How’s my culture shock so far? People say it is worse this way around. They say it comes in stages. At first you feel ecstatic about returning. Then slowly you start sinking into a weird feeling of being an outsider, not really having found your place in your new/old home country. This is usually the longest and most difficult part. Then little by little you start settling in to normal life once more (if you decide to stay).
They call this phenomenon the reverse culture shock. It is a real thing, and it helps to explain why many expats continue being expats after staying away from ‘home’ for too long.
My reverse culture shock- if you can call it that – has not been paralysing or depressing. But certainly there have been all kinds of feelings, emerging in everyday situations.
Here’s a few:
While sitting on the tram, I was reading a news about municipal politicians discussing different ways of controlling Canada geese populations in Helsinki. One option was to provide them with hormonal contraception pills. This initiative didn’t go through due to several reasons, but the fact that it was discussed made me feel amused. Birth control pills. For geese. We are discussing birth control pills for geese. Man we are a rich country. Not that I want to belittle the problem they cause here, locally.
Having visited a baby suppliance store, I left it feeling both disappointed at myself for not preparing better (All this stuff I should buy as a new mother!! Am I not interested in the safety of my unborn child?!) but also relieved that I didn’t fall into the trap of purchasing a 140 € soft shell jacket for the little one.
But these weird feelings can also appear as me stopping to marvel some very normal things here: people walking on the street have such clean, neat clothes. The tiles in the swimming halls are so beautiful. Everything is so well organized. The public restrooms are so clean. The shops have anything I could wish for. And they also have everything I didn’t know I need.
It is also the smells, I realize, that are missing. The smells of life and death and despair and celebration. I can’t smell the corpse of a dead animal somewhere. No dead dogs along the roads. The smell of urine hardly anywhere. Not that I miss these things! But the lack of them makes life seem a bit sterile. Or at least our awkward reactions to let’s say, beggars, suddenly become more understandable. We have managed to clean the uncomfortable stuff away from our streets, for the most part at least.
Funnily, for the first weeks in Finland after coming back from Ethiopia, I felt like a cheater. I was pretty sure this perfectly operating infrastructure around me was some sort of joke, something that really isn’t real. No power cuts, no water shortages, no lack of any sort of food one could ever dream of. This can’t be real. I’m cheating!
I’ve gotten over the this-is-not-real part but still have some adjusting to do. This adjusting also means not to indefinitely rant on about these observations because that makes me feel like a I’ve-returned-from-Africa-and-see-things-so-differently cliché. Yet, most of the time I feel very grateful to be able to give birth to our child in this country and to be close to family and friends. This is our home now, and a beautiful home it is. A lot of things to feel happy for. But my mind still wanders to Ethiopia sometimes. I’ll give it some time.