Reverse cultureshock is one way to describe that feeling of coming to somewhere you consider home, only to realise that it has changed (or perhaps you have changed, and are seeing it differently). The familiar is suddenly unfamiliar. The returnee feels unsettled, alien in their own place, and frequently heads back out into the world with a sigh of relief.
I’m not going to say I’ve never felt it. Heck, I grew up feeling this – as a third culture kid, I was constantly told I was ‘British’ and Britain was ‘home’ (one home, at least) yet visiting Britain felt so strange. Even now I have a mismatch on some basic assumptions, and those trip me up.
(Immigration is perhaps a good example – until I was 20, Britain was somewhere you emigrated from not immigrated to, and I still assume the traffic flows both ways, and we (Brits) must keep welcoming EU nurses if want to be allowed to retire to sunny Spain.)
Coming back from travelling for six months, stuff had changed. There are new buildings, the one-way systems in Bath, Cambridge and Oxford seem to have been rearranged, friends have moved, grown beards, changed their hair colour… all the usual stuff.
But what really made it hard to adjust (apart from the weather, let’s be honest) was people. I love so many brilliant people, and K is very social, so we had a bit of a whirl. And it was exhausting. People change plans! People are late (often us, I’m sorry to say)! People say yes, when they mean no, and no when they mean ‘let me text you on the night and we’ll sort it out then’. People fail to give you all the information. People have needs, desires, other friends, kids, all that stuff.
Planning a night out is like juggling cats, and I was really out of practice. I’m not going to pretend that aerial feline manipulation has ever been my forte, but in the 6 months we were away, we stayed with friends and family for about 4 weeks, total, and they were all pretty well organized so mostly we just let ourselves be taken around and about. Turns out when you get back to ‘real life’ you have to be a little more self-propelled. It was fun, but knackering and strange. And the strangeness was strange.
Now that we’ve been back for 3 months, Christmas is over and I’m starting to settle down. Things have gone quiet, and I’m getting used to all the Englishness around me. Our village is very pretty (very small and very pretty) and it’s good. But strange, in its goodness. We had a house party, and it went well. I’ve remembered how this social thing works, I think.
So what I’m saying is, I’m ready for people again. Shall we go out for coffee, you and I?