America. The grass, it was green. I found myself in the Chicago, O’hare airport staring out the window (which was so clean you wouldn’t even know it was there) at the beautiful grass. It was perfectly manicured and not a fleck of brown could be spotted! It was lush and healthy. Oh, how pretty! I could’ve stared at it all day. Like a child, I commented to Neal, “Look at how pretty the grass is!” He, clearly not as enthused as I, replied, “Yeah.” Listening to me, you would have thought I’d never seen green grass in my life. In reality, it had only been a year. A year was long enough to forget how perfectly stunning and wonderful something as simple as grass could be.
It wasn’t our plan to spend our short summer in the states. Circumstances left us with no choice. So, back we went. It turned out to be exactly what I needed… right when I needed it. Culture shock was setting in hard and heavy during that last month in China. Every little thing was getting under my skin and my Mandarin was hardly up to par.
People talking about me (right in front of me) in the market was aggravating. “Where do you think she’s from? Probably Germany.” “Look at her child, she needs to put more clothes on her.” “Do you think she’s married to a Chinese man? Or maybe she’s working here.” I felt like telling them I could understand what they were saying about me and that I found it rude. I couldn’t seem to get the sentences out, so instead I listened… and fumed. Even if I had said something, it wouldn’t have made a difference. The conversation would have carried right on without a glitch. And that too was annoying.
Perfect strangers rubbed Lois’ face as if she was a doll. They even called her a “foreign” doll.
People gave me their opinion about everything. “You shouldn’t wear high heals when you’re pregnant. You’re hurting your baby.” “Don’t drink cold water, it’s bad for your health.” “Put more clothes on your child, she’ll get sick!”
I was rude to turn down any food offered to me, while my own Western dishes were declined with a wrinkled nose and an odd stare.
In WuMart I was approached by a perfect stranger. A man, who appeared to be younger than myself, came within just a few feet of Lois and my pregnant self and without a word, started snapping pictures of us. You can imagine that in my pregnant state, I wasn’t very welcoming of candid photos. He finished his business of invading our space and concluded with a “thank you” before turning and walking away. I all-too-quickly snapped back, “You didn’t even ask us, so why are you thanking us?” He didn’t reply and I left the market… fuming.
All of these experiences and many more were piling up to a mountain of culture shock. America was a welcome sight. I was expecting all of my troubles to disappear with the rumble of the plane wheels on the tarmac. And for a while that is exactly what happened. I soaked up every ounce of everything that I had missed. I was carefree and relaxed. However, after eating my weight in queso dip and hitting all my favorite stores within four days of arriving, I found myself less than fulfilled. I missed home. After only two weeks I was missing the sights and sounds of China. I was even missing all the free advice!
It was then that American culture shock set in. I was expecting culture shock in China. After all, everything about the place went directly against my grain. I was adapting to a completely opposite way of life than what I was used to. I was NOT expecting to culture shock in the states. I wasn’t expecting to find myself opening my mouth to speak a Chinese word only to remember at the last second that this was an English speaking country. A slight twinge of sadness always pricked me when that happened. I missed it. I wasn’t expecting to find myself constantly making excuses for Lois. She would say, “shu shu hao” (a common and respectful greeting to older men) to strangers in restaurants or stores. In the beginning I would tell them, “Oh we live in China and she’s greeting you in Chinese, she’s not talking baby talk.” Most people just shrugged it off and after a while I simply stopped explaining. There were a few occasions when Lois saw a cellphone and automatically smiled at it. More explaining. “In China she gets photographed every time she leaves the house. She doesn’t LOVE the camera, she’s just used to always having to smile when she sees one.” Again, no one was interested. Our friends and family were patient and understanding, but life outside of that was different. It was awkward and I felt oddly out of place. I was still me, yet there was a whole part of me that no one knew a lick about or would even expect. And so, I tried my best to bury it for our few weeks there.
Coming back to China, TWO babies in tow, I was over-joyed. This was our life. This was the plan God had for us. All of a sudden, those little things that were driving me crazy when we left were the very things I found myself smiling at and embracing when we returned. A dear sweet friend of ours approached me only a few days after arriving to remind me that our newborn should have a hat on every single day. I smiled, threw my arm around her old shoulders and told her I loved her and had missed her. She returned the love and hug and I was smiling on the inside at the irony of how perfectly happy her comment had made me.
Culture shock comes and goes. As we change and grow and accept new people and places, we are challenged. The more we overcome these challenges, the more this place becomes a part of us and the harder it is to keep China and our family here from creeping into our hearts and changing us.