Since we had seen her last, our friend had spent three weeks in Japan visiting her family and friends. She wasn’t sure how the visit would go but had no expectations and found the trip really nice. This was a big change from the previous trip to her homeland where she had high hopes of moving back yet ended up feeling less than enthusiastic about Japan and more than happy to return to Canada.
When Hitoshi and I moved to Canada, I was terribly unhappy. I didn’t want to leave Japan, even though we were going for me for school, but H’s heart had moved to Canada a few months earlier! I was grumpy and hated everything. The climate dried out my skin. Public transit users seemed to have no manners and I lost count of the times I was almost hit trying to cross the street. Vegetables and fruits were tasteless. Fish seemed impossible to find, chicken was shockingly expensive and the meat section was a sea of beef. We went to a restaurant and ate soupy, overcooked pasta and I grudgingly tipped. I also knew about culture shock and reverse culture shock and had the stages memorized.
This was the third time I’d returned to Canada after an extended period away. Now I had someone to share it with though and I couldn’t figure out why my husband so easily slipped into Canadian life. It wasn’t all a paradise but compared to the dark cloud permanently stapled to my forehead and my almost daily expression that rivaled a wet cat in a wind tunnel, I resented my husband’s happiness. I pleaded with him to join me in my misery but he refused. He even said it was my fault I was miserable and told me his secret, “I have no expectations.”
No expectations?! Isn’t that what life is all about? I thought about his statement. I got mad. How could he see Canada any other way? (This coming from the same person who insistently and stubbornly told H not to generalize about Canada, Canadians and cultures.) Eventually I started to understand (and maybe even believe) his perspective.
Our friend mentioning expectations over dinner reminded me of H’s similar perspective and I wondered if my frustration was due to my expectations. I’d been expecting my new city to be like my hometown, even down to the weather. In the seven years between finishing my first degree and leaving Canada in 2005, I had built a story of happiness, greatness and wonder about my new city and my dream was hardly realized.
I will dare to generalize and simplify in saying that many of my frustrations and difficulties originate in unrealistic expectations. I am not sure I am ready to amend my rulebook permanently but the next time I narrow my eyes and release a puff of steam or run away in fear, I will try to consider if my expectations need some love.
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What experiences have you had with culture shock and/or reverse culture shock?