What It’s Like to Experience Reverse Culture Shock After Leaving Japan

Recently, I was catching up with a friend at a Thai restaurant near Hollywood. When we finished eating, the waiter promptly put down the check. I handed over my debit card happy that lunch managed to remain just under 30 bucks. My card returned with a receipt, which I noticed included a small, blank line begging to be filled in just above where I had to sign. I squinted at it, confused, then gasped.

“Oh sh*t, I forgot about tipping!”

Though born and raised in the United States (and even having worked in restaurants there), I’d totally blocked the existence of tips from my brain. I’d recently returned to start a new life in Los Angeles after a six-year stint in Osaka, where, as in the rest of Japan, servers get paid an hourly wage, which means they aren’t constantly hovering over your table waiting to refill your water after a single sip in the hopes you’ll remember to spot them an extra yen.

Reverse culture shock had me in its grasp.

Contrary to its name, however, reverse culture shock isn’t the opposite of culture shock—the reversal is the return home after residing abroad. What was previously familiar has now, for one reason or another, become perplexingly foreign. I spent 23 years in America before moving to Japan, so moving to the land of raw fish and talking toilets was obviously an adjustment. What I didn’t imagine was how weird it would be to return home after a relatively short six years away.

Yet, reverse culture shock is a blast. Everything feels so fresh and exciting. Even when I make myself look silly in my ignorance (we don’t swipe cards anymore at checkout, apparently), I find the experience delightful. Every day is …continue reading