Reverse Culture Shock: 22 Wild Things That Took Us by Surprise in America

They say that distance makes the heart grow fonder, and after 5 years of living in Ecuador, we were prepared for a huge dose of nostalgia going back to the United States. However, there were a lot of things about the US that felt really foreign to us!

Here are some of the most shocking (and sometimes hilarious) things that required some readjustment. Number 22 had us laughing out loud!

 1. Extreme Heat

During our time in the US, the temperatures soared to 105F. While not a cultural issue, it was a huge adjustment for us as the weather in Ecuador is reliably temperate. It rarely goes above 75F / 24C, and there isn’t much fluctuation between seasons.

Hanging out all day in the air conditioning with its dry air certainly took getting used to, and we’re thrilled to be back in the cool Ecuadorian climate.

 2. Drug Ads

It was impossible to go a day without seeing an ad for a drug or medication. They are all over the television and on billboards. After three years without these showing up, it was a bit of a shock to hear all the side effects listed off, especially DEATH!

 3. Fancy Highways and Bridges

Driving around in Ecuador, you become accustomed to having two-lane roads. You’ll find a few with four lanes, but nothing like the infrastructure you see in the US. Navigating the huge looping bridges and highways was a big change, but seeing all that architecture and engineering blew us away.

 4. Driving Everywhere

Speaking of highways, we spent a lot of our time in the US driving from one place to another. We’re spoiled in Ecuador with it being so walkable. It would be physically impossible to get things done in the US without a vehicle of some kind.

 5. Rushing Around

When so much of your day is spent in the vehicle, it can be hard to find time to make a meal or slow down. There’s always an energy of “I have somewhere to be,” which isn’t common in Ecuador.

 6. Gas Is Expensive

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In Ecuador, we don’t need a car, so gas prices have been the furthest thing from our minds. Even if we did need fuel though, gas prices are regulated in Ecuador, so they never get too high. That’s not the case in the US. We found ourselves spending three times our monthly transportation budget in just a week, all because of the ridiculous price of gas.

 7. Limited Public Transportation

We see so many buses and taxis on the roads in Ecuador that they feel like part of the scenery. On the off chance that something is too far away to walk, there’s a plethora of public transit options to get you where you need to go.

There was a distinct lack of opportunities for public transit anywhere we went in the US, which took some getting used to.

 8. Food Prices

Walking through a grocery store in the US gave us serious sticker shock. Every single item was exorbitantly expensive, which we expected, but it was worse than we could have imagined. There was also a lot of shrinkflation, meaning that we were spending more for even less food than before.

 9. Everything is Extremely Homogeneous

One of the things we love about Ecuador is the diversity, not only in culture but in stores and architecture. During our time in the US, we started to feel stifled by the aggressive sameness of the houses, malls, restaurants, and stores. Everything was a chain, and we saw the same storefronts and food options again and again.

10. Strip Malls Are Everywhere

The convenience of a one-stop shop can’t be denied. Everywhere we went in the US, we could count on being able to get what we were looking for in one shopping trip. This isn’t possible in Ecuador, as every store will have different things. If you’re in a new place, it can be a bit of a scavenger hunt to find everything you need.

11. Staff Shortages

Since the pandemic, America has been struggling with labor shortages. This is a huge change since the last time we were home, and it was almost eerie to see help-wanted signs in every window. The biggest shock was coming into a store and seeing only one person working in an area that used to have four or five.

12. Empty Shelves

This is another big difference from when we left the US. The transportation crisis and manufacturing shortages have led to empty shelves in many stores, which felt like we were in an apocalypse movie. This has gradually improved over time, but it was a noticeable change when we visited last summer (August 2022).

13. Eating Out

As a side effect of rushing around so much, we found ourselves eating out more often than not. It was nice because there was a huge variety of places to eat; however, we ended up spending a lot of money and gaining some weight.

The prices felt otherworldly: in Ecuador, if we decide to go out for a nice meal, it comes out to only $10-$15 per person. In the US, it was triple that, even for lunch.

14. Tipping Culture

No matter how much or little people interacted with us, they expected a tip. We have grown accustomed to only tipping for service that is above and beyond, but in the US, tipping is used to subsidize low wages, so we felt obligated to give a lot more than we would have otherwise.

15. Flavorless Produce

Fruit and veggies in the US didn’t taste like anything. We were so upset about unripe, low-quality produce because we’d been spoiled for years with rich and diverse fruits and vegetables in Ecuador.

16. Weight Gain

We’ve heard again and again from our friends that everyone gains weight when they return to the States. Between the convenience of snack food, lack of walking, and frequency of eating out, it seems inevitable. Plus, when food doesn’t taste as good as you’re used to, you’re bound to eat more because you aren’t satisfied.

17. Automated Everything

From vending machines to entire stores, automation in the US is through the roof. We could get everything by simply tapping our phones. This was great for convenience, but it felt like something out of a sci-fi novel.

18. Credit Cards

Cash barely made an appearance on our trip. Everyone uses a credit card or mobile phones for every purchase, no matter how small.

19. Fast Delivery

Same-day and next-day delivery is not a thing in Ecuador, so the prospect of being able to order something at night and receive it by the following day was mind-boggling. When we left, Amazon Prime shipping would get things to you within two or three days, so this was a huge change.

20. New Technology

The US gets more technologically advanced by the day. We were floored to see charging stations, Teslas, and other electric cars everywhere we went. In grocery stores, there were even digital displays to show you what was in the fridge without needing to open it – though oftentimes, the shelves behind the screen were empty.

21. Sloppy Clothes

Everyone dresses very casually in the States, which was quite a change from the everyday fashion in Ecuador. It’s not uncommon to see Ecuadorians walking around grocery stores in suits or dresses, while Americans will go out in a simple t-shirt and baseball cap.

22. Pubic Hair Commercials

By far, the strangest thing we saw during our time in the States was a commercial for grooming your pubic hair. It featured singing and dancing cartoon hair pleading with the viewer to give them the attention that hair on other parts of the body received. As funny as this was, it was certainly a representation of how ridiculous many things in the US have become.

If you think these culture shock moments were funny, you’ll love hearing all our other stories of being immigrants in Ecuador. Check out our content to learn how you can move to a new country and start having your very own reverse culture shock! We’re sure about one thing: we’re thrilled to be back home in Ecuador!


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