Friday, March 2, 2012

Reverse Culture Shock: When does it end?

So we know about all the little things that startle you when you come home after a long time abroad. But for me there's been a sneakier side to reverse culture shock. It started one day several weeks ago when I realized that at some point while I was wrestling with New York, I had taken that last stumbling step out of my life in Tokyo. After months of knowing intellectually that my time there was over, I finally felt it to be true.  

And you'd fuckin hope so, right? Good lord, my friends, it is March of 2012. It's almost the anniversary of the earthquake! I got on that plane nine months ago. Tokyo is long behind me. I have a new city and new friends and new jobs. I don't even look the same. I've moved on.

So what's weird about it? I hate these four words, but: it's hard to explain. First of all, just because I've moved on from Tokyo doesn't mean that I've found a place here. I haven't. I've had a hard time in New York, a really ugly streak of bad luck after what was already an unusually queasy year, and I don't think I've ever had such a terrible attitude in my life. This might make you sick, but I've always  felt that I have a pretty good relationship with the universe -- that my hardships are always balanced out by the countless amusements and possibilities scattered all around me every day. That's the truth! I admit it! 

But lately I've started wondering if that's just because I've spent my life in the Northwest and abroad. Because yeah, it's easy to feel like the universe is on my side when I'm skipping along the river eating huckleberries in the Siletz Gorge, or when a bad night means throwing on a killer outfit and going out to smoke cigarettes and sulk under a billion neon lights and soulful gaze of a cheesy pop idol... 

...but that sense of cosmic benevolence doesn't shine as bright when strangers shriek IDIOT! at me on the street. Or when volatile drunks throw their arms around me outside my workplace. Or when a dark liquid from somewhere up above splatters against my cheek on 33rd St. And these are just the publishable calamities! The effect on my superstitious soul, already wearied by the whole homecoming saga, has been disastrous. I mean, one night I sat in pee on the train. I don't think I've ever felt my sense of humor under so much strain! I can take a lot, but that's some heavy lifting, right? 

So here's the point. Yeah, I've moved on from Tokyo. I can reminisce and start to miss it, but I don't die over it every day. I want to live in America right now. No question. BUT: if I went back it would be so. easy. One night recently my nerves were shot again, and I was thinking like, who is this person? What is this attitude? This is terrible! And it occurred to me that if I flew back to Tokyo tomorrow, I'd know exactly what I was doing. I'd get off the plane and onto the train like a breeze. I'd be surefooted in the stations, I'd know what to have for a snack at 7/11, I'd send a hundred texts and I'd have someone to meet by the time I got to the city. I'd have places to sleep and people to call for jobs. I'd know the good places in the right hoods and I'd probably have a few orgasms within the first day.  

You know what I mean? Tokyo's behind me, but that doesn't mean I know where the fuck anything else is. I'm still wary of my foothold. And sometimes, when I get a little tired of the long-haul process of settling in, I think of how easy it would be to run back to Japan and know just what to do. And that is rough. That kind of thinking is harder than the loud voices, the close-talkers, the subway circus, the aggressive strangers -- by far!

I have enough sense to recognize this as part of the process, for me and for many, many others. It's a theatrical ultimatum: stop or go, back or forward, fold or gamble. And you know what, I Googled this shit -- and I read a whole lot of words by people who, after 9 or 10 or 12 months back home, just said fuck it! and started making plans to go expat again.

I respect that, but it's not gonna be happening here. I'm over that shit! Rats don't scare me. Pee on the subway bench can't stop me. Recession, whatever. I'm here now and I'm gonna do this thing. So, wish me luck! And I wish you luck, too, if you're in these shoes. You know, being a foreigner in your own country for awhile is as worthy an adventure as anything -- and making a life for yourself is as rewarding and enlightening an accomplishment there as anywhere. No matter what you decide, please enjoy this advice my mom gave me when I was at critical mass last Monday: Don't forget to enjoy what's good where you are right now -- so even if you decide to leave next week, make sure this week is awesome. Hang in there, baby! Tomorrow can be brilliant! 



sweetvagabond said...

Don't forget, your first year in Japan was no cake walk either, and look how great that turned out! But, it sounds like NYC has definitely turned up the volume...I'm glad you're giving it more time. By the time you leave, you'll be just as surefooted as you were here!

But if you do decide to bail, no judgements here. Haha, I've rarely lasted an entire year in the US since my first trip abroad, がんばて‼

And of course, you can always crash at my place if you want. I'll meet you at 7/11 for a jumbo frank and have half of your wardrobe and books waiting for you :)

Beth Roeser said...

All this is true! Everything works out if you give it enough time.

How's it all going with you?? I hope you're enjoying the neighborhood, and of course the clothes and books. I gave you the anthology of theory and criticism, right? I wish I could call it like Bette Midler in Hocus Pocus, hahaha!

Rose said...

This is just a random comment from a random person on the internets, but I've been in NYC almost 8 years, and I know that it's one of the hardest places to adjust to. I *finally* feel like it's home. Just the sheer energy of the city itself is so utterly overwhelming that it takes years and years to adapt to, let alone harness and coast on. Having people that can act as lifelines is the most important thing, to help anchor you and put a face on the masses.

Nothing is easy in New York (especially compared to ultra-便利 Tokyo), but anything is possible. Yes, super cheesy, I know, but the freedom is really liberating and daunting at the same time. it's all on you. But you don't need to worry about offending delicate Japanese sensibilities.

Anyways, rambling.

Seasick Sarah said...

Love this!

Anonymous said...

Fail. New York is a dirty city, alays has been, always will be. The romanticization of it n film has alwaqys befuddled me. It's not a place fit for human habiation, has an ugly, ungodly racist past that influences its culture today.

And it's clutter. NY is just clutter and uncouth and grime. It's violence and drunkards and hatred and vilification and random aggression.

And it's all this topped off with a schizophrenic cherry of people actually being proud of this city.

Well, Pamela Gellar proudly calls it home...says enough really.

Beth Roeser said...

Different strokes for different folks.

Anonymous said...

Beth! I miss you! You are wise beyond your yrs and the best writer. Hilarious yet DEEP. You helped 40-something me find some direction and I can't thank you enough. I love NYC and have some close friends there. Let me know if I can help you out with jobs, connections. For real. x

Beth Roeser said...

Thank you so much for your kind comment! What a nice thing to read on a Tuesday morning. It means a lot to hear from people who have enjoyed this blog.

Feel free to email me anytime, roeser.beth at gmail. I'm always ready for connections!

katie bradford said...

I understand! I lived in Seoul for two years and the reverse culture shock was ... shocking :) Especially as it'd be so easy to fly back and slide right into a life where your hardest decision sometimes was what street food to choose :)

Anonymous said...

I just spent half the day backreading and crossreading your blog. I love it. Just letting you know.