Reverse Culture Shock - Moving Back to the US

Last week I wrote about the culture shock I experienced when I first moved to Poland back in 2013. And naturally, I need to write about the reverse culture shock when I moved back to the US earlier this year. 

Taking the decision to move back to the US was extremely difficult for me because I loved living in Poland so much. Not only that, but I was able to meet incredible people, who I now call friends, I got to experience, for the most part, how wonderful different societies are, and of course, I got to travel a whole lot! So imagine a mid-20 year old woman moving back to her home country. Before, when I visited my family in Florida, it was like a vacation, so things don’t really bother you. But now that I have been living here for 6 months (time flies!!!!) there are things that definitely would be considered as reverse culture shocks. Here’s my list:

  • Food Portions - One of the things you immediately notice when you move back to the US or if you visit the US for the first time is the food portions. It is quite incredible, even for me now. The portions are enormous, and it’s not only with food but with drinks! One of my students and I used to go out for lunch for our lesson every Friday. Right after lunch, we would get something sweet because, thankfully, we both appreciated such things in life! In the summer, our favorite spot to go to was this little ice cream shop named Bacio di Caffè in Sopot. There we would get a small ice cream cup. For me, the size of it was perfect. It wasn’t too small or too big - just perfect. Imagine, I moved back to Florida and the first thing I want to do is go to the beach and what do you do after beaching all day?! Get some ice cream, of course! And so, that is what I did. Got some ice cream. I ordered a small ice cream up. And to my amazement the portion of it seemed equivalent to an extra large portion back in Poland. One American cup would be equivalent to at least 3 Polish cups. And that’s certainly not exaggerating. 
  • Obsession with Guns - I am completely biased with this because I have never been a fan of guns. But the thought of gun ownership evaporates from your mind after living in Europe for so long. And that’s exactly what happened with me. Anytime I would go to a movie theater in Poland, I never thought about a crazy man coming in the theater and start shooting randomly at people. A situation like that was non-existent when I lived in Poland. Sadly, this is very real in the US. Even though I haven’t been living here that long, there has already been several mass shootings, that I’m sure many of your have heard. These situations are, I hate to say it, common here. What frustrates me the most is the lack of action within the government, leaders, and gun owners. After the Las Vegas mass shooting, the President of the US, Trump, instead of tightening gun laws, he instead loosened them. You can read more about it in this article.  
  • Vehicles - Another thing that shocks you as soon as you arrive is the size of cars! When I was living in Poland I was planning on purchasing a car. Then, I was in a serious relationship with someone and we had a dog together, Frankie. Frankie is an extremely friendly Rottweiler, which weighs a hefty 53 kilos. Thanks to Frankie, we were considering purchasing an SUV. Every summer, we would drive to Finland and we also planned on making lots of road trips all over Europe with Frankie in the backseat or trunk. In our hunt for a car, we were seriously considering purchasing the BMW X1, the smallest SUV BMW offers. To me, at that time, it seemed pretty enormous. That I was persuading my ex-boyfriend to perhaps go for something smaller. The reason for my persuasion was simply because I was going to be the main driver, and honestly, I already had trouble parallel parking with a regular sedan. And so, when I moved back and started driving again, I came across a BMW X1 and it seemed so small! The cars around it towered over that car. It amazes me how much Americans love big things. Go big or go home, right? 
  • Smiling Faces - Even though I lived in Poland for almost 4 years my habit of smiling at others never disappeared. But I have to say, I did get used to people not smiling back at me or even smiling at me before I had a chance to smile at them. So the first time I went shopping with my mom I experienced something that I would have never imagined - I felt “Polish”. Let me explain what that means. While walking around, I noticed people smiling at me. And it felt weird. I eventually started feeling confused and even annoyed. For some reason, their smiling faces seemed artificial. Something they do to everyone, it felt un-genuine. However, I have gotten used to it again :D 

I hope I didn’t miss something else! But for those first timers in the US, what are some of the things that shocked you when you first arrived? Did you have a similar experience than me? 

