It’s funny, but the things I miss from China these days are the little things.
The little tissue packets that you buy in bulk, 10 packets for about $2. One packet fits well in a pocket or in the pouch in my purse that holds all the little things (gum, contact wetting drops, a few aspirin in a small tupperware…). The US packets, sold individually or in sets of 3, are both ridiculously expensive (because of course anything convenient must cost extra) and too big to fit neatly anywhere.
Gel pens with refill ink sticks, in packs of 10 each for maybe $3. I left China just as I was finally getting to the stage where I valued those refills (I threw them out for years), and now I’m back where all I get are ballpoints that you have to scribble to get them to start writing and then in a few weeks they go dry. I actually have a pen cemetery on my end table because of all the pens that have special meaning and have died since I came back – the one I decorated to match my decorated prayer journal at the Women’s Conference last spring, the last one from IWU (I’ve gone through two or three of those actually), the one from the set from Singapore that I bought as souvenirs for my class but kept the one extra for myself, the one… Sigh. I can’t quite bring myself to throw them out.
Chopsticks. They take up half an aisle in Chinese grocery stores. Of COURSE they’ll be a few different sets in any grocery store in America. Right? Right? Nope, not even in the Asian/foreign food stores in town, can you believe it? Just disposables or nothing. I finally found some non-disposable ones at the thrift store last weekend and was thrilled, ugly plastic things though they are. (Hey, at least they were cheap!)
One thing I am grateful I knew enough to buy just before I left was a new, sturdy, conveniently-sized water bottle. I still have one old bottle here too that I left by mistake one summer, so between them I’m probably good for another year or so. Usually the strap connecting the smaller lid to the neck is the first thing to go. Man, will I miss them when they give out!
If you’ve lived overseas and returned, what are the “little things” that you were surprised to find that you missed when you moved back?
Related to this: Culture shock. I’m doing a unit on the topic with one of my classes, and the video-lecture describes 4 stages: Excitement, Rejection, Acceptance, and Acculturation. I suddenly realized that I’m going through those stages with my new church! I had started to realize it even before this unit, and it helped with some of the things I was feeling confused or uncertain about, to peg them as “culture” rather than any sort of negative label. (Not theology, other stuff.) Having labels to put to it now made me happy – I can see where I’m starting to move past rejection to acceptance in some ways, though I still can’t imagine acculturating in the sense that it means taking on those “different culture” things – I’ve obviously got a ways to go to move totally out of the “rejection” phase! To be super clear, they are not sinful or “bad” things as far as I know, not even huge things for that matter, they are just things that don’t “feel” right because they are not what I’m used to. Since I work with international students all week, faculty meetings and church are the two times I really interact with the local culture with any sort of depth and regularity. The faculty meeting cultural differences mostly hit me last semester, but the ones at church took longer, probably because we spend more time side-by-side looking at the front than we do face-to-face. Now I’m going to Wednesday nights soup and Bible study time and it’s sinking in: This is a beautiful, loving body of believers, and they are different (from me).
My students and I talked today about how long the “Excitement” stage lasted after they arrived in the US. (It generally begins before you arrive in the host culture, according to the lecture.) None of them claimed times longer than 2 weeks. How about you? If you have spent long enough in another culture to feel anything other than excitement, or even moved to a different community in the same culture, how long did the Excitement stage last after you arrived?