Reverse Culture Shock

After driving on the left side of the road for the past seven or so months, I have had to focus and think hard about being on the right side of the road again.  I found myself wailing to anyone who would listen that “BOTH SIDES OF THE ROAD ARE WRONG!  THERE IS NO CORRECT SIDE ANYMORE!!!”

When filling my tank at the gas station, the attendant told me the total was $53 USD (66.25 SGD) and I almost replied “No, I wanted a full tank of gas,” thinking that there must have been a mistake. Then I remembered that gas is significantly cheaper here.  A typical full tank in Singapore is 100 SGD (80 USD), and that is for a tank that is only 2/3rds the size of my US tank.  To recap, I get 33% more gas for 67% of the cost of a tank of gas in Singapore.

Hello Reverse Culture shock

I’ve always been one to feel a deep sense of relief upon landing on American soil.  Coming home has meant that things finally make sense to me again without having to process or think–that I reflexively “get it.”

I’d heard of reverse culture shock but assumed that since I’m American as Apple Pie it would never happen to me.  That when we eventually moved home, I’d assimilate right back in without so much as a hiccup.

However, after two and a half years, it seems that my automatic sense of “just getting it” isn’t so automatic anymore. That I’m out of step here.  Confused.  I got lost when driving to a mall I’ve been to hundreds of times over the course of my life.  Perplexed by stores that are no longer there.  Looking for friends who have moved on from Massachusetts and the US.  Unsteady.

Playing with sidewalk chalk in my in-laws driveway with her Dada 

I’m not sure that we could ever use sidewalk chalk at our condo in Singapore.  But at my in-laws, Ellie is free to draw with it in the driveway and decorate the path to their front door, and no one cares if it doesn’t rain for a few days, knowing it will be washed away sooner or later.

Davis Square, Somerville Massachusetts

I am very used to the way retail transactions are done in Singapore, and it has shown in my two weeks here.

When trying to buy some stuff at a drug store, I handed the credit card to the cashier with both hands. WRONG-I should’ve used the machine.

I tried to insert the card into the machine to let it read the chip.  WRONG-I should’ve swiped it.

I waited to sign the slip.  WRONG-I should’ve signed the machine’s screen.

I’ve also used cash when I didn’t need to because I’m so used to credit card minimums.  In the US, you can charge almost any amount.  Often, when the transaction is less than 25 or 50 USD, you don’t even need to sign for it at all.

gorgeous sky

I know there are parts of Singapore where the sky is so big and so gorgeous it just blows your mind.  But due to where we live, where Ravi works, and where Ellie goes to school, the majority of my time is spent in the high rise mecca of the Central Business District. Seeing so much open sky and so many 1-2 story buildings shocks me at times.

Trinity Church with the Hancock Tower in the background (Copley Square, Boston)

Amusing anecdotes aside, the major change is ME.

I love being home.  I love seeing my friends.  I love having grandparents who are happy to babysit (for free, even!).  I love the long hot showers.  I love being able to shop for clothes that actually fit my body.  Oh, American Food–it’s so good that I’m only eating you for a few weeks–I can’t bear to think of how many calories I’m eating.

I’ve done some shopping–mostly for clothes for my non-pregnant, soon to be non-breastfeeding (or significantly reduced breastfeeding) body.  I’ve picked up Halloween costumes for the girls.  Some books.  A few dvd’s.  And we’ll fill a suitcase with food to be sure.


I’m not running to Target, desperate for anything familiar, terrified to find alternatives.  I think of the food we took to Singapore, so certain we’d crave it, only to have it still sitting in our cupboards.  The tons of dvd’s I’ve bought only to not have viewed them as of yet.  Ellie wears uniforms five days a week–there’s no need to spoil her with a ton of new clothes, and Rhi is inheriting a ridiculous wardrobe from Ellie.  I’m more comfortable in the knowledge that if we truly need something, my in-laws can send it–or we can just live without it until our trip home in November for a cousin’s wedding.  In the 8 months since our last visit, the only thing I ran out of that was an issue was my preferred salon-sold shampoo and conditioner, and I bought more today.  I think it is a real possibility that we leave a suitcase or two here in the US instead of buying the two more we could to max our luggage allowance.  Sure toys are cheaper here (and so are books) and I’ve bought a couple, but…meh.

There is actually very little here that I couldn’t live without in Singapore (with the exception of my clothes and shampoo…and maybe a bag of my favorite bbq chips).  Realizing this is quite a shock to my system.

