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Essay

Like a fish out of water

By David Yenches

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After 40 years away from the U.S.A., including 31 years in Tokyo, my wife and I are back here to live — and we're both feeling a bit of reverse culture shock. I grew up near Miami and now we've moved to northwestern Washington State. It's about 4,400 km from my hometown in Florida.

Moving from the Tokyo megalopolis to a small town is another part of the reverse culture shock we are experiencing. As we watched wild deer walking around our house and we identified the birds in nearby trees today, my wife said, "What are we doing here?"

Literature on reverse culture shock says boredom and reverse homesickness are two of the main things to watch for. Reverse homesickness, yes; after two months here, my wife says, "I want to go HOME to Tokyo!" Boredom, no; every week has brought painters, carpenters, moving vans, delivery trucks, cable TV and Internet installers, gardeners, and roof-moss and rain-gutter cleaners.

At a big-box office supply shop, we were checking out and paying by debit card when we saw that "cash back" was an option on the screen: $20 (¥2,200), $30 (¥3,300) or $50 (¥5,600). We asked the cashier how much we could get. She said, "As much as you want." Great, we thought, free money! We chose the maximum, $50, but it turned out the cashier just gave us the cash and added $50 to our total. We said, "Huh?" but she told us it was just if you wanted some walking-around cash. New to us!

Strangers here, like our checkout operator, often strike up a conversation. "How are you doing today? Did you find everything you need?" If you answer, "Not too bad," that's not right. You should say, "I'm doing great, how about you?"

We've also learned how important it is to have a credit history. The fact that we bought our house in cash isn't actually a good thing. It means we had no credit history and so couldn't lease a car. We ended up buying a used one, and the car dealer helped us set up payments to get our credit rating started.

In Japan, people buy from vending machines or at convenience stores with IC cards. Fast and easy! Sometimes here, we have to wait patiently in the checkout line while the person in front of us writes out a check by hand, signs it, and then passes it to the cashier.

Internet sites on reverse culture shock talk about expecting the unexpected and unanticipated. How about 30-minute calls that make us push endless numbers through endless menus: "We value your call, and it may be recorded for quality control and training purposes ..." I want to go HOME!!!

水から出た魚のように

31年間の東京生活を経て、40年ぶりに母国アメリカに引っ越した筆者は現在、ちょっとした「逆カルチャーショック」を経験中だという。慣れない生活習慣の違いに困惑する日々が続いている。

The Japan Times ST: May 13, 2016

The Japan Times ST 読者アンケート

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