Reverse Culture Shock: What Happens When You Stop Traveling

Reverse culture shock

When you move abroad, everybody tells you about culture shock. It takes a hot second to grow accustomed to a new language, new business hours, new people, etc. What they don’t warn you about, though, is reverse culture shock. What happens when you return home. It’s not something you’d think about – why would you have to get used to something you’ve known all your life? Well, you’d be surprised! For example…

Options! Variety! Stress!

When I lived in Spain, I would walk 3 minutes to the Mercadona, pay about 15 euros for a week’s worth of groceries, and be done. Then, when I moved back to the States, I drove ten minutes to Publix, walked in, and was baffled with reverse culture shock. When I went to the bread section, I was stuck deciding between a dozen different brands of wheat bread! Why do we need that many options? I got so stressed trying to think, I found the cheapest brand and looked away! This reverse culture shock was much more stressful than my initial culture shock abroad!

Huge stores

Piggybacking off that last example, I was amazed at the sheer size of American stores. The Mercadona in Spain had about 4 aisles; in America, 4 aisles is just the toiletry section! To a degree, the hugeness of everything was kind of awe-inspiring for about a week. Once I had to make decisions about purchases, though, the reverse culture shock was too much.

Instant gratification

Now, I’m a huge fan of Amazon Prime. Spain has its own Amazon store, but it doesn’t include that service. Ordering something online meant waiting about a week for it to show up; as I mentioned before, efficiency is not one of Spain’s strong suits! However, when I came back home, I found out that Amazon had upped their game in my city: free two hour delivery! What?! Why is it so convenient? Why am I getting it the instant I want it?! Reverse culture shock? Yes. Stressful? Ha!


This is one of my favorite hobbies, more so when I arrive at a new place. When I returned home from Spain, I was slapped in the face by a statement I had made earlier: not only are Spaniards well-dressed, but Americans are decidedly…not. My fashion sense had gotten a bit of a boost while abroad, so walking around pedestrian Americans mixed with my reverse culture shock made me feel like some snobby, rich white girl: why am I dressed so well? Am I showing off? I must think I’m better than everyone around me!


I tell ya, when you forcibly learn how to communicate comfortably in a foreign language, coming back home and being able to talk in your own language with other native speakers is a breeze. I’ve been a tad shy in the past, and it was more obvious than ever that Spain really broke that barrier when I came home and was striking up conversation with everyone simply because I could and it was so easy. To be able to effortlessly communicate with a retail worker or server is something I will never again take for granted. I will willingly hold onto this bit of reverse culture shock as long as I can!


  1. My brother and sister-in-law live in Spain (Madrid) and just came back for a short vacation in the States. Their opinions are very similar to yours (and they even mentioned amazon being different – crazy!!).

  2. It sounds like that last bullet is a positive, at least! The way you shop in Spain and back home is how I shop everywhere. No need for a gazillion types of TP – grab the biggest pack with the lowest price per roll (without it being sandpaper) and peace out!

    • I wish it were that easy in the states! I have to take a solid minute to find the best price, it’s so difficult!

  3. This is so true – when I came back from 6 months travelling in India I had serious reverse culture shock.

  4. I had the same feeling when I went back to Belgium after spending two years in the wilderness of Australia and New Zealand. I was shocked to see how much choice there was in the stores. I just couldn’t do proper shopping because I was overwhelmed. I also had a hard time dealing with the daily stress and pressure on the streets, in shops, … I felt like I was moving in slow-motion while the rest of the people were rushing me by. It is not easy to go ‘home’ after a long while. I find the reverse culture shock even harder to deal with 🙂

    • I’ve heard some people find reverse culture shock more difficult. It’s more interesting to me than anything else!

  5. Now that I spend more than half my time away from the (small) city I grew up in, going back there is major culture shock. Since people there rarely travel overseas, they have this idea that foreign cities are war zones. They seem shocked when I tell them that violent crime rates in American cities are far higher than any European city I’ve visited.

  6. When I first moved overseas (many years ago!), I went to Tokyo for a year. I dealt with the initial Culture Shock just fine, but then I moved back to the UK and, BAM, Reverse Culture Shock hit me like a brick wall. I didn’t know what was wrong with me, but I was miserable and I struggled with it for 3 years. I was depressed and I didn’t really come out of it until I moved to Vietnam nearly 4 years later. I have not returned to the UK to live since, and it has never come back! I think it is really underestimated as a psychological condition.

    • Wow, mine wasn’t quite as extreme but I completely understand. I’m glad you found your way to a happier place. I guess you’ve just got a particularly strong travel bug!

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