Reverse cultural shock or my first hours back in the U.S.

“For those of you coming home tonight, welcome home”.

I had told myself I would be emotional during my ‘grand’ return home, but somewhere along the way, I started chocking back tears when my flight took off from Pudong airport (those being tears of happiness, of course), and shed a few more upon realizing I had an Economy Premium row (on United, but still) all to myself. I may have also bawled when the plane finally touched down, coming face-to-face with the U.S. flag in the arrival gate of the International Terminal of O’Hare (one of my only moments of ardent Patriotism, but I’ll chalk it up to the Jet Lag).

To be honest, my first minutes in O’Hare were actually a bit unpleasant, It was a rude and disorienting welcome home, but at the same time, I think I was okay with that. I immediately got called out by a pair TSA agents for cutting the security line (a habit I took back with me from China); I was sent to extra screenings because I no longer look like my circa-2007 passport photo (“her blonde hair is full of secrets!”); and I got body-checked by a middle-aged Shanghainese man at the baggage carousel, because United makes you pick up your bags and drop them off again before connecting flights (even if that collecting flight leaves in just an hour and a half).

But honestly, none of those small things felt like they mattered. I was too busy losing my mind over being back, texting my friends about the most mundane things (Greek Yogurt! Trash Cans! Recycling! Napkins! A Starbucks that wouldn’t serve me coffee!). For the first hour, I felt mildly mentally-challenged (okay, more than mildly). I lined up in the wrong queue for my plane, had no idea how to approach people (in the U.S., 不好意思 just simply wouldn’t cut it), and looked just a little too sleep-deprived and un-showered (I swear I had showered, just 20 hours ago and 8,000 miles away) to be boarding a two-hour Chicago-NYC flight, so I definitely received a few disapproving looks.

But it didn’t matter. I didn’t matter at all. I was surrounded by people who looked like me, spoke the same language as me, and had the same hygiene standards as me (farewell, squat toilets!). And yes, in the grand scheme of things, that’s not what the U.S. is actually about. I don’t feel like an outsider in China simply because I don’t look Chinese, that answer is much more complicated. But being in a country where you are surrounded by your native language for the first time in a year is simply amazing.


I haven’t posted, or even opened my computer in a week. It’s been an exhilarating, crazy week during which I’ve barely slept, have already eaten irresponsible amounts of Chipotle, and have had to spend hours in several sweltering lines for the Chinese consulate (both successfully and unsuccessfully).

I have so much to write about, about myself, about the U.S., about returning to New York, to New Haven, to LA, about what changed (me) and what hadn’t (the Metro-North trains, spontaneously going backwards on my commute yesterday). I’ve been getting my thoughts into words, and I need more time, because everything I am writing (this entry included) is coming out as word vomit. I have so much on my mind and over the next few days, as I spend my nights in Bushwick (okay, how have I never been to Williamsburg after all these years?) drinking craft beer and organizing what I’ve been scribbling in Evernote.

It’s oh so good to be back.

12 thoughts on “Reverse cultural shock or my first hours back in the U.S.”

  • Welcome… home? Take you time to soak it all in. I’ve just read a very good novel – The Perfect Fool, by Stewart Lee – which has the line near the end, possibly ancient Hopi wisdom, of which “sometimes it takes years to see the shapes in the smoke”.

    • I’ve been having a lot of conflicting feelings on this trip, supplemented by reading Anya Von Brezmen’s “Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking”, which is bringing my Russian site to life too.

      • I didn’t know then if the great-sounding “Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking” was really a cookbook or an interesting novel like ‘Salmon Fishing in the Yemen’ or ‘A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian’. I haven’t read any of them. I see now it’s food writing so probably closer to the latter than the former. Enjoy your trip for as long as it lasts. I’m not sure I would want to leave again… which is why you are the better, more adventurous, person. Good luck.

        • Thank you! I may need to be pushed on the plane kicking and screaming, but that was sort of the way I went last time, so I’m already bracing myself haha

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