To those of you who started reading this post because you are fans of Richard Farina – my apologies. This post will not discuss his seminal novel of the same name/title (see above). For some reason when I sat down to ponder reverse culture shock this phrase/title literally popped into my head. Score one for the subconscious, that industrious bastard is always cooking up something on the down low. I think maybe the title came to me because (forgive me, it’s been maybe 30 years since I read the novel) on a broader sense the novel is about shifting paradigms, of examining the familiar from a different critical perspective. Or maybe it’s just a really cool title. Perhaps a little of both.
Anyway, I have been pondering this phenomenon of late. Is it a real thing? The short answer is “yes”. Has technology muddied the waters? Oh hell yes. (“Muddied the waters”, man, the ol’ subconcious is working overtime today. I just realized that the title of this post( and Richard Farina’s book) originally comes from an old Blues song. Muddy Waters didn’t sing it, but you see where I’m going with this…) Technology, and how it affects acculturation, is a subject fit for a book, not just a blog post. Suffice it to say that when I was a kid, living outside of my “passport” country, my only real links to that culture were my parents and books. Powerful forces, to be sure, but add satellite dishes and the internet and you have a very effective layer of insulation between you and the host culture. This phenomenon is, of course, a very sharp double-edged sword.
Let’s assume, hopefully, that one has adapted in a healthy way to their new host country. After living there for a number of years you should have learned the language and culture mores, made friends/social acquaintances of different nationalities and feel comfortable, “at home”, in your host country. Granted, you have increased ties to your “homeland” thanks to technology, but let’s not forget that those ties are “virtual” at best. Let’s assume that distance (and maybe inclination) precludes you from visiting your home country often. At what point does “reverse” culture shock kick in? 2 months, 1 year, 15 years? And what is reverse culture shock anyway? A sense of anomie in one’s own country? This short article from Investopedia (of all sources) describes it fairly well: https://www.investopedia.com/terms/r/reverse-culture-shock.asp
To add some personal perspective to the issue, I will say that nothing is weirder than experiencing culture shock in your own culture. By now, I have lived outside of my home culture country the majority of my life. I do make it back there, albeit very infrequently. The first few days are always a complete head-wrecker. No joke, I sometimes lean on friends and family in certain situations to tell me what to do or add context, as if they’re cultural Sherpas or something. It’s faintly ridiculous, of course, so it’s best to recognize the humor and roll with it. To answer the question above, all the TV and YouTube videos in the world cannot (re)acclimate you sufficiently to a culture. You need to live in that culture. While reverse culture shock is indeed a thing, it’s not that big a deal. You’ve got all the tools you need: family, friends, language, etc. Reverse culture shock just means that your mastery of the culture has become a bit fuzzy and needs some fine-tuning, like trying to improve the focus of a local UHF TV channel back in the day. (For you young’uns who don’t get that reference, look it up on the interwebs).