Sunday, July 30, 2006

Really unexpected, really intense culture shock

Even before I left Tokyo for my weekend in the US I was expecting to run into some amount of culture shock, but I have to admit I was totally un-prepared for the amount of reverse culture shock that hit me when I got to the US. Coming back from India and Africa earlier this year was pretty tough, after only two weeks in both places it was a shock to come off the plane and see clean streets, drinkable water and “normal” life.

Coming back from Japan after five weeks was like returning from Mars, the reverse culture shock was unreal. After five weeks here, I got off the plane in New York and the first thing that shocked me was the blue sky, it's been rainy season here for my five week stint and it wasn't until I was standing under a blue sky that it hit me like a lightning bolt that I hadn't seen a blue sky since mid June. I can’t describe how much the blue sky bothered me, which sounds so odd, and really is odd.

I was also shocked to see tall people and the mix of non-Japanese people that you would expect to see in New York. I guess I didn’t fully appreciated how much of a melting pot New York is until I spent time in Japan where the majority of people are Japanese and thus there isn’t all that much diversity. The diversity of people in the US really jumped out in a way that it never has before, it made me appreciate the New York area a lot.

As many of my friends and family know, I like to eat, and because I am tall I eat a lot. That’s been a challenge here in Tokyo where the portions are small, so in Japan I am often hungry. I was shocked to discover that in only five weeks in Japan my stomach had adjusted to Japanese portions and I was literally unable to eat meals that I would have considered normal in the past.

By far the hardest culture shock was my first night home, I had been sleeping on hard Japanese beds so long that my own bed felt foreign and my clothes smelled odd because they didn't have Japanese detergents in them.

By far the highlight of the night however was when I almost got arrested at 4AM. Little did I know that earlier that week a storm had caused a mini-tornado that passed through the park in my neighborhood in New Jersey and made a mess of the park. Long story short, I couldn't sleep due to the time difference so at 4AM I went for a walk in the park, but it turns out the park was closed due to the storm damage (which I didn't know) and a sheriff confronted me and was really nasty, he made a lot of threats, didn't really believe me when I said I had just come from Tokyo, threatened to arrest me and then drove his SUV on the sidewalk three feet behind me for several hundred yards while I walked out of the park.

Besides the first night and the culture shock of the first day or so, the time at home was amazing, but I have to say that in some ways it was nice to come “home” to Tokyo to what I now consider “normal”. That is such an odd thing to say…..

No comments: