I recently took a trip back to the States for the first time after two years of living in Germany. My time in Europe has changed me in more ways than I could ever explain, and I expect to feel the effects of living abroad for the rest of my life. That being said, I was so excited to get back to America. I knew it was going to feel like coming home, complete with all the comfort that familiar places and faces can bring. But I wasn't prepared to be so shocked by the culture, a culture that I would normally define as my own, but that felt as foreign to me as Germany did when I first arrived. Reverse culture shock is such a strange thing to deal with, and I don't think anything could have prepared me for the adventures I was going to have in trying to readjust to American life. Here are some of the biggest differences in life in America versus life in Europe that stood out to me:
1. Bathroom door indicator.
European bathroom stalls are generally enclosed all the way to the floor and have convenient locks on them that turn red when the stall is occupied. This may seem completely ridiculous, but during my trip back to America, I literally had no idea if a stall was occupied or not, and standing on my head to figure it out just feels silly now. In Europe, there is no room for peeping and no unnecessary mid-potty break interaction. Their stalls are also extremely clean, so America, you've really got to work on your public restroom game.
2. Driving so slow.
I'm sure I'm just biased coming from Germany, but those 55mph speed limits really did drag after two years of racing down the Autobahn at 130k (80mph) or more.
3. Water towers.
I never understood why TV shows and movies featured water towers as a sign of Americana, but now I do. There are no water towers in Europe. I don't even know if water towers in America are in use or if they're just remnants of a bygone era.
There is so. much. stuff. I don't know how anyone handles it. I went to the mall looking for one thing and was overwhelmed by all of my options. In Europe, you do most of your shopping in tiny stores with hand-selected items. Even chain retailers are small. I was half-amazed, half-disgusted with all that we waste and think we need in America.
It's true, Americans are loud. There's really no way around it. After years of hushed conversations in European mom and pop restaurants, the hustle and bustle of a Chik-fil-a was almost too much for me. I felt rushed (you sit at a table in Europe for like three hours before you leave), and again overwhelmed with my options, the many conversations I was expected to have, and the sheer volume of the sound of Americans sitting down to dine.
Number five leads me to point six, the food. Oh boy, was I excited about eating American food. Burgers, fries, chimichangas, cheese dip, mall pretzels, double doozie sugar cookies, milkshakes, Dr. Pepper, chicken salad, mac and cheese, and pizza were my top priorities in going to the States. Everything was so packed full of flavor (maybe too much). In some cases, I was disappointed in old favorites, but in others completely satisfied by new things I ate. My taste has changed, but at least I know that America will always be ready to serve me the classics anytime I want them. Late night Sonic runs just don't happen in Europe.
7. Bad infrastructure.
We've got to work on our roads, people. They are horrendous. Don't even get me started on the lack of clean energy, the amount of trash left on the side of the road, and the inefficiency of many of our systems. There are a lot of things we get right, but this is one of those areas where we really need to learn how other countries are doing things better than we are.
Breaking the law in Germany is very serious, so people don't do it. Even something as minute as jaywalking isn't done here. I was literally surprised by the number of people I saw jaywalk in America because to me it's like this fundamentally wrong thing to do now.
9. People were nice.
I was kind of expecting a rude welcoming, which is funny coming from a country known for its direct and sometimes harsh people. That, however, is not what I found, which is great. Store clerks, airport workers, and waiters alike were all friendly, and speaking to them in a language I didn't have to struggle to remember made me appreciate the comfort of being in my own country.
10. Hearing everything.
I'm pretty used to being able to understand like 3% of what the people around me are saying, so being able to hear and comprehend everyone's conversations was insane. I simultaneously wanted to hide under a rock and listen to all of the conversations going on around me. Speaking the language of the country you're in is such a blessing and something that I will never take for granted again, but it comes with the price of knowing what everyone has to say about everything.