Singapore is home.  The way life works there, incomprehensible to me as it might be at times, is my “norm” now.

I find myself scouring my twitter feeds in the morning to catch up on my SG tweep’s doings.  I’ve joined in discussions dissecting caning (we’re against it), why women in SG aren’t procreating at the government’s preferred speed and volume, and rolled my eyes when people here think that the “National Night” video by Mentos is something to take seriously (also, I get most of the references!).  I’ve been in Singapore long enough to understand some of the political and social issues of the day well enough to have an educated opinion.

Ellie keeps asking when we’re going back to Singapore, and I think I finally understand why.  While I’ve enjoyed the trip “home,” I’m happy to heading back to the little red dot, which has also become “home.”

This entry was posted in Boston, cars/driving, Culture Shock, customs, Expat to Expat Advice, headdesk moments, Identity, money, North America, Pictures, Random Stuff, Singapore, Third Culture Kids, Travel by Continent, Country, US. Bookmark the permalink.

21 Responses to Reverse Culture Shock

  1. Robin says:

    I know this isn’t related to reverse culture shock, but it is related to flying with a baby. Not sure if you have seen this product called FlyeBaby, but when I saw it I thought of you:

    If I ever have another baby, I’m definitely buying this for those long flights!

    Hope you’re having a great time with your family and friends!

    • Crystal says:

      Hi Robin

      Thanks for the comment! We’re having a good time.

      I’ve had the FlyeBaby recommended to me before, but I don’t think it’s right for our family for a couple of reasons.

      If I may play devil’s advocate…

      1-It is not FAA approved as a safe way to hold/contain an infant. The only products that are FAA approved are car seats and the CARES system. More info on that at At least on a US airline, I would expect to be told that you can’t use it…most US airlines won’t let me keep a baby in my moby wrap (which is far safer) during a takeoff, making me use the baby lap belt, which is absolutely stupid. It would depend on your flight attendant/airline. I’m most comfortable either buying Rhi a seat and using her car seat until she’s big enough for CARES, or having her in lap/in a sling attached to me or another adult.

      2-I would be concerned about the risk to the baby should the passenger in front suddenly recline their seat.

      3-While this review shows how it fastens to the tray table, and it’s more secure than I’d previously thought, I’ve been on FAR too many flights where tray tables flops down with little to no encouragement.

      4-I think it would be very easy for me to be less attentive with the baby in this than I am if they’re in my lap or in a sling. I could easily have a false sense of security that could result in negative outcomes in turbulence, or possibly fall asleep while they were in this (especially on the long haul flights where you get so exhausted that you just start falling asleep for 5 minutes here, 10 minutes there–or at least I do).

      I think it could be the right choice for some families, but it’s one of those “your experience may vary” depending on a number of factors.

      Thanks for thinking of me, recommending it, and allowing us to give a few different points of view so that everyone can make the choice that’s right for them 🙂

      • Robin says:

        Yep, totally agree with you so many times. 🙂 I think I would only use it as a supplement to the carseat. (I’m one of those moms who was & still is adamant about buying a full ticket for my own then-baby to use the carseat, but I understand that every parent and parenting experience is different.) Once my little guy was big enough, we started using the CARES harness and have never looked back!

        And you know, the first hesitancy about FlyeBaby that popped into my head was that I, too, have had one too many seat-back trays fall down on their own. But my last flight had a tray so tight that my fingertips turned white and hurt just trying to slide the top clasp. Anyway, it could be useful if you get a good tray. 🙂 Always better safe than sorry.

  2. bookjunkie says:

    I really enjoyed reading this post. Always knew gas/ petrol was more expensive in Singapore but now I know the exact numbers. I also crave for more open spaces. Need to look out for those in Singapore where even low rise east coast is having more and more condos. It’s pretty cool that Singapore is becoming home to you too 🙂

    • Crystal says:

      It’s definitely been a strange journey on this vacation.

      I wish that Ellie could use sidewalk chalk at our condo, but I’m not even going to bother asking considering that they ripped down the children’s play area to build a new bbq pit.

      When I think of “open space” in Singapore, the first places that come to mind are the green spots–Botanic Garden, East Coast Park, Gardens by the Bay, the Zoo, and so forth. Living in the CBD is convienent, but you often wish for a break from the constant high rise buildings.

