Much is said about “reverse culture shock” when expats move back to their former countries.
As I said in my last post, my wife and I have spent plenty of time missing Portugal after our return to England, sometimes to the point of feeling truly homesick.
So, with this is mind, it was perhaps a little foolhardy for me to book a trip back to Portugal as soon as we had really started to feel settled back in the UK.
The trip back was all rather sudden and unplanned. A good friend had a birthday coming up and my wife unexpectedly asked if I fancied going. I headed for my laptop and booked some flights before she had a chance to change her mind!
I travelled to Portugal alone on this occasion. A recent train trip to London with our now extremely mobile and inquisitive toddler has put us right off attempting to drag him onto a plane until such time as we can reason with him about social norms! While I felt a tad guilty about my wife missing out, we both agreed it was actually quite a good plan, as we didn’t want to find ourselves back in Portugal all together, desperately wishing we’d never moved back to England.
Onwards then, to the reverse culture shock. Well, to be frank I’m not sure whether I experienced it back in Portugal or whether I’m still experiencing it here in the UK!
The biggest surprise was how…unsurprising everything was. A friend picked me up from the airport, and heading back to my old stomping ground didn’t feel strange, it just felt…normal. Things don’t change very fast in small Portuguese towns and I was up to speed on the local goings on by the time I’d checked into my apartment and hurriedly changed into some shorts. (One thing I had forgotten after a few sunny English days is that there is actually a very distinct difference between warm and HOT!)
While I was in the Algarve, I wasn’t entirely on holiday; Us freelancers don’t truly get those, so I was having to do some work each day. This contributed a little to the headspin factor, as I essentially just walked straight back into my old life, albeit looking rather more pale, as all my local friends took great pleasure in telling me…
Reverse Culture Shock: So how did it feel?
One way to sum it all up is that it all fell dead centre between “familiarity breeds contempt” and “absence makes the heart grow fonder.” Trips to the beach and on a boat along the Ria Formosa were enjoyable and memorable, and served to make me really rather mad at myself for not taking more advantage of what was on my doorstep for all those years.
On the flipside, traipsing around three different supermarkets in the heat to find an edible potato to bake one evening didn’t feel quaint and quirky, it just felt really bloody irritating like it did when I lived there. I’ve compared (somewhat controversially) the food options between Portugal and the UK before on this blog, but I stand by the fact that in terms of variety, the UK wins hands down, and not just for convenience food. I should follow this up by saying that this situation is both manageable and enjoyable if you have the time to shop around in Portugal, but for a busy working family, it’s easier to fill the cupboards and remain inspired in the kitchen when you live in the UK. I shall await the backlash on that once again.
Anyway, once I’d relaxed back to the Portuguese pace, I was sad to leave, but not as sad as I’d been missing my wife and son while I was there. On my last evening, one of my UK friends asked me online how the trip had felt. With some consideration, my answer was “transformative.”
The fact was, I felt homesick. Just the way I’d felt homesick for Portugal a couple of weeks previously. Now I know this was exacerbated by the fact I didn’t have my family with me, but somehow it felt like affirmation – and in a good way. However, at the same time I felt like I was finally mourning a closed chapter.
Ironically, I felt homesick for Portugal again today, and seeing my friends there again has definitely made me miss them afresh. I’ll be back to that town very frequently, all being well, with the confidence that it seems to remain reassuringly frozen in time.
But, all in all, I’m happy where I live now. The day after I got back was gloriously sunny, and I visited Whitstable on the Kent coast. I ate lobster and chips, and the best oysters I’ve ever tasted. I paddled in the chilly sea with my son, and I took more pictures during that afternoon than I did during five days in The Algarve.
Sometimes, to avoid that “reverse culture shock” you have to convince yourself you’ve done the right thing – just in order to stay sane. My trip to Portugal was a lot of fun, and I look forward to going again, but most of all it reassured me that I’m not telling myself any lies. For now, this is where I want to be – but feel free to ask me again once winter sets in 😉