Years ago I was reflecting on culture shock, and reverse culture shock, and reverse reverse culture shock with some other expat women who have been doing this whole back and forth between cultures much longer than we have. One gave some excellent advice that I have found so helpful. She recommended making a list of everything that shocks you – whether it’s about your passport country or the country you live in – and looking over that list before you travel to remind yourself of what was difficult.
I found that super helpful because a big part of culture shock is the… shock. It’s the things you don’t expect, the feelings that come out of nowhere with seemingly no explanation, that cause such a feeling of dissonance.
I remember the last time we were in the US, driving was such a strange feeling. I felt oddly claustrophobic. It makes no sense, really. I rarely drive in Beirut, and the hours I’ve spent in a car in the US far outweigh the amount of time I’ve spent driving in Lebanon. But Lebanese driving has become my new default, and it’s jarring to feel uncomfortable driving here in America. But by reminding myself of how weird it feels before my feet even touch American soil, it has been less of a shock this time around.
Another new default I find myself fighting is the tendency to… to put it plainly… hoard. When I see black beans (for a reasonable price!) at a supermarket in Lebanon, I buy them. All of them. As in, every single can there is. Because we love black beans and just because there are six jars on the shelf one week doesn’t guarantee that they will be there the next week, or the six months to follow.
So you can imagine what walking through Target is like. It is so hard to reset the default of “oh, I see it, I am gonna need it eventually, I should buy it right now.” It’s especially hard when things are so so so cheap here. Like baby wipes for $1.97, vs. the $8 I would pay for the exact same wipes in Beirut. In the almost month that we’ve been here, I’ve only been in to Target once, and basically I put my hands on the side of my head like blinders so I wouldn’t see the kids clothes or household items. I’m sure my mom really enjoyed that shopping trip, haha!
That’s not to say we don’t go back with three times as many bags as we came with. I keep a running list of things all year that we either can’t get in Beirut or that are so much cheaper here that it makes sense to stock up when we can. Shoes for the kids, clothing in the next size up for Luka and Isla, toothpaste and mascara are all things that we can get so much cheaper here. I want to be wise with our resources and if I can save money by buying things here, I want to do that. I know it seems a little ridiculous to save space in my bag for 3 years’ worth of mascara, but it’s even more ridiculous to pay $20 a tube in Beirut when it’s only $5.47 here. This is when Amazon becomes my best friend, because I don’t have to actually walk through the store and see all the things I didn’t know I needed… or you may in fact see me on next month’s episode of Hoarders.