 

Culture Shock - Poland

As some of you know, my employee, Mike is leaving at the end of December. Due to that, I have been hunting for a new teacher. In my hunt for a new teacher, I was able to talk to an Australian  woman who has lived in Canada and the US and now is living in Gdansk. So of course, we immediately hit it off because when I first moved to Poland, I moved to Sopot (close enough!).  Subsequently, we started talking about the cultural differences and so many memories started to rush into my memory. The strangest part of our conversation was that we were able to name the same exact things. Here’s a list of those cultural differences:

  1. “Angry” Faces - The first thing we spoke about was the “angry” faces which so many people apparently have. As many of you know, I come from Florida and Florida is known to be weirdly friendly to everyone, even strangers. As any Floridian will tell you, it is perfectly normal for us to wave at people that come to our neighborhoods and of course, flash the big American grin! I moved to Poland in the summer of 2013, so as soon as I arrived I was excited to explore Sopot. In my first trip, I was walking alone, when I saw a grandpa coming my way. My first thoughts were “Aw, what a cute Grandpa. Maybe I should wave. Wait…is that normal here? Maybe a smile will be enough.” And so I smiled at him and to my surprise, his response was an angry stare. I justified his reaction by telling myself that he’s probably just a grumpy old man. As I walked a bit farther, I stumbled upon a grandma. Again, I flashed a smile, and again, I got the same reaction. After that I quickly learned that smiling at strangers in Poland is not really a thing and most likely they will think that you are suffering from a mental illness. So I stopped doing it. However, I did notice that Polish people change their demeanor on “Fat Thursday.” If you walk around, you will see people smiling and, in general,  in a good mood. I guess all you need to do to make Poles happy is give them their traditional paczek (doughnut) :D 
  2. Cashiers - Another topic that was brought up was Polish cashiers. It may come as a shock, but Polish cashiers are not very friendly and they hate to give you your change back. Again, when I first moved to Sopot, I went to a nearby shop because I wanted to purchase some sweets. I only had a 50PLN bill. So I went inside the shop, grabbed the sweets I wanted and proceded to the check out aisle. I put my things down for the cashier to scan them, she gave me the total, and I handed her my 50PLN bill. She fussed about it and I said “I don’t have more money” in English. After puffing and huffing, she finally gave up and gave me my change back. Another instance was in good old Carrefour. Again, I went into the shop to purchase something small. And again, I only had a 50PLN bill. Of course, this time, I was preparing myself mentally for a battle with the cashier. I waited patiently for my turn and it finally arrived. The lady scanned my things and the total came out. I handed her my 50PLN bill and she literally did not do anything. She stared at me blankly for what seemed to be hours. I was amazed by her reaction and this time, she won. I just walked away and left the things I wanted to purchase there. 
  3. Street Names - Honestly, I have never visited a country with such a lack of imagination when it comes to street names! It is kind of hilarious when I look back. I can recall when I was fresh in Poland that my friend, Paweł invited me to his home. So as a lazy American, I called a cab (to my defense, it was winter too :D). I showed the cab driver my cell phone screen in which showed Pawel’s home address. The cab driver took me to the address. I paid him. Got out. And called the telecom to Pawel’s flat. A lady answered in Polish and I was baffled. I thought, “how could this be? I am in the right street, right flat number.” Of course, I immediately called Pawel. He asked me where I was and I told him “Sopot.” He laughed at me and said he lives in Gdansk. Later on I noticed that it was crucial to inform the taxi drivers the city in which the address is located. I mean, I have to say…in Florida at least, sometimes we get carried away with our silly street names - I mean you can find street names like Pancake Street or Fluffly Landing Street. 
  4. Standing in line - I don't know how but I almost forgot this point! Standing in line in Poland is extremely different than in other countries, especially in the US/Germany. When you are waiting in line here (in the US), you give the person in front of you at least three feet of distance. There is such thing as a personal bubble, and that bubble gets even bigger when you're paying for something. But not in Poland. First of all, Poles are terrible at making lines and also, most of them are unaware of this "personal bubble." My initial experience was when I was waiting in line at a pharmacy and then trying to get in the train. So I went to the pharmacy to purchase some vitamin C (you can never have enough in Poland, especially if you come from Florida). I was waiting in line and as usual, I gave the person in front of me 3 feet of space between me and her. Suddenly the door swings open, a granny walks in and gets in front of me. I let it slide, since it was a grandmother, after all. There was another instance in another pharmacy, in which I actually got yelled at for not standing in line correctly by a grandpa. Thankfully, there was a younger woman who defended me. The story about the train I only realized after I had visited Germany. In 2014, I decided to meet my cousin in Cologne. While visiting,  we were taking the train quite often to get from one place to another. There, I noticed how orderly Germans were at making lines. Once I got back to Poland I literally started laughing out loud because the contrast was so huge. People in Poland don't make a single line. They instead just try to get in through the door all at once. I have to add, it does seem that Poles are changing this behavior, so perhaps in 5 years this will not be the norm. 

