yes, there already exist a lot of articles about this phenoma, dating back to the 1940`s), a reverse cultural shock is defined as “the process of readjusting, reacculturating, and reassimilating into one’s own home culture after living in a di€fferent culture for a significant period of time. Sojourners experience reentry in di€fferent ways; some individuals may experience few, if any, e€ffects of reentry, while others appear to have problems ranging from a few months to a year or longer (Adler, 1981; Carlisle-Frank, 1992).

Well, it was not for the first time for me travelling back from South America to my beautiful home country, Austria. Neither was it for the first time to cope with “reverse cultural shock”. I´ve been there before after coming back from Sweden and my internship in Singapore, mostly questioning some crazy traditions (Krampus, anyone?). But something was different this time…

First and foremost there was the thing of getting used to the slow traffic in Austria: Speeding and driving way too fast is nothing unusual in South American cities. The motto over there is to “go with the flow” and “if you snooze, you lose”. Sticking to 50 km/h and not crossing the street closely before the traffic lights jump to red turned out to be a real challenge all of a sudden. And guess who was standing more than once in front of closed supermarket doors on a Sunday or after 7 p.m.? I am really wondering how I managed to do my grocery shopping during the last couple of years…

Whilst sitting on the plane to Austria, I was watching Sofia Coppola´s “Marie Antoinette” for the fifth time. There is one scene that shows what a hard time she must have had after arriving at Versaille (well, despite not knowing what else to do with all the diamonds, jewelry and pretty dresses she was foreced to wear – poor girl…), everything but warmly welcomed and all eyes put on her before finally getting married to the french Dauphine Louis-Auguste. Indecisive on how to deal with this situation, she didn´t say a lot, simply walking by her fellow princesses, duchesses and dukes, as one of them was suddenly whispering something like “Austrians aren’t the warmest people you know”. “Interesting” I thought to myself…

And guess what: Seems nothing has changed since 1770 in relation to acting quite distanced. When I was taking a walk through the old town it almost felt like looking into a mirror that suddenly cracks and shutters into small pieces: There were grumpy people everywhere! This old woman shouting at her dog, the bus driver, the girl behind the supermarket counter. I decided  that I needed some black coffee after this experience…

Whilst sitting in my favourite coffee house, I was looking at some tourists sitting next to me, suddenly hearing them saying: “Oh, cute, look at this grumpy waiter over there – this is so very Austrian, uuuhh great, love it.” I couldn´t help but wonder: Is  grumpiness the new friendly? Is this what foreigners expect an Austrian to act like?

And just when I was about to think “Wow, enough for today…I got it, I am back in good ol´Austria!”, my reverse cultural shock experience was crowned with the appearance of  Austrian´s Donald Trump (a.k.a Richard Lugner, Austrian presidential candidate), who suddenly appeared at the coffee place to give a speech,  accompanied by a village brass band and his twenty-something wife wearing a Dirndl dress…! Na servas!






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