7 'reverse culture shocks' from Americans returning to the US after living overseas

  • People who've returned to the US after spending time abroad are sharing "reverse culture shocks."

  • These are the things about US culture that they felt surprised by, even though they're American.

  • America's big cars and portion sizes were among the reverse culture shocks mentioned online.

Culture shocks are a well-known, hugely popular genre on travel TikTok. Users who have visited or moved to other countries frequently share aspects of life in these environments that surprised them and that they aren't used to in their own cultures.

Some Americans who've moved to Europe have previously said that one of the biggest culture shocks they experienced was hang-drying laundry, after being so used to using an electric dryer back home.

But another hugely popular genre on TikTok and other social-media platforms shows us the flip side: the reverse culture shocks some Americans experience after returning to the US from time overseas.

Some have reported struggling to refamiliarize themselves with or feeling shocked by certain elements of life in the US, such as tipping culture in restaurants and the size of the cars, after deciding to move back to the US or returning for a visit.

These "reverse culture shocks," as they have been dubbed online, typically based on anecdotal accounts, might serve to showcase some of the unique aspects of US culture, which users forgot about or didn't experience while abroad. They offer a glimpse at the country from a familiar yet distant point of view.

Here are seven things about the US that people say have caused reverse culture shock.

Americans drive "literally everywhere."

Several TikTokers who say they moved out of the US reported that upon returning, they noticed they were walking less than they typically had done abroad.

One user, who goes by the name Kayleigh, said in an August TikTok that in the US she "grew up driving literally everywhere" because she lived in a remote suburban location. She said that when she moved to Ireland for four years she got used to being able to walk, cycle, and take public transportation instead.

Readjusting to driving again when she later moved back to the US was difficult, she said.

Kayleigh blamed American infrastructure, saying she thought it was especially hard for people outside cities to walk to their destinations.

The notion that Americans walk less than people in other countries has become relatively well known and backed by recent academic findings.

Ralph Buehler, a professor of urban affairs and planning at Virginia Tech, said in an interview published by the university in May that American infrastructure prioritized cars over pedestrians.

"Roadway designers don't want to delay vehicles, and, guess what, pedestrian-friendly amenities like crosswalks delay cars. It's not so much that the guidelines are purposefully anti-walking — they are pro-driving," he said, adding that this had the effect of making walking "less attractive."

Research findings by Buehler and another professor shared in the article indicated that Americans were six times more likely than people in Britain to be killed while walking per mile traveled.

"People walk less in the United States because it's more dangerous to walk here and walking conditions are worse compared to other countries," he said.

Plus, the cars are huge.

It may be a stereotype, but there's also evidence to back it: Americans love big cars.

One TikToker who moved to Paris listed the size of the cars in the US as a reverse culture shock she experienced when she was back in her home state of California.

Another TikToker shared a similar experience, saying it's very difficult for her to drive a big car in Paris because of the "tiny" parking space there.

The most common US parking space width is 9 feet, according to reporting by Vice, while the standard width of a bay in Paris is 2.3 meters, or roughly 7.5 feet, according to the park-maintenance company Interparking.

Food portion sizes have also shocked some people.

Big cars aren't the only shocker — large portions in the US also require some getting used to, according to social-media users who've returned to the US.

One American TikToker who said she spent a year in Tunisia filmed what she said was a small size of cup in the US, saying it was the size of her face as she held it up against her head in a September video.

Food portions, particularly at fast-food chains, are notoriously bigger in the US than in other countries, something that BI's "Food Wars" video series has proved time and time again.

American tipping culture is often cited as a culture shock.

Tipping is more embedded in restaurant culture in the United States than it is in many other countries, with patrons highly encouraged to add a gratuity to their bills to make up for the fact that most employees do not earn a living wage in their hospitality jobs.

Some Americans have reported finding it hard to readjust to tipping after spending time abroad.

"It is so jarring coming home after not paying a single tip for four months," one American user said in a TikTok published in January 2023 after she came back from spending time in Europe.

The user, who goes by @alliedition, said she found having to tip on food and beverage items particularly striking because they're already expensive.

"It's the $8 lattes that get me, like $1 for almond milk because I'm lactose intolerant…." the caption to the video said.

Tipping culture in the US has long been a hot topic of conversation on social media. In September, a post on X went viral when a group of European patrons at an American restaurant declined to leave a tip on a $288 bill, and sparked questions about who should pay the price when tipping culture gets out of control.

At the same time, some Americans report being asked to tip more and more on different services like takeout and even landlords, prompting many to wonder when it's OK to decline to tip.

Gun culture can feel alien to people who have lived abroad.

The US is one of only three countries in the world that protect the right to bear arms in their constitutions, and it can be difficult for Americans who've lived abroad to readjust to seeing firearms being sold and carried around when they come back to their home country.

One TikTok user, @strangecapers, describes this in a video posted in January. The clip showed several aisles in a sporting-goods store that sold firearm-related products like cleaning kits for pistols or ammunition — and even the guns themselves.

"It's the nonchalance that's so spooky to me now. It's like you get all this stuff here, you get a gun, and you go home and make dinner," the user said in the video.

Data from the 2018 Small Arms Survey indicated there were about 393 million guns in the US, which added up to about 120.5 firearms for every 100 residents — more than any other country.

The friendliness of Americans surprised one expat.

Several expats have said they're surprised to remember how cheerful and welcoming Americans are when they come back from other countries.

The TikTok user @inspiredbycroatia, an American who moved to Croatia, said they found everyone to be "so nice" in the US when they went back to visit.

"I'm not talking about people who are paid to be nice to you, like sales associates or servers at restaurants," they said in the video, posted in early 2022. "I'm talking about people on the street, strangers you don't know."

Another user, who moved to Paris from the US, echoed these thoughts.

"We are the sweetest, we are the nicest, most welcoming group of people," the user, who goes by @americanfille on the platform, said in a video published in late 2021.

The same can be true in the reverse situation. The user @felifromgermany, who is German and moved to the US, said in a video that they also experienced their own version of a reverse culture shock when they went back to Germany after living in the US and found Germans to be rude and impolite by comparison.

Buying alcohol may be trickier in the US, depending on how young you look.

The TikTok user @kacierose4, an American in Italy, posted a video in November saying that despite being in her late 20s she was asked for an ID when she tried to purchase a bottle of wine at a grocery store in the United States.

"It's not to say that people don't get ID'd in Italy because I'm sure that they do, but I have never seen it, nor ever I've been asked, nor ever seen anybody ever ask for an ID," she said in the video.

People who say they have spent time in Europe and the US have anecdotally reported a stricter enforcement of ID checks for alcohol purchases in the US.

"As a previous cashier, we are trained to card anyone who doesn't clearly look older such as elderly. We could lose our jobs otherwise," one user commented on Kacie Rose's video.

This may be down to the discrepancy in legal drinking age, which is 18 in most of Europe compared with 21 in the US; workers may be less confident that the people they're serving are old enough to buy alcohol.

Read the original article on Business Insider