I recently read a blog entry a gentleman wrote about the shock he had visiting London after a year in Bolivia.
I have always found reverse culture shock to be much worse than the initial culture shock one experiences going to a new place. I suppose that’s because I am returning to the culture in which I was raised — the sea in which I swam. It was, in every way, what I considered “normal”. Going back after adjusting to a new culture required viewing what had been “normal” with new eyes.
For me, the worst reverse culture shock was going back to the States one year just before Christmas and making the mistake of going to one of the giant malls and watching the a giant crowd of shoppers rushing around buying massive amounts of stuff to give to people who in most cases didn’t need any of what they were to be given.
When one has gotten used to a place which lacks most luxuries and has people working desperately hard to make $25 for their monthly aquiler (rent), watching these people throwing away untold amounts of money on unneeded and many times unwanted trinkets just blew my mind. I wandered around the mall in a daze just trying to absorb the insanity of it all. It was literally too much to take.
Just visiting a Costco, BJ’s or Sam’s Club can be a daunting experience. Here in Cochabamba, the largest store one can find is IC Norte. It is the size of what used to pass for an A&P or Safeway in the States, but, of course, those are much bigger now. There is supermercado near where I live which not as big as a typical 7-11 in the States, but it’s called a “super market”. There is nothing approaching a Home Depot. When one wants some piece of hardware, they must go from store to store, asking in each one whether the item is available. Many times, one can spend an afternoon and not find what they are looking for.
Cochabamba is famous for la concha — a huge outdoor market that extends for literally miles. It is composed of thousands and thousands of little stands, each selling some particular set of items. But, unfortunately, each only has what the owner thinks is popular. The result is a lot of the same things. It’s a great adventure, but can be frustrating after spending the better part of a day and not finding something specific. The good part is that Bolivians, by and large, want to be helpful, so people will try their best to direct you to the part of the concha which may have the item for which you are looking.