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Reverse Culture Shock: Thoughts of an Expat

So you wanna know what reverse culture shock is like when returning home for the holidays after living in the Philippines for half a year? No? Sorry, I can’t hear you over the sound of my denial that not everyone wants to entertain a day-by-day play of my last six months.


You will land at the Dallas Fort Worth airport and the first thing you’ll think is “dang, Americans are….. tall“. You’re already feeling short and stubby and miss feeling like the Amazonian, statuesque queen you were in the Phils. You’ve literally been the tallest person in several crowded elevators full of beautiful Filipino people, at a towering 5’4.

As you lament the fact that you’re once again the tiny Russian babuschka you’ve always been, you start looking for a CR. You’re looking around and around and then you realize, you need to stop saying “where is the comfort room?” because you sound like an heiress on a reality TV show where she discovers what the middle class is.

You revert back to saying “bathroom” and find it. The Trump Towers of public restrooms. A little tacky, very spacious, and filled with a sense of entitlement. Just look at all this toilet paper! And just for you! You could flush a whole roll of it and the American pipes would not even dawdle! You’re a queen! A queen, I say!

As you celebrate using 40-ply again, you realize that you’ve just thrown your used toilet paper away in the trashcan. BECAUSE YOU’VE BEEN DOING IT FOR SIX MONTHS AND IT’S NOT WEIRD IN THE PHILIPPINES. In fact, it’s an incredibly rude thing to do to flush toilet paper in the toilets there because then you’ve screwed up the septic system for the whole building and also everyone super knows it was an American who would be dumb enough to do it. You’ve had to guiltily explain to your building’s plumber that you’re an idiot who thought that her home would be a safe haven from this general rule before so you learned this lesson fast.

You contemplate picking it back up out of the trash to flush away but then think “that’s so luxurious and American and wasteful!”

And then you realize that’s it’s absolutely insane to contemplate fishing used toilet paper out from a trashcan, as equally insane as it was to have done it in the first place.

You’ve now been in the stall for a super weird amount of time, having a reverse culture shock-induced mental breakdown and should leave before the customs line gets insanely long. You vow that when you return to the Philippines, you’ll man up and just learn how to use the little bidet faucet even though it scares you and you’ve never quite learned what this thing was supposed to be used for.

I honestly just can’t fathom its functions and purpose but it’s in practically every CR in the Phils

Before you go though, you take a big gob of paper towel and put it in your purse.

You freeze. Why the heck did I just instinctually do that, you think. Well because in the Philippines, you’ve always stocked your purse up with restaurant napkins and toilet paper to use in emergencies (aka most every public bathroom) and this tactic has literally saved your ass on several occasions. You have not experienced real friendship until you’re SOL at a pitstop on a road trip and your friend generously rips her only tissue in half in an act of sacrifice akin to that our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

But you’re in America now, baby, where toilet paper flows free like rivers of Diet Coke. But will you keep it in your purse for the entire duration of your vacation? Yes, yes you will.

Because this wasn’t even about public bathroom etiquette at all… was about the changing nature of “home” and “normal” and “self” and

“Ma’am, are you okay, you’ve been in there for fifteen minutes?”.


Over your time in the States, you are reminded of things you didn’t even know you had gotten used to missing. Whenever someone said something like “I don’t like going there; it’s so far away” or “traffic was really bad”, you have a good chuckle like you’re sharing an inside joke with all of the Philippines.

Get a load of these guys, you heartily snicker. Americans know that a forty minute drive will be a forty minute drive plus or minus a little. You’ve been in Uber rides that have taken an hour and half for what should have been fifteen minutes. Oh, sweet summer children.

You’ll longingly look over a bountiful feast of turkey, potatoes, and praline pie, and think to yourself….it’s not a real meal without rice. And then you’ll say it out loud and no one will get it, and you’ll stare longingly out a window, knowing somewhere out there, the Jollibee Bee is gazing back.

You’ll miss seeing karaoke places everywhere, and jeepneys, and motos somehow carrying three generations of a family and a suitcase, and the hunky Century Tuna ads with inexplicably shirtless men eating tuna, and warm, welcoming people instead of the Seasonal Affective White Walkers that inhabit Indiana this time of year.

You’re thankful for getting to be home and getting to be an American in America. You’ll appreciate everything with vigor, down to straws being provided on Fridays and breathable air and not having anxiety every time you’re in public and have to use a bathroom. You’ll love going a full day without someone insisting you try balut, when you have on good authority that they themselves had never tried it.

But by the end, you’ll be ready to go back…home.

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And guess what?! You’ll get reverse reverse culture shock when you get back. Yay!

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