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Friday, July 23, 2010

culture shock

I'm afraid we have a case of it. 

The good news is that only 2 bags were misplaced between Amsterdam and Washington, and should come today.  And that my mom was helpfully accompanied to meet us at the airport by Nathan and Sarah, and since Nathan has been around to help us through a LOT in the last couple of years that felt very normal.  And that they stayed for dinner adding to the sense of a smooth world-crossover.  And that my mom got two more beds for growing kids, making it comfortable for all of us to fit in after 4 more years and MANY more inches.  And that there was still an old guitar Caleb can play under a bed.  And that this house is air-conditioned and bursting with food and very comfortable and familiar. 

Today, however, we've moved out of the safety of 118 Lake Drive and run smack up against America:  apparent abundance that is tricky to access.  In Africa you can buy a phone sim card for a couple of dollars even in remote villages.  Cell-phone communication is easy.  We have not previously ever had an American cell phone . . but we want to be able to communicate, so today we hit a bunch of stores to buy sim cards to put in our phones.  No deal.  Everything here is contracts, big business, lots of money, rules, and restrictions.  We were about to be resigned to that and just buy new phones and contract-plans when we double-checked the list of "over 100 countries" we can text on the ATT plan, and noticed only about 5 are in Africa, and do not include Uganda or Kenya.  Not helpful.  My computer won't send out email on my mom's network, so the ten or so emails I had written are stuck in the outbox.  We went to the Division of Motor Vehicles to register Luke for a learner's permit and between the long line of people and the layers of more rules (two proofs of identity, birthdate, Virginia residency, etc.) and the realization that he can't get a real license until he's over 19 (which is a year and a half from now) unless he takes a 36-hour education course . . all felt pretty discouraging.  Life is complicated here.  And we are novices.  It's going to take time, and patience.  Roads that used to be 2-lane country drives are now 6- or 8-lane divided super-highways.  One of the suspected Somali bomber masterminds was arrested trying to leave the USA and hailed from Fairfax County Virginia, very nearby.  We don't know how to live here anymore, and it has changed in ways that are almost unrecognizable. 

Classic culture shock:  "why do they do it this way" kind of thinking, and the discouragement that comes from no longer being competent adults ( with phones, car, internet, house, jobs, status) and instead entering a position of complete dependence (none of the above).  I know it's good for us.  But it's not fun.  And we haven't even BEEN grocery shopping yet, thanks to my mom's generosity . .  . if you haven't seen that scene in Hurt Locker, it's worth the price of the movie.

So you have to feel all that to appreciate the two highlights of the day:  driving to the Loudoun County Public Health Department Luke and I were at a stoplight, and the guy in the car next to us was gesticulating for us to roll down the window.  Oh no, I'm probably doing something completely wrong . . . we rolled down the window and he asked a question about directions.  A question I could answer!  He thought we lived here!  And we fooled him!  And second highlight, sitting in the public health department, I realized I HAVE NO AMERICAN MONEY AND NO CREDIT CARD.   I went through my purse and came up with Euros and Uganda shillings and Kenya shillings . . but nothing American.  Whoops.  Not smart.  But the chicken pox vaccine was FREE because it was required by school, and the two nurses running the clinic could not have been nicer about it.  Thankful.  Maybe if we meet enough people like this, we'll improve.  But right now the case of shock is quite serious. 


rpmoelker said...

Praying for you all right now. Feeling how very strange my country is...may you sleep well and awake tomorrow ready to start again.

KevinandJD said...

I spent an inordinate amount of time at the grocery store our first week staring blindly at all the cleaning products. I just wanted Vim and Omo and Doom. As the tears loomed, my mom took over and put the right things in the cart. Humbling, discouraging and overwhelming. Praying for your sense of humor and God's provision in unexpected and abundant ways.

Joe and Bev said...

Whenever we've left a country for HMA or vice versa, my husband always comments on the strange lack of keys in our possession. He finds it very freeing - I find it disorienting. May the Lord give grace for each of you to process this all in your own way, hanging onto Jesus as you go!

Lissa said...

I am laughing and crying at the same time. When it was "our turn" I felt like a total imbecile at WalMart when trying to use their debit card machine. Stew called me from the cereal aisle the first day, totally unable to choose from the 1000 brands of cereal (we usually have a half-dozen here.) careful on the cell phone plans. We absorbed a huge "termination fee" which was not refunded even when we provided proof of our residence out of country (they couldn't read the Chinese.) Welcome back!

