Sort of like parallel parking into a tight spot when you have to look over your shoulder carefully while also having to check the front of the car. Takes practice getting back to one’s own culture – feels like squeezing into a tight spot, looking both back and up ahead.
Parallel but in reverse now that I’m “back home”. Not in India, not yet in Canada, either. Welcome to the limbo land. Honestly, didn’t even think about reverse culture shock, let alone acknowledge that such a thing existed. Not mention that it might happen to me. So what’s it all about?
To me it’s been the unexpectedly curious feeling of not belonging – being in limbo is as good a description as any other. Culture shock in reverse means adjusting to being back “home” from having lived away in an entirely different place. Only “back” is tough because no one really cares how you feel or really wants to hear any more stories about what it was like being away. They’re just relieved that I’m no longer in that hot, humid, dirty and women hating country of India.
Seriously. I can see the glazing over the eyes pitying looks I get if I talk about having returned from India recently. Seems to me that some have no idea what I might be missing or that my life was so totally different for a couple of years that I’m bound to miss parts of it intensely. After all, home is home. Got to feel good to be back, right? Curiously, it feels sometimes better not to talk about having been away. Might just be too upsetting or perhaps remind some that their own lives haven’t changed an iota in the same amount of time I was gone. Fair enough – what’s the point?
Doesn’t help much today when the temperature outside is -15C with the wind chill factor – 100% proof that I’m back in Canada in late November. Loved that I could forget about anything “minus” or chilly in India – although depending where one is on that subcontient, it does get cold at higher elevations in the Himalayas. Felt totally amazing not to be exposed to the brutal Artic wind that carries along not only the chill of the vast Atlantic but also that of its northern cousin the Arctic Sea. The marvelously warm Arabic Sea was all I experienced as I traveled to Kerala and the Goa in December a year ago.
What’s tougher about “returning” is the emotional transition. Don’t know anyone else who has just returned from living in another world in the last two years. As far as others can tell, I’m back in the “better” West. What’s there to miss? So who cares if I had a driver and a maid – luxuries that only well-paid middle class folk can afford here. In India, nevertheless, they were my daily life – people who drove me to and from work, did my dishes and cleaned my place of the daily red dust that seeped through doorways no matter how tightly shut the doors were. It’s a routine that I got used to…the warm and friendly contact I had with people who appreciated the work I could afford to pay for from my salary. The feeling of having a small household family even if its members didn’t live with me was very comforting – the importance of being able to trust someone in a foreign country.
I made a difference in their lives and they in mine – something which doesn’t need to feed into any kind of sense of superiority. Simply put, it was the daily routine that brought me in touch with the local people. A chance to soak in information about the real India I loved getting to know. Living and working as opposed to being a tourist allows all expats the opportunity to deepen the connection with locals. Not that all take advantage of it, but as I did, leaving that life is like leaving behind members of one’s own family.