  3. bookjunkie says:

    Shampoo in Singapore sucks apart from expensive salon ones. And writing with chalk seems like fun 🙂

    • Crystal says:

      I definitely have been chicken to try new brands. I tried a few at first and they all weighed my hair down and make it look greasy. So I “cheat” and just load up while at home.

      I love sidewalk chalk. I remember being a kid and drawing hopscotch outlines with it as well as drawing in general.

    • I am absolutely terrible in that I really don’t give a damn what shampoo I use. So far I’ve been lucky and got away with it, though.

      • Crystal says:

        You are very lucky. My hair is so fine and thin that it goes limp and oily very fast. I’ve had to find solutions if I don’t want to look like a schlub!

  4. Jen says:

    A friend living in Iceland had the same complaint about BBQ chips. Foley stayed at my place during a work trip to Boston last month and says it’s $4 for a mini snack bag of a British brand of BBQ chips there, and that stuff tastes wrong.
    We went to Mr. Bartley’s in H^2 for burgers and fries the first night he was here. He said “$8. I could cry. This burger does not exist in Iceland at any price. They do amazing things to meat bits, but they don’t get burgers or fries.”

    • Crystal says:

      My Aussie friends are upset because the “chezels” in Singapore don’t taste like the Chezels in Australia. The Brits tell me that the Cadbury chocolate in SG is NOT the Cadbury in the UK. And I can assure you that KFC in SG has no relationship taste-wise to the KFC in the US.

      Mr. Bartley’s is well worth bowing down to. And now I’m trying to figure out if I have enough time to hit them before we leave the US on Saturday at too early o’clock. I was *just* in Harvard Square today to take Ellie to Curious George Goes to Wordsworth (so happy it re-opened!!!). Darn.

      • Jen says:

        Heh. I’ve never been over-wow’d by Mr. Bartley’s. Their Frappes are the best around, but most of the modern burger chains like five guys are more family friendly and have parking. We went there because we could walk there from my condo.
        Unless your kids want ice cream frappes bigger than their heads, they’ll get a better meal at a newer chain.

      • Crystal says:

        Yeah, but Mr Bartley’s is a local institution with burgers with fun names. Sadly won’t be making it there on this trip 😦 But always next time.

        And my kids always want frappes bigger than their heads!

      • Jen says:

        Also, if you want Australian food cheap, there’s KO Pies Shop in Southie and KO at the Shipyard. The first one is just off the red line and nicer, with a real wrapped good grocery.

      • Crystal says:

        good tip, thanks!

  5. Stacey says:

    Haha, I did the two handed card presentation and then waited like some kind of displaced disney princess. The cashier raised an eyebrow and handed it back to me in confusion. And I didn’t just do this once. This habit is hard to break!

  6. Claire says:

    This post made me laugh a lot as so much of it rings true! We just got back from the UK last week and I kept making mistakes, like being on the wrong side of the escalator on the Underground (lots of annoyed Londoners making growling sounds at me!).

    I also realised that although there are plenty of things I miss from the UK when I’m in SG, I didn’t actually bring much back with me. Admittedly that’s because lots of it doesn’t travel well (proper fresh bread, soft fruit being too good examples), but partly because I’ve realised there are very few things that I simply can’t do without. It was quite liberating in a way!

    • Crystal says:

      Yeah, I think some of the stuff I’d like to bring back I just can’t (like my favorite ice cream). If it weren’t for the girls, I’d be down to clothes (which I went a bit nuts on this time after 2 years of maternity/nursing clothes uniform and because I can’t buy clothes in SG) some toiletries and some food. The girls end up getting the lions share of luggage allowance (darn them and their growing and their birthdays and toys and and and)

  7. Alaine says:

    As I’m going through a terrible drawn out reverse culture shock here in Singapore (where I lived as a child/teen for 9 years in the expat community), coming from the States (LA for 4.5 years for school, NYC for 7 years) and trying to make sense of it all. I’m grateful to see this post – I too am missing my Tom’s of Maine toothpaste (its $14SGD here and they don’t have my favorite flavor/range!), Trader Joes, Whole Foods, Kate Somerville Sunscreen, clothes that fit me, and a variety of other items I got accustomed to living in NYC. My boyfriend is visiting next week and I have a whole list of items for him to bring! hahaha… Its funny. When I was living there, my family used to visit me once a year or I’d visit them in Singapore and I’d bring home or have them bring me all the Singapore sauce packets to make dishes like Chicken rice, Mee Siam, Mee Rebus, etc. I never managed to go through all those sauce packets before they expired. Now its the reverse. *sigh*

Comments are closed.