“Reverse culture shock and visiting home: Estonia vs. USA” — Jason (USA)
Having lived in Estonia for about two years now I have picked up on many of the local habits and customs. As I get ready to visit my family and friends back in America this summer, I am mentally preparing myself for some reverse culture shock. It’s been a year since I’ve been in the U.S. and my last visit had left me feeling out of place, as I had to readjust to my old life and habits. Besides having to remember that no one has any idea where I have been living for the past 2 years, here are 6 troubles I have with re-adapting to American life
1. Smiling and Waving
Estonians can be some of the most kind and thoughtful people around, but they are not known for being the most social. Here asking a cashier how their day is going, or saying hello to a stranger on the street is a rare event. While I am still a very friendly and sociable person even when in Estonia and still make random conversation with people, I have toned it down some what. I was actually creeped out when I was back home, and every person I walked by in my neighborhood waved at me, it was like some strange cult or murder movie… Also apparently in the U.S. if you make eye contact with someone you are supposed to smile at them. I had never realized this before as I just did it naturally. I had my Estonian poker face on and frequently got asked if I was upset.
The biggest difference in my opinion is restaurants. In Estonian restaurants can vary sometimes you order at the front and they bring your food or you’ll sit down at a table and order. Though the staff are often friendly for the most part, in a restaurant you are left on your own with only an occasional check in. While in the U.S. you receive so much attention. On my last trip back home I had a small panic attack as a server stopped at my table every few minutes to make small talk and continually reached over me and refill my drink, which I had also forgotten was a thing. As in Estonia you don’t get free refills so you must conserve your liquid resources. Not to mention it is not common practice to tip in Estonia, and tipping is a must in U.S. restaurants.
Estonia has also conditioned me to expect Wi-Fi everywhere. Almost every restaurant or cafe has Wi-Fi in Estonia. Even the occasional park or forest may even have a connection. At this point I have been conditioned to believe that Wi-Fi is a basic human right. Now being in the U.S. feels like going back in time to the dark ages, while there are plenty of restaurants and cafes with Wi- Fi they are often slow and have limited access. I had even gone to a cafe that had no Wi- Fi… What am I supposed to do without high speed internet? Talk to people? Read? I choose to curl up into a ball and cry.
4. Being punctual
The majority of Estonians are very timely people. When planning an event or a meeting with a friend it’s expected everyone will arrive at the exact time scheduled. Back in the U.S. if you plan to meet at 12:00 it means that I am going to text you “On my way!” when I haven’t even left my house yet. My Estonian friends were not happy about this habit and quickly trained me to arrive exactly on time. Now whenever I meet up with a friend in the U.S. I am on the receiving ends of these texts and am left waiting awkwardly for my friends to show up.
In Estonia it’s not particularly common to hold the door for some, and when you do you often get a strange look from the person like you just told them a Game of Thrones spoiler. Because of these reactions I only occasionally hold the door now. This gets me in trouble in the U.S. as it is common courtesy to hold the door, and to thank someone who holds the door for you. In the U.S. if someone holds the door for you, it is of utmost importance to say thank you! If not you are likely to have some one sassily come up to you and tell you that you are welcome!
6. The Metric System
In Estonia as with most of the world they use the metric system. The metric system system is known for being much more logical than the confusing American system. But ya know what the Metric system can’t measure? FREEDOM! Bet you thought I was gonna talk about how the metric system is so much better? Well wrong! Still have not learned it! The world can adapt to me! (I have learned some metric measurements though).
When you study in a new place and make it your new home, it can make you feel out of place in your old home. This just means your growing as a person and learning about a new culture and adjusting to a new pace of life. While it can be stressful and hard to re-adapt with a little humor, a positive attitude, and little time you can get along anywhere!