I hope I am not offending any readers. This is after all, why I loved Poland so much, this is what makes it charming. These quirks the country has makes it somehow colorful. And honestly, many foreigners that live in Poland will find it funny because we have all experienced something similar. 

So if you enjoyed the post, please write a comment. Or if you have similar experiences tell me about them! It would be fun to compare and contrast cultural shocks from not only Poland but from other countries too. 

Family Structures - Polish vs. American

I don’t think many people think of family structures and how different they are from country to country. While living in Poland, I realized it and experienced it. First of all, I have to say that I loved the traditional family structure in Poland because it is very similar to mine. This absolutely made me feel like I was “home.” However, my family structure is not the typical American family structure - the American family structure is a bit more chaotic and non-conventional.  

In Poland - Something that warms my heart is how close family members are to each other in Poland. This may be due to their affiliation with the Catholic church. Whatever the reason, a typical Polish family likes to get together every Sunday for family lunches/dinners and sit by the table for hours on end. Not only that, but children tend to be close their parents and siblings.  Later in life, those children become adults and they have a sense of obligation to take care of their parents once they are unable to take care of themselves. I admire and applaud to this because it is no longer common in the US anymore.  There is a tendency with Polish families to have an open dialogue at all times, so all family members know what is going on with each other (lots of opinions are flying from different directions).  And I assume, this leads to the feeling of keeping up with the Jonases, which is obviously not always an advantage. I am not sure if my feelings are correct, but perhaps this feeling of “keeping up withe Jonases” results in couples staying in marriages because divorce is unacceptable or looked down upon? Whatever it may be, I believe open dialogue is great but there needs to be some boundaries (easier said that done).
Lastly, I want to talk about one of the biggest complaints I’ve heard from friends - Polish mother-in-laws. I’ve heard that they need to know everything and they also love giving their opinion on any and every subject. Honestly, I thought this was a universal problem, but perhaps the Polish mother-in-laws take it to a different level? What do you think?

In the States - The US is considered a melting pot, so because of that, there isn’t a typical family structure. You can find families that are similar to the Polish families or completely different. However, I believe most families in the US are a bit more complicated. The reason for this “complication” could be reasoned by the fact that the US is such a big country that families are inclined to move to different states in search for a better job, life, or new opportunities.  As a result, most of them drift apart from one another. Another culprit why families here are more complex is because of society norms and/or requirements that are basically forced onto us. What I mean is that families absolutely need to work full-time in order to have a family, the work culture is also completely different than in Europe, so families don’t take long and well-deserved vacations. This all results in families having certain types complications, miscommunications, or simply getting a divorce.
Many of my friend’s parents are divorced so they have to share Christmas’ with one parents one year and the next with the other. Honestly, I can’t imagine something like that because my family is amazing and we all get together (still). But who knows what will happen in the future. 

What I am trying to say is that there is no good or bad family structure. There are different ones that we don’t even see from day to day. We should learn to appreciate and accept them, even if they are completely different than ours. I think both, the Polish and American society have difficulties in keeping up with their own families and that is why we should be a bit a more understanding of people’s quirks or personality traits (again, easier said than done!). 

 

Dating - The Pole, The Fin, & The American

So now that I have been single for a while, I have decided to finally start dating. I have to be honest, it has been quite fun yet a bit confusing too.   In this blog post, I want to talk about 3 different nationalities I have dated: Polish, Finnish and Americans. I will write the good, the bad, and the ugly about these 3 nationalities and I hope you guys will find it entertaining. 

The Poles - I moved to Poland back in the summer of 2013 and I had no idea what I signed up for (in the dating scene, at least).  At that time Tinder was pretty popular in the US, but in Poland it still wasn’t. The way I was able to meet men was to go out and do it the old fashion way - looking cute and hoping some guy will strike a conversation with me. Of course, that rarely happened and I actually met guys through friends. 

  • The good: Polish guys are definitely considered gentlemen; they will always open the door for you, let you in the room first, and will fill your glass if it’s half full. I mean, they sound great, don’t they?! 

  • The bad: The thing that disappointed me the most about Polish guys was the fact that a lot of them didn’t want anything serious. They wanted to hang out with me with no strings attached. This can be good for someone that’s looking for such relationships, but I am more of a monogamous-type person….so no thanks!

  • The ugly: Well, I don’t really have anything to say, Polish guys are definitely not terrible. I think I missed out a lot because I was unable to meet people my age (I was 23/24 at that time) that spoke English well. So that’s probably why I never was in a serious relationship with a Polish man. 

