Reverse Culture Shock

I’ve been back in the U.S. for one month and two days now and I’ve had several adjustments to make. As much as I longed to be back in the South, there were many things that I found myself complaining about when I returned.

  1. Water: When I landed in the U.S., the first thing I did was fill up my water bottle from the water fountain in the airport. After my first sip, I almost spit it out. The water tastes like chlorine. I’d heard Europeans make comments about it before, but I thought they were exaggerating. It’s true though, and I miss the German tap water. Also, I’m not comfortable drinking water straight from the tap here like I was in Germany.
  2. Public Transportation: Issa joke. I have to drive everywhere and I hate it. There are no trains (besides Amtrak) in Greensboro and the buses are supposed to come every 30 minutes, but they seem to show up whenever they feel like it. In Braunschweig, the buses and trains usually came about every 7-10 minutes depending on the route, and were always on time. Very unreliable. Also the buses smell really bad and look dirty inside. The buses in Germany were usually very clean.
  3. Recycling: It’s so much harder to recycle here, at least where I live. In Germany you’d find recycling bins (with separate bins for glass, paper, plastic) everywhere, and the bins for regular trash were very small, so it discouraged you from just dumping any and everything in them. Here, there’s just lots of huge trash cans everywhere and if you want to put something in a recycling bin, you have to hunt for them or take it home with you (if you have a recycling bin, and many don’t).
  4. Grocery Stores: They’re so huge and overwhelming in comparison to Germany. You don’t have to bring your own bags, or pack them yourself as fast as you can before the Germans get mad at you. Checking out is a much calmer experience here. In Germany it’s a race to pack your things up by the time the cashier is ready to take your money.
  5. People: I’ve heard a lot of people complain about how fake Americans are. I used to get offended, but now I understand. Everyone is very “friendly,” meaning they smile and say “Hi, how are you?” and don’t expect to hear how you are really doing. I’ve experienced lots of very over-the-top and unnecessary greetings from acquaintances (very loud “Oh my God, how are you?! I’ve missed you! It’s been forever!”). These aren’t necessarily intentionally “fake,” I think that’s just part of how we do things and what’s considered polite(?) here. It’s still very weird. And don’t even get me started the dreaded small talk. Many people are also very indirect, loud, and move extremely slow.

Germans are very direct, and I love it…sometimes. It makes things really simple when people just tell you in clear terms what they want or what they are thinking. There’s no beating around the bush with them, which saves so much time and energy. The only drawback is that sometimes (often) they will tell you things you don’t really want or care to know (unsolicited opinions and advice). They are very comfortable telling you that we Americans are stupid for electing Trump as president. My favorite comment that I received at a party was, “Well, all empires fall eventually. The British fell, and now America will fall.” I didn’t really know how to reply to that one. Also, many of them do not care at all about hurting your feelings, so don’t expect them to sugar coat anything.

6. Alcohol Laws: In most places in the U.S., you can’t just walk down the street with an open beer in hand. In Germany you can have alcohol out anywhere except for on the public transportation. The legal drinking age in Germany is 16, but they also cannot get a driver’s license until they are 18.

7. Shopping: Stores are open later here, and the sales associates can be very overbearing sometimes. In Braunschweig most shops close around 7:00PM, and almost all shops close on Sundays, except restaurants and stores in the central train station.

8. A/C: It’s always too hot outside and freezing inside. The A/C is way too cold and I have to bring my cardigan with me everywhere, even if it’s 95º F outside. Most places in Germany don’t have A/C, so when it’s hot outside they just open the windows. However, it rarely got as hot as it is here in North Carolina in Braunschweig.


American Culture?

Many of the other international students and German students here have told me that they learned all about American culture by watching different movies and TV shows, such as Friends, The Big Bang Theory, and Star Trek, to name a few.


Just glancing at these cast images, the first thing I notice is the lack of Black people, with the exception of Geordi La Forge in Star Trek TNG. The actor who played Worf  (Michael Dorn) is black, but Worf is a Klingon, which is an alien species characterized as being uncivilized, violent warriors. The other shows are mainly set in New York or California and feature all white casts. As a black girl raised in the South and born to Caribbean parents, these shows represent an American culture that I’ve never experienced.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what American culture even is, and I feel like the U.S. is way too massive for such a label. The culture in the South is different than the North, the West is different from the East, and there are even further differences within each region.

Shows that I would recommend for people interested in learning about different cultures in the U.S. typically overlooked by Hollywood include Black-ish, Queen SugarInsecure, Atlanta, Living SingleThe Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Living Single, Girlfriends, Martin, etc. I think what’s interesting about these shows is how they’re all set in very different parts of the U.S., and therefore the experiences shown are very diverse. For example, Queen Sugar, which is set in Louisiana, deals with completely different issues than shows like Atlanta, set in Atlanta, Georgia (obviously), or Insecure, which is set in Los Angeles, California. There are many other shows as well, these are just a few of my favorites.