I have returned to the United States to live now, for good (but who knows where else life might take me). I left Australia with an opportunistic purpose: to be closer to family, to build my future, and simply to just be. The opportunity came to me when a trip coming home for a visit also offered work, help from family and friends, and simply put — why not? I loved living in Australia, and I have nothing really bad to say about it there. I just wanted to be back in my hometown and give it a try, and it’s working! I’m happy about my decision and highly motivated to make the best for myself.
But there is that re-entry shock that I’ve been going through…
What is re-entry shock, you ask? Click here. Wow, I hadn’t lived in America for 11 years! So much has changed, yet so much remains the same. What are those things which haven’t changed? Well, actually Americans would be heavily offended, if I told it all here (which I will eventually, but in tiny doses). Having lived abroad for so long, 7 years in the Netherlands and 4 years in Australia, my eyes literally were opened far more to how the world really is, and what America is to the world, and most Americans who have never lived abroad (you American travelers will never understand it either) won’t and can’t understand what I’m talking about, even if I simplify it. Experience alone is the only way that you will understand. Our American views on war even, we Americans are sheltered from what is really going on with fluffy, sugar-coated yet fear-induced news coverage and whatever political reasoning that we are offered. We’re always told various things which justify it, like how it’s a “humanitarian effort.” Ha.
I prepared myself for this re-entry here back in the U.S.A., though…
Oh yes, I did. I knew what to expect. As an American, who grew up in this culture and already understood it, and I knew full well abroad what my own view of what being an American was and often had to be some sort of ambassador for us (oh joy, the anti-American comments that I so frequently heard), but let me assure you that only a few things about me has changed. I’m just more aware now, but I still appreciate what we have as American citizens. So, to help me cope with the re-entry adjustments, I combine what all I’ve learned living abroad, as well as the good cultural habits that I’ve formed and learned from both the Dutch culture and Australian culture. It’s called cultural syncretism.
Syncretism is combined separate concepts into one new, different and unique idea. Cultural syncretism is when two or more cultures are blended together and create a newer custom, practice, or philosophy. Cultural syncretism occurs for many reasons, such as immigration or relationships within groups, and it results in one finding ways to blend these new customs into their own customs.
The things that I’ve taken with me from those other cultures:
• I allow people to share their views with me, without debating with them. I want to hear your views and welcome it. How it differs with the average American: put an American Democrat and an American Republican into a room alone together and give them only the opportunity to discuss politics, and watch them boil at the mere thought of what the other is saying. Hilarious, really. They can’t just sit there and hear each other out without finding a reason to get upset, and they begin preaching at the other for thinking the way that they do. They’ll try to change the other person’s opinion in that one discussion, instead of just listening and learning from each other.
• I’m more open to other ways of doing things. If it works for one group, then that’s great. It makes no difference to me if you’re Mormon, Catholic, or Muslim, or even simply what your ethnic background is. I won’t judge you. I never did that anyway, but now I stand more firm in my beliefs.
• I’m more aware of just how racist we still are in America (sad how it remains here, really), but I’m also more educated about our own American history and how racism here actually began. I learned more factual information about our American history while living abroad. From foreigners! Lots of people abroad know more about us than you’d think, and 98% of the people that I interacted with daily, especially at language school in the Netherlands (Iraqis, Iranians, Somalians, Serbians, former-Soviets, etc) and they rarely, if ever, had a bad word to say about Americans. Most just disagreed with our foreign policies.
Dear Americans, our school history books do not share with us sufficiently our own history. As a matter of fact, we are taught a very bland yet pumped-up and smoothed-over version of what really happened in America since day one. If you’re curious as to what I mean, read the book Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong by James W. Loewen. Really, do read it. If you think you know everything about our country, you should give that book a whirl. Actually, everyone around the world should read it because then you’d understand us better.
Anyway… Since I’ve been back in America, here is a short list of things that have made me laugh at my own culture…
1. Medication commercials. Full of, “Ask your doctor about _______. If you take _________, you could experience side effects such as chronic diarrhea, bloody stool, migraine headaches, thoughts of suicide, diphtheria, typhoid, small pox, memory loss, extra arms growing out of your back, death and/or dismemberment” — I’m just joking about a few of those, but you catch my drift. Actress Blythe Danner even shows up in one ad promoting Prolia. Not that that is a bad thing, Blythe plugging a prescription medication. It’s just there are so many medication ads, and it’s almost silly after never seeing any on TV abroad for over a decade. And then there are commercials about your possible participation in law suits against some former medications/surgically inserted medical devices which have caused physical complications.
2. White teeth. WHITE teeth. Scary-not-normal-human white. It’s almost an obsession. All sorts of products are available… Check out your American TV commercials and watch their teeth there and on the news because actors and American newsanchors have some of the whitest of the whitest teeth. Creepy, really.
3. Weight loss commercials. All types. Drink shakes/smoothies, pills, Weight Watchers/Nutrisystem/Jenny Craig (with celebrity endorsements)… Just eat better and get a little bit more active. Funny note: as I write this, a Nutrisystem commercial came on my TV, followed by a Little Caesars pizza commercial plugging their deep-dish pizza with its crust all wrapped up in bacon. Seriously.
4. Dominos, breakfast cereal, et al commercials on TV after 11pm. It doesn’t baffle me anymore why some people are obese here, apart from the other unfortunate factors like thyroid problems or low-income forced diets and lifestyles.
5. Nearly everyone is obsessed with terrorism over here. That’s terrorism in itself. Like they’re waiting for it to happen and just obsessing over it. Even loads of American crime TV shows often base the episode on the topic. Score: Terrorists 1, Americans 0. I won’t go into the media’s constant coverage of things that make Americans panic. Of course, the media never follows up the news story with information about “why” it is or could be happening. No, that would educate people too well and cancel out the panic-domino effect, making the news story therefore unnecessary.
7. Free pop refills in fast food restaurants… Cut. It. Out.
8. A small fraction of the country actually gets it that our “freedom of speech” is not necessarily so, on TV and the radio; everything is edited by the FCC, so our “freedom of speech” is not really entirely “free speech.” Rated-R movies are played regularly on normal TV in the Netherlands and Australia without editing them, but they play them after 9pm, when your child should be in bed. Similarly, radio stations play the artist’s original song, and not a radio-safe version.
9. Most Americans can only tell you that they have a “Constitutional Right” to bear arms, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and to plead “the fifth.” Anything else from the Constitution? Nope. Not even the Preamble.
10. Sex in America is very taboo, which is why I feel it’s so heavily flaunted all over the place in America! I feel that the Netherlands handles anything related to sex better than both the U.S. and Australia.
And what about Australia? What do I miss, what do I not miss, and what do I take from that culture? Well, I’ll cover that soon…