Saturday, January 14, 2012

Temporary Reverse Culture Shock

By: Miranda, stateside

I am lucky enough to have gotten to come home to the states for a Christmas visit this year. After two years of living on Yap it has been quite a shock to be thrown back into the Western World. Not only is it hovering at 40 degrees, a shocking 40+ degrees cooler than I am used to these days, but also I have returned to a place that is the same, but different all at the same time. It’s ok, because I too am the same but different.

After 24 hours of (time) travelling, arriving just 5 hours (by the clock) after I left Yap, I got teary when the plane touched down at Seatac International Airport. I am home. The tears may have had something to do with the playlist IDSCN2121 created for the occasion. It is filled with tunes that make me think of my home (Hello Seattle by Owl City) and songs about going home (Homeward Bound by Simon and Garfunkel). It also may have had something to do with being awake for some 36 hours straight and the stress caused by travelling half way across the world alone.

I have been lucky enough to not have to experience Yap alone, always having Mike at my side to take the hits as well as celebrate the joys. I haven’t felt alone in such a long time.  Living in Yap’s culture commands that I take a back seat, as a woman, so I haven’t done a whole lot that’s makes me feel independent in awhile now. Flying thousands of miles away from him was very difficult. This trip has been the most time we have spent apart since meeting in 2003.

DSCN2079After such a long time away from home it was such a relief to step foot onto something familiar. I had told many people after I booked my ticket that it would not be a reality that I was going home until I stepped foot in “my” airport. I couldn’t have been more right. That moment when I came up the escalator to see my eager parents waiting for me with huge smiles was priceless. I have spent my time here seeing many people who I love and who love me. I have roller-skated, eaten, cuddled with our cats, and observed home with fresh eyes.


During my visit here I have been able to DSCN2059compare and contrast how both I and my home have changed. My mind keeps going back to that blog post I recently wrote about what our new normal is on Yap. There are things here that now don’t seem normal, or at least harder to navigate, after living in another culture. There are also things that are completely new to me that did not exist when we left. It is difficult to see some of the things we have missed, especially when it comes to milestones in loved one’s lives. We have missed weddings, babies being born, and friends moving away. Seattle (and Bremerton) has changed some too. There are new buildings and some old ones are gone.  Seattle has it’s own Hard Rock CafĂ© now! There is, what I think, a beautiful suicide barrier on the Aurora bridge that I am sure has saved at least a few lives since it’s installation. Downtown has grown and changed, but still has the same feel that I love.

Some things only seem like they have changed, but then I realize it is me that has changed. I couldn’t help but noticing all the couples holding hands, kissing, and wrapping their arms around each other. I am no longer used to seeing public displays of affection. People on Yap rarely hold hands, hug, or *gasp* kiss in public. It is now startling to me to see people doing this openly in public, especially those that take it a little too far! Every day I drive Mike to work, and before he gets out of the car I glace around real quick then give him a quick kiss. It feels scandalous every time!

The abundance of choices in the stores here in the statesDSCN2035 is now completely overwhelming to me. I stood with my mouth open for five minutes just trying to decide which toothpaste to buy. This happened with most purchases I had to make throughout my trip, including choosing which menu item to order at restaurants. Not only are there too many choices within each decision, like toothpaste, but there are products I have never even seen before, like these bicycle helmets. To me, these seem fairly bizarre, but keep in mind my “normal” is so different now.

Along with products I have never seen before, there are new technologies or traditions that are foreign to me. It was sometimes a challenge to navigate these for the first time. Since we left there is a new type of street signal. It took me a few intersections (and angry motorists honking at me) to understand that a blinking yellow left turn arrow on a light at an intersection means that left-turning cars may turn while yielding instead of waiting for their own green left turn arrow. Another new thing was that in Seattle there are now three waste containers in all fast food restaurants. Instead of just one garbage can, there are now also a compost and recycling can next to the garbage can. Of course I was happy to see this, but often stood in front of these cans contemplating where all my left over items went. There is very limited recycling available on Yap, so sorting recycling is something I have not done in awhile.

When I am out around town here I keep expecting to see someone I know anywhere I go. On Yap I do without fail. Here at home, when I see the same car as someone I once knew I assume it is them, even if they don’t live here anymore. On Yap you can recognize a car driving down the street as your friend’s from afar and then when you pass each other is is customary to wave. I have had to think DSCN2058twice before waving at cars that are the same make, model and color of people I know here. When I enter a store or restaurant I expect to see a familiar face somewhere. Even if it isn’t someone I know well, I always recognize at least someone everywhere I go on Yap. I have craved the anonymity of a larger city many days on Yap. Some days I just want to go to the store, get what I need and get home without being recognized, seen, or stopped by someone I know. But now that I am here, I feel weird not having that happen. I didn’t know a single person at Pike Place Market. There were thousands of people there, how did I not know any of them?

I actually enjoy, and currently miss, that all the cashiers at the stores, the tellers at the bank, and even the guy at the gas station know me. They may only know me as “AG’s wife” but they still know who I am. I am always seen as a person before a customer with pockets full of money. The latter being how I feel here. Store staff here only want to help me find something so I will buy it, not because they want to help me with what I need. Maybe when we move back we will have to live in a smaller town, or I will make a greater effort to get to know these workers I see on a regular basis. It does help that there aren’t endless numbers of employees at each establishment. I have to say it makes me smile every time when I walk into our bank and the teller, whose name I do know, smiles and greets me with a “Hello Mrs. Nigrey” before I even get to the counter and hand her my deposit slip with my name on it.

It was great to see Seattle and how it has grown and changed during our absence. I wandered aroundDSCN2052 the city with a goofy grin on my face taking pictures of things that typical tourists wouldn’t even notice.  this picture is of the viaduct, which since we have left has begun to be torn down. I stopped at a few tourist spots that I had always taken for granted, like Pike Place Market, Westlake Center, and Fremont, our old neighborhood. I drove by our old apartment, where we lived for six years and was a little uncomfortable seeing that someone was living in our old apartment! How dare they?!?

As for changes I have noticed in myself, I am much more comfortable with going with the flow of things compared to when I left. DSCN2147This was built out of necessity of learning how to live with what you have, not what you want. Being more easy going creates less stress in my life and allows me to listen and observe more. I am a little more quiet because of this, but it is a quiet confidence. I am definitely more confident. I can handle just about anything that is thrown my way these days *knock on wood*. 

With all this being said, there really is no place like home, especially during the holidays. After coming here and being reminded of the fast paced life we left behind to live on a tiny tropical island, I have reaffirmed what I miss the most- the people that I love, the comfortable feeling that familiarity provides, and good food. I have spent time with many people who I have known at various stages of my life. I felt it in my bones who I am and where I come from. I gathered strength and courage to return to our tiny island where things are always tropical, but aren’t always paradise.

I have roller-skated, eaten a variety of foods that I have missed and craved enough to have dreams about, saw DSCN2130 - Copya movie in a theater, and I have cuddled our cats. I have remembered what shivering feels like.  I have gazed at the Cascade and Olympic Mountains with wonder. I forgot how big and beautiful they are! I have forgotten how beautiful my home is, and how the people I love contribute to that beauty. Even the rainiest days in Seattle are bright when you are surrounded by marvelous people who know you well, and understand you. I will miss them all, and instead of saying “good-bye” I will settle for “see you later” because these people are everywhere I look if I look hard enough, especially if I look in the mirror.



Thank you to all of my friends and family who housed, fed, and loved me during my visit. Who listened to me tell parts of our story on Yap, and who let me hug them a little longer than they felt comfortable with, I have been waiting too long to hug you quickly! I can’t wait to do it again!

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