Turtle on beach with American Flag

One of my favorite parts of coming back to the U.S. intermittently is that I always get some surprising reverse culture shocks. Each trip, I keep thinking I’ll be prepared. Every few years I return to America and think “Ok, remember what shocked you last time?”

But without fail, there is always something new.

I wrote a similar blog during my last visit to the U.S. from China when the obesity and overly friendly waiters stood out. So, what has it been this time?

Reverse Culture Shocks from Summer 2021:

Wearing Shoes Inside

In Asia, you take your shoes off before entering a home. All my shoes live outside my front door (in the hall area) and I walk around my apartment in my socks. It’s more comfortable, my apartment stays cleaner, and my feet stay clean.

Pretty much everyone does this–neighbors, friends, etc…

Returning to a world where people leave their shoes on inside, I am constantly aware of how dirty the floors are. I don’t even like putting my feet on my bed because dirt will get in my sheets. 

Slippers help, but I still think Asia has the U.S. beat in this category.

Truly, this is a national emergency.

Phones

Ok, well it’s kind of on me that I refuse to get a working phone while in the U.S. In my defense, I was supposed to be back in Asia by now. 

Pay-as-you-go data in the U.S. only is outrageously expensive, so much so that I felt I couldn’t use my phone even when I had invested in it. Everyone here is on a contract plan.

Being without data has mostly been a blessing in disguise. It caps my phone time to when I am home or in a place with wifi. I don’t use text messages anyway—the entire world uses WhatsApp and the few American friends I talk to regularly all use it. 

Except Sarah. My college roommate (and the person I have seen most since being home) doesn’t have it. So I’ve literally been coordinating with her via Instagram messenger which works.

Likewise, I took a wrong turn in Raleigh when I left her apartment and got lost. Since I couldn’t use Google Maps or call someone for directions, I just ended up driving around for an extra forty minutes trying to find the interstate.

Women in bamboo forest
Sarah–please get Whatsapp

I’ve gotten a lot better at looking up directions ahead of time now. It’s mostly been a non-issue but cheap prepaid data would be lovely. 

No Bum Guns

Ok–TMI time.

Toilets in Asia have little water hoses attached to them so you can clean yourself off with water post-bathroom visits. When I first moved to India, I didn’t like this because it a lot of people only had water and no paper. You can read about my Indian bathroom experiences here.

However, water plus paper is absolutely the way to go. Why would anyone only use paper?

In fact, the longer I live in Asia, the more I find it absolutely horrific that we do not do this in Western countries. I know no one came to this blog in order to learn about my bathroom preferences, but I sincerely miss the water hoses.

Not Needing to Bribe the Police 


When I first arrived back in the U.S., I was walking around my old neighborhood when I saw a cop car slowly cruising up. I immediately felt a pang of panic.

I didn’t have a mask! I didn’t have my passport! I didn’t have any cash!

Then I realized I didn’t need any of those things…

In Malaysia, the mask laws are strict (and confusing). I never knew if I am supposed to be wearing one if I am walking alone outside. No matter what the law actually is, police in Malaysia are known for their corruption. I have heard so many stories of them stopping people for minor transgressions (or just for the hell of it), and demanding bribes, and threatening to take them to prison for the weekend.

I’ve also heard this has gotten worse during the pandemic. Since I was granted a special extended visa by immigration, but never actually had the visa put in my passport, I knew that police would try to argue I had overstayed and would try to take an enormous bribe for me if I was ever caught.

At immigration in Kuala Lumpur, the officer literally told me, “You are legal in Malaysia with immigration. But you are not legal with the police.”

Of course, we can have an entirely different conversation about police in the U.S. But this isn’t the blog for that.

It shocked me how quickly I had associated police cars with bribes and how much fear of my weird Malaysia visa situation I had been lugging around for months now. I feel so free not worrying about that now.

The Library

Bookstack

Wow! I love public libraries! And there are so many of them! And they are so accessible and easy to use! I don’t even have my library card and have still been checking out books all summer for my new book blog. 

What a world! I’m honestly not even sure my new university library in Malaysia will be half as good as my tiny little public town library in Nowhere, North Carolina. 

Great job, America! Here’s something I wish the rest of the world had as well as you do! 

Accessibility to Nature

I love Malaysia in a way that doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. But probably what I am going to miss the most when I go back is not being able to walk around in the quiet mornings along the river in by people’s sleepy hometown gardens. Everywhere here is so green. I literally walk the Occoneechee Mountain trail multiple times a week. 

Young Woman in woods

Being in nature is so calming and has been so fundamental to rebuilding my mental health. I really am not looking forward to walking around on the sides of busy highways once again. 

I’m going to decorate my new apartment with so many plants it looks like a forest.

Feature Photo by Brittney Weng

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3 Comments

  1. I feel sad thinking about the police situation there.

  2. Wasn’t sure what you mean in the last one when you say “here” – are you referring to the USA or does Malaysia have really easy-to-access nature?
    I am TOTALLY with ya on the communication issues in the US – it’s a nightmare, everyone uses something different but mostly it seems like people just text because of their free plans – so annoying for us! I feel like I have to coerce people to download WhatsApp just for me. I’ve definitely had a pay-as-you-go plan for almost 9 years now, data-free, and I rarely miss it! Maybe a life-hack for you could be downloading offline maps? I’m not sure if Google does this but the Czech Republic has its own map service like that with worldwide downloadable maps and it’s been everything.

    1. Gwendolyn A Bellinger

      Malaysia has some great hiking spots, but I have to drive to get to any of them. The great thing about where I am in the U.S. is that even walking through town feels like walking through nature–so many trees, gardens, animals.

      People seem to have gotten better with Whatsapp here but I do wonder how often they are only using it just to talk to me (or like 1-2 other people versus literally everyone they know). It’s been funny how much I have been using Instagram DMs to communicate with people (both in the U.S. and back in Malaysia).

      I’m not sure where you are living in Czech Republic, but Prague had such great public transportation! I miss that a lot.

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