An Experience of Reverse Culture Shock

Reverse Culture Shock (RCS) is often experienced by people who spend large amounts of time outside of their home culture (the culture of their passport country) but now find themselves back in their home culture. RCS is an experience that calls into question values, attitudes or actions held firmly in the home culture, but contrary to values, attitudes or actions held in the host culture (the country where people live for long periods).

So, my experience of RCS involves trash, specifically recycled trash. In Germany, my host culture, recycled trash is divided into several neat categories, each with a convenient bin or receptacle for that trash (paper bin, glass bin [3x–based on glass color], and the infamous yellow sack, affectionately known in German as “Gelbe Sak”). All of these recycled trash containers are designed to efficiently hold the trash until collection time.

My location in the States also encourages recycling. This areas uses a “Single Stream Recycling” program. If it can be recycled, it all goes into one bin. And I like that concept better. However, the rules for this program state: “In order to distinguish recycling from regular trash, recycle bins shall be placed on the curb uncovered, with no bin liners or other forms of enclosure.” Okay, so, one form of trash is covered or in bags, and the other is uncovered, not in bags. Sounds reasonable. UNTIL you consider that this part of the country is windy. It never fails, on trash night/day, it is windy. How windy? Windy enough to tip over trash cans, and, you guessed it, spread unrestrained trash hither, thither and yon. So, every trash day, I join my neighbors as we transverse hither, thither and yon (yes, I’ve been to “yon,” nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live THERE) and pick up trash. Not really the way I wanted to meet neighbors, but we take advantage of every opportunity.

RCS: The trash system is better in Germany.

No, that’s NOT true. The trash system in Germany is different. At times, it is tedious and seems petty (REALLY; I have to separate green glass containers from brown glass containers??). The system works there in Germany; and probably wouldn’t work here. Conversely, the U.S. system of trash probably wouldn’t work in Germany, although at times I might long for a single stream recycling concept.

So, I experience some RCS, realize that it’s okay, and decide that rather than letting my recycled trash blow all over the neighborhood, it is easier to leave it in the garage for another day, and then personally deliver it to the recycle center.

That’s how RCS works — appearing in the smallest of ways during what would otherwise be a normal day.




CC image courtesy of Eric Chan