It’s now been about a week since I’ve been back in New York, and the experience of coming back to the US from France compared to the experience of coming back to the US from India could not be more different. If anything, I’m shocked by how similar New York City is to Paris. Since my first semester abroad started with a two week orientation in New York, coming back here has really made my year abroad a full-circle experience.
Trying to think about ways I’ve experienced “reverse culture shock” this week, probably the first and biggest has been that I can actually speak English, with confidence, in all aspects of my daily life – and I’m actually realizing that I definitely became a bit more shy having to operate in my second language for several months, always trying to think before I spoke and only talking to an actual person when absolutely necessary. So it’s been a bit of a shock to be able to get by so easily. Combined with my experience in Brazil last semester, where I spoke no Portuguese and the average person spoke no English, I have definitely come to sympathize more with the immense difficulties faced by immigrants in the US.
Other cultural differences are smaller, but have made me look a bit silly for forgetting that they were even differences. The first example is that in France, floors of a building are numbered with the ground floor, or Rez-de-chausée, as 0, followed by 1, 2, 3, and so on. In the US, the ground floor is the first floor – which I completely forgot about in a department store the other day, and ended up going upstairs in search of something that was on the floor I was already on. Another, more linguistic difference that I’ve had to deal with is at restaurants. In French, an entrée (“entry”) dish is an appetizer, while the main course is le plat principal – but in US English, entree means a main dish – which lead me to blurt out at a restaurant “wow the appetizers here are so expensive and intense!” I’m also having to get used to the fact that the US doesn’t really do dollar coins, and in general coins seem a lot less commonly used here than in France (either to make your change easier to give when paying in cash, or for smaller purchases). Another funny situation that’s happened already has been when I used a vending machine to buy a subway ticket, and stuck my credit card in waiting for a beep – when I remembered that chip cards are brand new here and the machine needed me to dip and remove my card for it to read the strip. All of this isn’t anything that crazy, but it goes to show that there are definitely some little ticks and habits I picked up during my time in France that I’ll have to get rid of.
In the bigger picture, I think I already had a bit of a European mindset going into my year abroad when it comes to things like policy – for example I was already a strong proponent of high speed rail before seeing it action in France. But it’s actually the way I responded to certain controversies in France, like the Loi de travail (work law) currently under debate (which caused nearly weekly strikes all over the city, and led me to be accidentally tear gassed one day while walking downwind from a protest) that helped me refine what my political views are here in the US – and reaffirmed my drive to be an active citizen and vote whenever possible. I’m really coming to see that the US is a very unique place with a very unique amount of power, and I’ve spent a lot of time this year contemplating what that means and what it should/could mean going forward.
I might be home, but this isn’t my last post on this blog! I owe it to myself and you, my readers, to reflect a bit more about what this whole year has meant to me and how I’m going to take that knowledge forward into my final year at Cornell and my future career. So, be on the lookout for one last post coming soon where I’ll try to wrap up everything from my year living abroad on every continent (except Australia, and Antartica if that counts to you) and try to extract some sort of greater truth from all of it!