Culture Shock Upon Re-Entry To The USA

Dwight

I have one day left in this beautiful country where howler monkeys swing from trees in front on me while I sip coffee at dusk, where the sunsets are red, where armadillos and porcupines root around on the ground at dawn, where parrots are not in cages and where the cacophony of insects, reptiles and birds lulls me to sleep at night.  I am nervous about going back to Colorado after 31 days here, and not just because it is cold and snowy there.

I’m afraid I will fail to incorporate the things I have learned here into my daily life and I will go right back into being a materialistic person, ensconced in a big house that keeps out nature.  Sure, it will be nice not to have to pick bugs out of my juice and shower without ants, and drip with sweat at 7:30 a.m. as I’m doing now, but I’m talking about the bigger stuff.  Will I make it a point to find out what time the sun sets and go watch it?  Will I continue to rise at dawn because after all of these days, my circadian rhythm is in tune with the sun?  Will I continue to be active, not because it is exercise but because I want to see things and it is a mode of transportation, such as hiking?

And then there are the biggest things.  One night last week I received real insight into Tico families. One of their biggest holidays is Semana Santa, or Easter Week.  Everyone from San Jose and all across the country rushes to the beaches (where I am) and sets up tarps and chairs and blares boom boxes and dines from their ice chests.  It is a tremendous party and traffic comes to a complete halt wherever you go if it is towards a beach.  It is quite the scene.

Well at the little hotel to which I had escaped to get some air-conditioning (okay, I’m soft, but it has been hard to sleep at the house I rented when the temperature is 98 degrees!), I met a Tico family.  The 28 year old marketing executive from San Jose was very patient with me and we spoke only in Spanish.  His 11 year old niece and mother only spoke Spanish.  They invited me to a different beach and I invited them to dinner.  I could tell the expense concerned them so I chose a place where we could split a pizza.    I learned that Daniela lived with her grandmother because her mother was beginning a new life with her new fiancé.  Dwight continued to live with his mother, even though he has a girlfriend and a job, because that is how it is done in Costa Rica.  A 21 year old brother  with a baby and the grandfather also live at their home in San Jose.

I did not do a good job hiding my shock to learn Daniela’s mother had “abandoned” her so she could run off with a new man.  When I asked why Daniela did not live with her mother, the grandmother seemed to thing I was estupido and answered that her daughter needed to start a new life.  All three of them looked at me like I was crazy.  Of course beautiful Daniela was going to live with with her grandmother and two cousins who loved her.  And there is my point.  There seems to be no distinction between immediate family and extended family in Costa Rica.  Cousins are as good as sisters and all are welcome to live in each other’s homes.  I have noticed this when I ask questions of other Ticos.  I ask who they live with and they initially say my brother but it turns out it is really a nephew.

So back to the biggest things–family.  There’s a saying in the US when family comes to stay with you that family is like fish:  After three days you throw them out.  (Notice I do not say American anymore.  I got chewed out by a Tico for saying that.  He said, “We are all Americans.”  He was correct.)  So personally, I would like to get rid of that idea of fish and family in my psyche.  The Ticos have it right.  I watch the way my son adores his cousins.  My son is basically an only child since my two older boys are 12 and 14 years older than him.  So when he sees his cousins, he’s in heaven.  Unfortunately, they moved from Denver to Minneapolis.  But we have airplanes.  I need to help strengthen those bonds.  I picked this family.  My husband’s family is awesome.  My son could see more of them.  I do not have to just talk about the importance of family but I need to show it, even when it is not convenient for me or it is not necessarily what I want to do.

And another biggest thing is materialism.  My Spanish teacher wore the same shorts to school three days out of four.  I am positive she knew how cute she looked in them. Ticos do not care as much about material things as US people do.  For us, it is always a rush to have the latest iPhone and the newest MacBook and the coolest car.  Ticos do not seem to have the sense of entitlement that we have grown up having.  Yet I have to repeat myself from previous posts, all polls show they are the happiest people on Earth.

For Ticos, a biggest thing is ecology.  I mention this last because in Colorado, most of us are very good at recycling, taking care of our forests, and conservation.  This comes pretty naturally to me from 37 years of living in Boulder, Denver and Fraser.

So I gave myself, and my husband said take it, unlimited freedom to explore myself while exploring Costa Rica and working on my Spanish.  I have shared what I have learned through these posts.  The real challenge begins when I hit US soil, hopefully on time, tomorrow night.

I want to plan a trip with my son to visit his cousins this summer when school is out.  I may make this break from work permanent since my son is entering those dangerous years–those teenage years that can be so crazy.  I want to be around for him.  I want to stop my addiction to Zappos.com (I’m a VIP member) and take a walk or look up the time for the sunset and go watch it.  I already have at least 100 pairs of shoes to walk around in!  Even though I am renting out our home in the mountains, I am going to  make it a point to get up there and hike and kiss a tree, seriously.

I am so grateful for all of the things I have in my life, whether I need them or not.  At this moment, after being here in Costa Rica on my solo adventure, I am most grateful for having a loving family, and a loving extended family.  I am grateful we have a second home in the mountains to use as a base for mountain biking, although now slower hikes to appreciate the beauty of the trees and trail and streams are what I am after.

My husband said he needed to purge some of his junk.  After this trip, I think a purge of things I do not need is a great idea.  It will be a big pile.  After all, we really do not need much in the way of material items.  I have learned that here.

I continue to feel nervous.  As soon as I arrive in Houston I imagine myself freaking out when I see a Starbucks.  I have not seen one for 30 days.  I do not care for Starbucks at all.  I prefer independent coffee shops.  I imagine Texans will be very loud and that will make me anxious.  People here are very tranquil.  I imagine the person sitting next to me on the plane asking me why I have such a nice tan, and I will say, “Because I was in Costa Rica at the beach,” as I put my headphones on.

One thought on “Culture Shock Upon Re-Entry To The USA

  1. Love the post and all the issues it raises.
    Consider:
    Boundaries. Priorities. Daily Practices.
    And surrounding yourself with people that support and encourage those boundaries, priorities and daily practices.
    And being open that others (maybe many others) deeply yearn for those same boundaries, priorities and daily practices.
    Be open to being surprised by who those people are, even people standing in line at Starbucks in the airport at Houston.

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