Reverse Culture Shock

Prepping for the 9 ½ hour flight from SeaTac Airport in Seattle to Charles De Gaul Airport in Paris last week – following 10 days stateside over the holidays – included packing snacks to combat mid-flight hunger. Since we were en route ultimately to Casablanca, that meant a goodie bag with a fabulous Washington State honeycrisp apple complemented by leftover pepperoni and sausage pizza from our last stateside meal, leftover bbq pork ribs from dinner the night before, and leftover bacon from the prior morning. Do we detect a theme here?

During our visit with three generations of Brian’s extended family, we pursued a culinary bucket list that, admittedly, tended to favor pork products like pork chops and apple sauce that we (i.e., carnivores Brian and Audrey, not vegetarian Charlotte) cannot easily procure and enjoy in Muslim Morocco. The list also included things like thick ribeye steaks grilled to perfection, baked potatoes, American ice cream, Taco Bell black bean burritos for Charlotte, and good Pacific Northwest seafood for Audrey. Flying back to the U.S. a couple weeks ago, we had every expectation that checking off items on our culinary bucket list would make us happy. We also expected to enjoy spending time with family and telling them about life in Morocco. Beyond that, we did not know what to expect as we experienced stateside life for the first time in five months.

Having heard from multiple sources that we would likely experience reverse culture shock upon our first trip back to the U.S., we had set our expectations blankly. Yet, re-acclimation proved fairly simple as we slipped right into American routine with little trouble. Perhaps our greatest controversy was over whether we preferred American or Moroccan shopping. Audrey prefers her small souks and hanouts; Brian enjoys these for Moroccan shopping, but likes the reliability, consistency, and variety of American stores. Still, we had several interesting epiphanies as our American days ticked off on the calendar.

First, upon landing in Paris for an overnight layover at the front end of our trip, Charlotte captured by comparison Moroccan roadways by saying of our taxi ride from CDG to our hotel off the Champs Elysèes that “driving here is so…ORGANIZED!” – a sentiment that applied stateside as well. Likewise, Audrey noted that, compared to Morocco, both France and America had gigantic parking spaces. Brian, so far the only one of us to drive in Morocco, found great contentment with not having to watch for scooters buzzing around like gnats and right lane drivers suddenly veering in front to turn left at an intersection.

Second, we missed the quiet of our Casablanca home. We do not have a television in Morocco, and so have no ubiquitous background of CNN or FOX or other cable news common in the States. We thought we would feel more plugged in and informed by having t.v. access again; instead, we just missed sitting quietly in the evening by the fireplace with a book or working on a computer.

Third, whereas upon arrival in Morocco everything here seemed so cheap, upon returning to the States everything back there seemed so expensive. (We have not yet hit the point of mentally converting American prices into Dirham – we still do the reverse to convert Dirham prices into USD values – but we understand from an expat friend that will mark a next step in our local adjustment.)  We took notice when one bag of groceries stateside cost almost as much as our weekly groceries in Morocco.

Fourth, reemphasizing what we learned prior to our departure last summer, many Americans know very little about Morocco. No, it is not the city-state on the French Riviera where Grace Kelly married Prince Rainier III to become Princess Grace after her Hollywood starlet years. No, it is not an Arab country on the Persian Gulf by Iraq. It is an open and friendly Muslim country in the northwest corner of Africa. Unlike in Paris, where we were evacuated temporarily from our terminal at Charles De Gaul Airport due to a security breach after we checked our bags to come home, we feel very safe in Morocco. As a side note, while family were happy to see us and asked how things were going, their interest was much more in us than in the details of what life in Morocco was like. That took us by surprise, since we were set to share the nitty gritty of Moroccan life, but it is good that they like us for US and not just for what we do or where we live.

Fifth, back to food, we discovered that things on our “Bring back from the U.S.” list that started taking form in our first week here last July shifted from need items to want items. Make no mistake, we brought back an entire suitcase of foodstuffs, meds, and vitamins that we cannot find in Morocco: Tony’s Cajun Seasoning, Morton’s Seasoning, chocolate chips, Shelby’s Chili Mix, Top Ramen, black beans, pinto beans, barley, Tostito’s cheese crack, Better Than Boullion, chili powder, crushed red pepper, brown sugar, and more. Yet, the urgency with which each went onto the list over five months dissipated between arriving back in Washington and departing 10 days later, so we did not fret when our list went incomplete. We do not need these things to survive – or even to thrive – they are just nice things to have. Likewise, we could not locate several things we had planned to bring back from our storage units – initially disappointing to note, but they are only things, and we will find them when we have time on another trip to sort through our entire storage space.

Sixth, it took nearly half the trip before we could let go of school and really enjoy our vacation. Once we did, we had a marvelous time.

Finally, and most importantly, as we approached the end of our busy stay, we looked at each other and agreed that the visit was very nice…but we missed Morocco and were ready to go home. Developmentally, it is similar to a college freshman who goes back “home” to mom and dad during Fall Break or Thanksgiving Break, then after returning for Winter Break cannot wait to go “home” to his or her dorm room and school community.

We had a wonderful vacation. We got to spend a few days with Charlotte’s older sister, Margaret, who headed north from college and jobs in Arizona to join family festivities. Brian got to introduce Charlotte and Margaret to the multigenerational family tradition of singing Handel’s “Messiah” oratorio on the day after Christmas at the long-running (since 1971) Messiah Sing-along & Play-along in Northeast Seattle. Charlotte reconnected with her “adopted” family from Arizona that was also visiting in Seattle at the same time. We shared a Christmas feast for 24 people covering three generations of siblings, cousins, aunts, and uncles in Brian’s extended family from Washington, California, Arizona, and Morocco. We reveled in the beauty of God’s creation as we enjoyed a white Christmas and snow-covered mountains. We explored Paris during overnight layovers both heading to America and over New Year’s Eve. It was a great trip, and a much-needed relaxing time after turbo-burning at school throughout the Fall and Winter.

And then it was great to come home.

On your mark…get set…here we go!

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