Catch Up #2: Culture Shock, Or Lack Thereof

I’ve been home for precisely 18 days now, four of which have not ended in me passing out drunk or high with the light and my shoes on. I’m not bragging; it’s actually getting rather humiliating to be told morning after morning by people that I told them the exact same thing the night before, not once or twice but three times. I’ve never been a teetotaler, but I do believe that my homecoming and the utter confusion regarding life and existence at this moment of time are leading me down some nefarious and unhealthy paths.

Thinking about it, this whole homecoming is, over all, a big fat lesson in humility. After being dropped off at the train station by my parents last week, I Metro Northed to GCT and ended up in Tompkins Square Park, reading a book and smoking a cigarette. In an evening straight out of 2002, I walked down St. Mark’s and looked longingly into the bars and wished I could be sitting there, mingling with good looking 20 somethings (though this time the constraints were financial rather than age-related). Not only am I living at home, I have been demoted from my old, upstairs, large bedroom to a downstairs, smaller one that reeks of the urine of pets past and has a direct view into my 94-year-old neighbor’s kitchen. It was necessary to borrow money from my parents, which I hardly never did in the braces era. If my wax wings weren’t quite melted enough, I hit the ground full speed when I donned my old white apron and got back into the grind at the job I’d so dramatically exited from pre-Mex. Watch Tiny Furniture to get a visual idea of how my life is currently progressing (minus the sweet-ass Tribeca loft).

Wikipedia defines culture shock as “the personal disorientation a person may feel when experiencing an unfamiliar way of life due to immigration or a visit to a new country, or to a move between social environments.” It is comprised of four phases: Honeymoon, Negotiation, Adjustment, and Mastery. Regarding reverse culture shock, which everyone says is the third-biggest problem when you move back home after a significant time abroad (the first is that you indubitably have at least a mildly broken heart, and the second is the food at home is inevitably inferior) the Big W states that “returning to one’s home culture after growing accustomed to a new one can produce the same effects as described above. This results from the psychosomatic and psychological consequences of the readjustment process to the primary culture. The affected person often finds this more surprising and difficult to deal with than the original culture shock.” Perhaps what’s most shocking of all, after almost two years in Mexico, is that I feel as though nothing at all has changed. I don’t feel more enlightened; I don’t feel like I learned great things about the world in general. Rather, when I went into work this past Sunday, I felt like I’d taken a long weekend and had missed nothing but an afternoon of gossip, on which I was immediately caught up.

Sure, there’s the fact that two of my good friends are set to tie the knot within the next year, people’s baby bumps have flourished into toddlers, most of the previously single ladies are now in long-term relationships, and I’m officially the shortest person in my entire family. Things have changed. I couldn’t find the Photo Department in the Walgreen’s on Nepperhan because it was moved and replaced with a refrigerator, but Kitty the Amorphous Cashier is still melting into her chair behind the register, refusing to reach for your products. Yeah, my family got a dog, but we’re all still watching reruns of The Office. As my tan fades away and I peruse all the pictures from the last couple of years, I find it hard to believe that I’m the person standing on a crumbling dock in the middle of the ocean, watching the sun set around Caye Caulker. That pozole in Guanajuato had to have been eaten by someone else. How can I have done so much and yet feel so little?

Were I to attempt to pigeonhole myself into a phase, though, I would definitely place myself in Honeymoon. (I also think that everyone should be in the Honeymoon Phase ALL the time, so as not to become jaded or annoyed.) Here are a few things that are particularly fabulous:

  1. Clothing: People in New York, let it be said, know how to fucking dress. It’s in a half-disgusted, half-awed haze that I walk around the city, knowing that each and every individual spent an exorbitant amount of time deciding what to say with the external sheaths that adorn their bodies. On the one hand, how much time and energy for something so, in comparison to starvation and race wars, useless? On the other hand, Mexicans truly dress horribly in comparison, and spend way too much money doing it. Fashion is truly an art here; watch the Bill Cunningham NY documentary if you don’t believe me.
  2. The Subway: The NYC Subway is magical. It’s clean, it’s frequent, and it’s not just for poor people. Yeah, it’s horribly screwed up on the weekends, but you will ultimately get home. Though you can’t buy as much stuff as in DF, people get on and give food away to ANYone who’s hungry, which is pretty brilliant (though I personally would feel awkward accepting a juice box).
  3. Hierarchy: I love going into a restaurant and not being treated in some creepy, awful, reminiscent-of-slavery, reverential manner. People don’t walk on eggshells here; the social mores in which Mexico are mired don’t exist. It’s not some U.N. party, but at least no one’s pulling my chair out for me when I go into a restaurant because my skin’s kind of shiny.
  4. Cost: I maintain that it is cheaper to go out in New York than in Mexico. Maybe individual things, like a beer, are more expensive here. But for quality goods, you get more bang for your buck, and there’s a much greater diversity.
  5. Beauty: This place isn’t ugly. In fact, in the right company, there’s an almost Lake Atitlan-esque allure/magic to the Hudson. See photo.



The only thing that’s giving me trouble is talking to people I don’t know. I’ve gotten accustomed to speaking Spanish to every stranger, be it a person on the street, a salesgirl, a waiter, the train conductor. For example, I would obviously never talk to my parents in Spanish because I have spent the majority of the days of my life talking to them in English. However, if I bump into a stranger, I automatically say “Perdon.” When I walk into a store I just stand there awkwardly. If you had heard me trying to buy cigarettes the other morning, you would have thought me retarded. There’s still a dissonance with regards to public life.

Other than that, though, it would appear that, for this gringa, being an American is like riding a bike. And on that note, I’m out. It’s happy hour, after all.



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