So you’ve moved to Florence, you’re learning Italian, the culture doesn’t seem all that strange to you anymore. You’ve made new friends, the kids are happy in their school, you even have a couple of new hobbies, and then the inevitable happens, you go back home, you visit your home country, and boy, does it shock you?!
I write this from the comfort of my home country, Brazil, where I hadn’t been since the beginning of the pandemic. Brazil was and remains to be my home, the place where I grew up and was so sad to leave. I feel the most comfortable here, it’s the only place where all the smells and sounds make perfect sense, they go to that place in your brain that just says: you’re safe. But it’s hard to come back after long absences, everything feels different, you’re a stranger in a familiar land.
There’s lots of wonderful and weird observations that I make when I arrive, this time, unsurprisingly, what’s shocking to me, is just how similar Italians and Brazilians are, you watch the news and every other surname on the screen is Italian, the men look Italian, and the attitude is well, Italian. But there is also another side. Brazil is so diverse, which Italy simply is not. When you arrive in Brazil, you may want to figure out what a typical Brazilian looks like. You probably have an idea in our mind already, but once you’re actually there, you will realise that there is no such thing. Brazilians really come in all shapes, sizes and colours. The only real thing we all have in common is the language, no matter how far you travel in Brazil, we speak Portuguese, with very different accents of course.
But what’s funny about the reverse shock is that you don’t necessarily find yourself comparing your home country to your new country, but you see your home country with beginner’s eyes. It’s almost like you get the opportunity to visit the place you were born and grew up in for the first time. Everything sounds and looks strange, from the TV that speaks your language, to the News stories, to how people interact with each other, the music playing, everything screams home, but also unfamiliar, it’s a very odd combination.
How you cope
One of things that make it easier to cope with this shock here in Brazil is just how keen Brazilians are to listen to how things are outside of the country. Everyone wants to know your story, to hear about the place you live, how does it work, what does it look like, how different is the food? Brazilians are naturally curious and love a good anecdote. This helps a lot, it makes you feel great and gives you false sense of being the most interesting person in the room at all times. Of course, a lot of cultures are much more closed to listening to the experiences of someone who’s spent time away, this can make the reverse culture shock so much worse. Suddenly you’re lost and have nothing in common with your compatriots. You want to explain to them that there is another way, that yes, maybe you’ve always done it like this, but why not try it differently this time, but it falls on deaf ears.
What’s very valuable about having an experience like this, is the opportunity to see your country how others might see it: with the benefit of some distance. Brazilians are just so nice, everyone is polite and helpful, you get so far on just a smile, I often forget about this side of my culture. But it’s also strangely disorganised, the roads are messy, the driving just like Italy, but the homes are so clean and tidy, everyone seems to be able to afford an interior decorator and has good taste. Women have their nails done, wear amazing colours, wear a bikini no matter what and are always ready to smile. Men are kind, helpful and very respectful. Brazil really is a gem and I can get so caught up in criticising it and the government, that I forget there is so much good about my country.
Now let’s imagine a world where most people get the opportunity to see their home countries the same way others do, how different would the USA be perhaps? The kind of clarity you get from distance is the kind of lucidity you need to help you have an open mind and tolerance for differences. When you have experienced being the foreigner and realise your home country is just as odd as your new country, but you were too blind to see it before, well it shakes you. Being moved this way is one of the most important parts of the expat journey, it’s when you experience true growth, and what’s life without it?
Let’s do this together!
For now I get to spend a little time in my home, before I go back to my second home. I get to marvel at things only tourists get to marvel at, I get to taste my mum’s food for the “first” time again, go to my favourite beach for the “first” time, enjoy Brazil like only a tourist can, what a privilege that is!
Using this expat journey, no matter how arduous and frustrating, to teach you lessons and experience personal growth, is easily the best thing you can get out of it. Because if you see it all as an experience, then all of a sudden, the super annoying steps you need to take to get papers in order, will seem less of a chore and more of an end in itself. If it all goes wrong and you go back home, the experience will be no less valuable, you lived it and learned from it. No matter what attitude you have to your move, Move to Florence can help you along the way. Drop me a message and we’ll do this together!