Friday, July 1, 2016

Reverse Culture Shock: On being completely uncomfortable

Our summer road trip has begun! Sort of. We've been in Toronto for five days now, staying with friends and slowly getting used to the time difference.

In our usual pattern, the Irishman felt okay for the first two days, fuelled mainly by beer and chocolate milk, and has been in agony for the past two days with jet lag. I've got a cold but am almost on a normal schedule now after a couple of days of sleeping until the afternoon.

I thought it would be hard coming back after three years (four since we actually lived here), but I underestimated just how awkward I would feel.

We had to run through the Vancouver airport to get our connection, yelling in English and Chinese. Probably not the most appropriate?

I'm in everyone's way

I have been asked, politely, a few times a day to move when I think I have left plenty of room around me, whether it's in aisles at the grocery store or at the milk/sugar station at a coffee shop. What is up with people's need for so much space around their bodies?!

Trying to identify what is and isn't a queue is practically impossible. People stand so far apart, it's really hard for me to tell where I should stand.
Irishman getting into a Canadian's personal space

The pair of us are also complete weirdos with traffic. Whenever a car pulls up to an intersection we are crossing or the end of a driveway we are passing, we come to a screeching halt, shocking the other people trying to just go about their business, walking down the street. Right of way as a thing? Are you sure??

My friends, who know how to act in public

I have no idea how to behave in a restaurant

Do I seat myself? Do I go to the bar to order? Is it rude to call a server over? As an overconfident extrovert, I've surprised myself by how awkward I am every time we walk into a restaurant.

Watching my friends who live here interact with servers and bartenders, making small talk, feels like fieldwork. I want to take notes. I don't remember how to do this!

As seen on Bathurst

Tipping. Dear God.

Okay, this is karma. The Irishman has always lamented how confusing Canadian tipping culture is. I would laugh when he tossed me his wallet to pay for things because of tipping anxiety. What's the big deal?

Now I am in exactly the same boat. I've been texting my bestie while out to double-check our tipping etiquette. (Do you tip on every refill of a bottomless soda? Answer: No.) My husband is pretty sure he vastly overtipped on our first day, just to be safe. I'm just grateful that when you pay with card, it asks you to tip; otherwise, it's very likely I'll forget.


Overall, I thought it would be a relief to be in a place where people line up in orderly queues, speak (relatively) quietly in public, and chat to strangers. At the minute, I just feel like an awkward alien trying to relearn how to be normal. Thankfully we have another week before we pick up the car and we need to sort out driving etiquette...

The poutine begins

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