The Fins - All right, so this might be a bit biased because I have only dated two Fins. And I must say some people would probably appreciate Fins because they very much see women as their equals, however, if you are a bit more traditional, it may seem rude. I have some stories that Poles will find shocking, Fins will find normal, and Americans will find bizarre. 

  • The good: Something really great about the Fins is that they see women as their equals.  They also tend to be very punctual, which I adore and appreciate. I want to get back to seeing women as equals because it does sound like a dream, but it is not always a walk through the park. I do identify myself as a feminist, but there are times, you gotta be thoughtful and considerate (Finnish guys!!). For me, Finnish men lack this aspect. I’ll explain it in a bit. 

  • The bad: Because Fins see women as equals they tend to (very often) forget that women need help when it comes to certain aspects of life, for example carrying heavy things. Here’s a story: I was dating John (name has been changed), who I met through my co-worker. On this specific date I decided to ride my ex-roommate’s bike (that was way too big for me) because we were moving to a new flat. Anyway, John and I agreed to meet at the train station. And so, there I am, waiting for him and finally he gets off the train and we meet. Since I had dated Polish guys, I immediately assumed that John would offer to take the bike and walk with it, instead he never offered his help and I was stuck - pushing and carrying it up and down the stairs. To this day, I find it surprising that he never did offer to help me, but on hindsight, it makes total sense for a Finn not to even think about asking me if I needed help. Of course, at that time, I let this situation slip because I justified it with “maybe I am being too dramatic.” At the end of the day, we weren’t on the same page and I realized it wasn’t just him, it’s all Fins. 

  • The ugly: Because their society is very rich they are prone to also be quite selfish and this goes with any relationship they have. In Finland, people are proud that they don’t need to take out student loans because education is free, so they don’t need to discuss what they want to study with their parents. They are proud to say that when they grow old they don’t need to rely on their children. This is great but there is a negative side effect to that, which is being too selfish. The Fins don’t think about others, what I mean is that they are not thoughtful or considerate because they are raised to be fully independent. My ex and I (who I hope will not read this blog post) used to get in many bickering arguments regarding this topic - whenever we would cook he would take out one set of utensils, one plate for only himself and he would only pour himself water/juice/whatever. He never thought about me, his partner. I definitely don’t want to blame him because I understand that’s how his culture is. However, no wonder why Fins have one of the highest divorce rates and highest number of suicides within the elderly. 

The American - I should really add an “s” to American because I have gone on a few dates since being back. I have to say, it has been really fun dating men here but that’s because dating apps are so prominent in the US that it enables you to not only meet people that you probably wouldn’t have a chance to meet, but you can also start a conversation before meeting that person. As you know, things in the US are pretty hot when it comes to Politics - trump lovers vs. trump haters (I am a hater in this case). So before I even go on a date, I ask where they stand politically, once I know that, I can decide whether to waste time or not. Not only that, but I can communicate freely with them and that’s really such a refreshing thing to experience once again. 

  • The Good: I have to bring it up again, but being able to communicate freely with no obstacles! It is so rewarding being able to have deep, meaningful conversations on various topics. But you all know that. One of the things that surprised me the most about Americans is that my image of them was completely wrong. For some reason, I thought American men liked to go “dutch” (meaning I pay for my meal and you pay for yours) but to my surprise most Americans don’t do that. The man usually pays, not always, but most of the time. I was also pleasantly surprised with the fact that they open the door for you, like the Poles and are overall considered gentlemen.

  • The Bad: The downside of Americans is that some of them feel pressured into getting married once they’re in their late 20’s, early 30’s. So as soon as they find someone somewhat interesting they immediately believe (after 1 date) you are “wife” material, which for me, it is definitely not the case. There’s the other side of the stick too, you go on dates with guys and you know they are players. They are looking to date around and if they are lucky, get something out of you.

  • The Ugly: So I have nothing to write yet because like I said, I just started dating again. I am assuming the only thing that I would say “ugly” about Americans is that many of them haven’t traveled outside of the US, which is extremely disappointing for me. That means many are narrow minded when it comes to certain topics. But I wouldn’t say that’s an “ugly” aspect of dating an American guy, it is just a disadvantage that can easily be fixed. 

So there we go! That’s all I’ve got. Have you guys experienced something similar to me? What are your experiences with dating guys from different countries? Which nationality is the best? Can’t wait to hear your opinions :)