Anonymous said...

Cell phones. Get a pay as you go at Target or other stores. Buy as many Min. as you want up front. Renew them as needed. Throw the phone away when you're done.
Move to Idaho. No lines. no freeways.
Can't wait to see you guys again when you get to Dave and Ruth's. They're on pins and needles, as is Sonya.

Travis and Amy said...

Same culture shock, different sides of the world.
Love you guys.

Tim Archer said...

I've found reverse culture shock to be a powerful thing, much harder to deal with than adapting to another country. We feel like we're coming home, yet it's not really home any more. We've changed. Home has changed. And that's a funny feeling.

Grace and peace,
Tim Archer

Conroy Family said...

When you go overseas you get training and take crosscultural classes to prepare yourself for the 'shock' of the new culture. When you return to the 'passport' country you expect it to be normal or the same as when you left. But it does change and we change also. Many missionaries get no training to prepare for the trip home.

Been there several times in the last 20+ years.

Kevin said...

Dealing with it right now in Europe. Thanks for the transparency. With you in spirit.

Anonymous said...

I remember coming home from Saudi Arabia after 6 years (about 17 years ago). I was also amazed at the culture shock that I didn't expect. A PIN # needed for everything. The last straw was when I needed a PIN# at the local public library!! Was relieved when I wasn't REQUIRED to recycle, another new learning curve. Had to select my bills and change very carefully, couldn't remember what a nickel looked like anymore, and all the bills were the same size and color!! And since when was Hollywood news, NEWS!! My children weren't safe in the room during the news, much less the commercials! I feel your pain! Unfortunately, n the last 17 years, we've probably become more adjusted than we'd like to admit.

Anonymous said...

We empathise as we grew up in Kenya and have gone through this whole culture shock. As mentioned before during our last trip stateside we found out you can get a pay-as-you-go card from ATT and you top up just as you do in UG or Kenya. It helps to transition as you familiarize yourself with all the plans, but at least you can still keep in touch. With our pay as you go we could sms Kenya and Europe.

Rachel Nakor(u) said...

I know the feeling! I remember trying to help my dad pick up an electric buzzer at CVS and just staring and staring. We were also going to a wedding, so we had to find dresses, shoes and was awful! I now have a routine - 5-10 minutes speed shopping, then go sit in the shoe aisle and put my head down for 15 minutes. Then repeat as much as is needed. It generally works.

David Hosaflook, the Balkans said...

Classic. Loved it. Living it.

David Bennett said...

Thanks. I am in tears. Not for you, though I feel your pain. But for me. Yes, me. God has led us back to the USA after 23 years of life in BRAZIL.

We experienced REVERSE CULTURE SHOCK for the first time in 1986, then again in 1992. It was rough. (We NEVER experienced culture shock going there. And having traveled much internationally since then, still I can say the same thing...NO CULTURE SHOCK.)

But living back in the USA, now for 4 years as of yesterday, I still am SHOCKED at what I see and hear here "at home." Reverse culture shock is a way of life now for me and I have NOT gotten use to the "American Way of Life."

I know God has called me/us to this new ministry based in the USA, but I SO MUCH LOVE RETURNING TO BRAZIL, and visiting other countries, where "American Culture" has not totally hit yet.

I cry, yes, CRY, thinking you have to deal with this REVERSE CULTURE SHOCK for a year or so. I deal with it continually, even after 4 years.

And I believe in furlough MINISTRY! It is necessary. It has many advantages ordained by God, such as stirring up local churches and individual Christians to a higher commitment in missions and in their own personal lives! (I won't take the time to enumerate the other advantages.)

And, lest someone think bad of me, let me say again that I know God has us back in the USA. I have a very effective ministry here as well as overseas. I would not trade it since a sovereign God is in control and knows what is best. I also AM CONTENT in this country... "whatsoever state I am in..." BUT I DO MISS the more simple life overseas. (I guess the Lord uses this to stir me up more to get out of this country to ministry opportunities overseas!)

May God give you grace to bear with the "HOME CULTURE."


Willardsdaughter said...

You've probably solved your cell phone problem by now, but I'm very happy with a Net10 - a topper upper, 10 cents a minute, 15 international, when I was back 2 years ago the best rate I could find was 12 cents a minute. Also no contract and when I bought my phone it came with free minutes equal to the purchase price, so I got it essentially for free.

God be with you as you navigate the USA!