I’d been warned about reverse culture shock. I’d been told it would be just as difficult to adjust to as the shock I felt my first weeks and months in Ukraine. But seeing is believing.
A week after I landed in Houston, I have already counted six people in their pajamas in public. I stare at them with an open mouth and judging eyes. Shaming them in the Ukrainian fashion. To be clear, I’m not talking about sweat pants. I mean legitimate nightwear: flannel fabric, patterned designs and drawstrings. After the high-fashion world of Ukraine, I find this appalling. I got stares for wearing flats, albeit nice leather ones, instead of heels. But this is too much. Of course, I quickly remembered several pre-Peace Corps experiences where I dawned nighttime garb outside my own four walls. I wore pajamas to take finals, to elementary school on several rebellious occasions, and undoubtedly to make a quick run to the store once or thrice, although I don’t particularly recall it.
My first full-day in America, my sister and I were going to get Tapioca Bubble Tea at the mall.
Pause for respect of the Bubble.
I emerged from my room in jeans, a round-neck sweater, and some slip ons. “Oh, you feel like dressing all cute,” my sister said from her hoodie and workout pants. She reluctantly put on a pair of jeans. What’s funny is that I had purposely chosen a casual outfit. But after strolling around the mall, I realized by comparison I had in fact, dressed up.
In other fashion news, moms wear tennis shoes and chew gum and look and act remarkably like their children. I am trying not to be annoyed by this. Honestly, I don’t know how I missed this stuff before. Or why it should bother me. Such is the confusing world of being shocked by your own culture.
On a happier note: Grocery Stores. Wow. I grazed the gargantuan produce section, chuckling at both the selection (watermelons in December!) and the presentation. Misters rain down from above, sprinkling fruits and vegetables for extra shine and appeal, and all items are scrubbed to perfection to begin with. In Ukraine, not only do we eat in season (which has its benefits, I know, I know), but the food in stores is covered in dirt. I mean, if it came out of the ground, you can tell. Beets, potatoes, onions, carrots, etc are caked with earth and displayed haphazardly in bins. Presentation, what presentation? You know food tastes good. Why bother enticing you with bright orange carrots or brilliant beanstalks?
My first few days have been a sensory feast. Besides the optical offenses and delights, I’ve been amazed by how many good smells are in this country. I hug people and catch a whiff of detergent. It is enchanting. A walk around the neighborhood with my family (how wholesome) left me sniffing after dryer sheets. It’s not that everything stunk in Ukraine. It’s that I rarely noticed smells that weren’t food related. And yes, some things like trash heaps and crowded buses did not emit a pleasant aroma. But everything from pillows to carpet is scented to me now. I find myself walking into a room and taking a deep breath, and smelling people’s necks when I hug them. I probably should work on that last part.