I recently returned to my home country of America after living in Osaka for six years. I wasn't prepared for what to expect.
Recently, I was catching up with a friend at a Thai restaurant near Hollywood. When we finished eating, the waiter promptly put down the check. I handed over my debit card happy that lunch managed to remain just under 30 bucks. My card returned with a receipt, which I noticed included a small, blank line begging to be filled in just above where I had to sign. I squinted at it, confused, then gasped.
“I forgot about tipping!”
Though born and raised in the United States (and even having worked in restaurants there), I’d totally blocked the existence of tips from my brain. I’d recently returned to start a new life in Los Angeles after a six-year stint in Osaka, where, as in the rest of Japan, servers get paid an hourly wage, which means they aren’t constantly hovering over your table waiting to refill your water after a single sip in the hopes you’ll remember to spot them an extra yen.
Reverse culture shock had me in its grasp.
Contrary to its name, however, reverse culture shock isn’t the opposite of culture shock—the reversal is the return home after residing abroad. What was previously familiar has now, for one reason or another, become perplexingly foreign. I spent 23 years in America before moving to Japan, so moving to the land of raw fish and talking toilets was obviously an adjustment. What I didn’t imagine was how weird it would be to return home after a relatively short six years away.
Yet, reverse culture shock is a blast. Everything feels so fresh and exciting. Even when I make myself look silly in my ignorance (we don’t swipe cards anymore at checkout, apparently), I find the experience delightful. Every day is both a struggle and a treasure as I relearn how to function in my home country and I’m enjoying being amazed by a number of “new” discoveries. Here are a few that I’ve been most shocked by, which highlight some of the key differences between the US and Japan — based on my personal experience.
Japanese people are typically more polite, but Americans are friendlier
When I leave home now, no matter the situation, I interact with strangers. People on the street smile and say hi, cashiers strike up conversations, and people I’m waiting in line with become my friends. Strangers compliment my hair color and joke around with me totally unprompted. It makes my day every time.
Japanese people, by contrast, don’t often speak to those they don’t know (unless alcohol is involved). There’s a strict level of formality and politeness that gets in the way of strangers interacting on a real, human level. Once you get to know Japanese people, their personalities come out and it’s a delight, but I’m enjoying the absence of any barriers in the first place. It’s refreshing.
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