On being a tourist in my own country

When I first came home I was a lot of things. Tired, excited, impatient, hoping my luggage hadn’t burst open in transit. Happy to see my parents. Overjoyed to fall into my bed. Beside myself at the cereal selection in the cabinet. And then some point after all the emotional spikes leveled out and my body adjusted to the new time zone, I realized: I’m not in Spain any more.

One of the last cards I received before I departed was from my dear friend Holly, who will soon be off on her own wonderful adventures. She sent me a wonderful card from Etsy with a quote from W. Maugham: “I do not bring back from the journey quite the same self that I took.” This is easily the most obvious answer for what we know to be reverse culture shock. Even the Europeans know about it – as this article in Cafe Babel points to the ERASMUS program for the same reason, referring to it as “ex-Erasmus syndrome”.  A dramatic quote from the article underscores the most shocking realizations of coming home:

“El ex Erasmus no lo descubre hasta que no vuelve: su casa le parecerá cutre, su pueblo frío, la facultad horrible, la tele lúgubre, los amigos inútiles”. “The ex-Erasmus [student] doesn’t discover it until he doesn’t return: your house is eh, your town is eh, your school is eh, TV is eh and your friends are eh.” Thank you, Debbie Downer!

Ok, it’s not that bad. Reverse culture shock is not so much like hitting a brick wall but more of a soft bounce in a rubber room. It does have that touch of insanity to it, as is usually associated with rubber rooms. Sometimes, I have distinct moments where I am suddenly confused that I’m here, not there, despite the fact I am most definitely in North America. Equally startling are the times when I’m deep in conversation with a friend or colleague and still mentally reach for Spanish.

As a direct result of being away for the better part of a year, re-entry means a social life on fire. I have been out at a restaurant once if not twice every day this week. Friends are in flux throughout the city and now I’m back at work in a familiar place for the summer, adding hordes of colleagues to the welcome wagon. This? Is awesome. It’s exhausting both on my brain and my wallet (and my gas tank) but it is exactly what I was thinking of those days in Spain when I was craving home.

So what’s all the commotion about? Here are some of the (silly) things I’ve been coping with since my arrival:

I wanted a sandwich – a real, honest-to-god, piled high with preservative loaded meats and cheeses sandwich. You know what? I’m over it. I think I’ve had two. Where are the bakeries in this godforsaken town? I need a panaderia, stat. Pass me a baguette before I hit you over the head with this ridiculous loaf of sandwich bread.

I prefer warm milk in my coffee, not cold. Really this is wildly intelligent if you think about it .. your coffee stays hot a lot longer. Even when it is sub-par, American coffee.

I am having a really hard time finding things to do for free. Everything costs money! Which is something I don’t have a lot of these days. I made the mistake (twice) of walking into one of those fro-yo places where you pay by weight for your cup of yogurt and toppings and stared blankly at the $11 result for two cups of yogurt.

My parents live in the suburbs. We drive everywhere, out of necessity. There are three people in my house, and therefore = 3 cars. I missed my car with a fiery passion and although I am incredibly happy to be driving again .. I’d rather not. As Natalie is rediscovering in California – we are on the hurt for public transportation in a big way here in These United States.

There is volleyball, glorious volleyball. And Gatorade! (a non entity in Spain). Yes, I have to drive to my all of my matches, but after an 8 month dry spell, I’d drive across the country to reach the nearest volleyball court. And if I keep eating at all of these local restaurants, I am going to have to jack up my gym regimen.

The ENGLISH. Remember my violent reaction to the valley girls that were seemingly crawling the walls of the Cathedral and leaking out into the streets of Sevilla speaking their hideous, like, language? It would be appear that they all live here, in my town. I realize that I’m now back in the land where it is almost impossible not to eavesdrop because everyone is speaking your native language. It is extremely distracting!

The SPANISH. I need to sign up for a book group at Barnes and Noble or something. My mom tells me to speak Spanish to her and she promises to smile and nod. This is a valiant effort on her part, but I really do need someone to talk back to me in this precious language. My concern is not that I will lose my speaking abilities, just a preference to keep on speaking.

I’ve been home for 15 days and have not yet hooked up my cell phone. You know what? I don’t want to! At first it was a monetary decision, now its just the principal of the thing. My friends are annoyed, my parents are not a fan, but I think it’s spectacular. Just facebook me, I’ll get to you .. in due time 🙂


16 thoughts on “On being a tourist in my own country

  1. I love this post! I find myself replying “Sí?” when someone calls my name. Ha. Or searching for the word extrañar and finding it doesn’t exist. At least not exactly.


    • direct translation is tricky, isn’t it? In my summer job I’m in this interesting situation where people will say “do you remember XYZ?” and the first thing to my lips is “Me suena.” I can’t bring myself to say “rings a bell”


  2. Love this too! I feel really similar to a lot of things you mentioned – especially the incessant social activity. It’s a little weird how I’ve been gone for 9 months though and everyone else seems THE SAME.



    • That Spanish article really hit the nail on the head – its absolutely THE SAME, overwhelmingly so. Sometimes to the point where you wonder if you really ever left at all ..


  3. I am half excited for my Great American Return after 20 monthsm half dreading how much things will have changed. My dog has gone blind, a smattering of friends have goteen pregnant. I have missed FOUR weddings in the past three weeks. I always thought my life in Spain never really moved forward, even as Kike gets more and more crow’s feet and my babies master their fine motor skills. Then, I realized that time moves here the same, only I get to experience it in Spain.

    And, for the record, my not having a phone the first two months I spent in Spain while studying abroad was a VERY welcome change.

    Ya con ganas de verte por aquí, Rubita!


    • Y tu tambien, quilla! I know your trip home will be a whirlwind, as all such trips are… but it will be wonderful. Then you can write me a list of things I should bring you when I come back in September 🙂


  4. Great post.

    I lived in France for 8 months when I was 25 and when I went back to Toronto (where I had lived for decades) actually got lost a few times as I had forgotten some streets! I started to speak a very weird form of English (plane station for airport, papery for stationery store) and people told me (as I bet they are telling you) that I really waved my hands a lot more when I spoke.

    I have been back in North America for decades, but miss France terribly and hope to retire there. You’re also back at a terrible time in some ways — the U.S. economy is truly in the toilet and politics more toxic than ever. As an ex-pat, you’re freed of such tedious concerns. You’re also surrounded by people who don’t own or use a passport, let alone think in another language and that can feel very isolating.


    • Thanks, Caitlin! I do find myself hand-waving and using phrases that really only sound good in one language and not the other. Why is a second language so much more satisfying sometimes? The word I struggled with after my first 6 months abroad was “prescription” .. receta? recipe? receipt? You know, the thing at the pharmacy ..


  5. I was an auxiliar in Galicia, and I definitely agree with every word of your post. It’s strange how things you thought were normal for most of your life can be changed so quickly! Great post 🙂


    • thanks, Ashlee 🙂 If you were in Galicia last year you may know my friend Natalie – I think you may appreciate her blog title: http://itsrainingspain.wordpress.com/
      will you return to Spain this fall for another round?


  6. Glad to hear you made it back to America safely as well! It’s crazy how weird and unfamiliar it can feel to be back, I’ve been home a month now and still dream about Spain and wake up confused. I’m so glad I’ll be going back once I get my visa/residency sorted out. Did you renew in Sevilla or elsewhere?


  7. I’d give just about anything to avoid getting a new visa.. I’ll be staying in the same high school in Cartaya, can’t beat the proximity to Sevilla, la playa, and Portugal! Suerte chiquilla


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