I often wonder what it will be like to return to England after so many years away, even more so now with the recent Brexit vote casting a pall of fear and suspicion over the country.
Even though there are many things I’m looking forward to; familiar food, especially Jamaican food, a sympathetic culture and a clear understanding of social norms, I still worry that years spent absorbed in a world light years away from England in terms of attitudes and beliefs means that re-entry may be more difficult than expected.
Take the case of Angie for example.
She’s recently returned to China after 6 years down under and has found herself confronted with severe culture shock as she tries to reassimiliate into the land of her birth. Somehow it no longer matters that she had actually spent more years here than in Australia. This is where her family is. It’s where she spent her formative years and had experiences which would shape her character and play a big part in her outlook. It’s where she made the decision to study and work in Australia and it’s the place which gave her the confidence to go after her dreams of seeing whether or not the grass is actually greener overseas.
Angie now feels that China is an alien place even though she admits it hasn’t changed that much since she was last here in 2009. Sure there are more sky scrapers and less old, familiar neighbourhoods. The leadership changed in 2012 and the new party Chairman has cracked a severe whip on excessiveness among party members. There are now more foreigners in and around the big cities who seem to feel more at home here than she does.
As she went through her purse and showed me her Australian store cards, library card, driving license, ID card and various other paraphernalia Angie confessed that she wasn’t sure if she was going to make it here and after only two weeks was already plotting how to ‘go home’ to Canberra.
I suggested that two weeks wasn’t long enough to feel relaxed and that she give it a little more time. My first two months in China were very very hard and overall it had taken me two years to get used to the place, but even now there are still some days when China takes me by surprise.
She replied that she felt out of place all day, every day.
When she spoke to people she was taken aback at being shouted at, although she eventually recognised that what to her seemed like shouting was just normal conversation for some Chinese.
She commented that her roomate complained about how she filled the fridge with a big weekly shop instead of going to the local markets every day.
She moaned that society in general seemed to ride along on a wave of rudeness with people only looking out for themselves. Locals pushed and shoved to get ahead, didn’t hold the door open or say thank you when it was appropriate.
Emitting yet another sigh Angie asked if I agreed with her premise that conditions between China and the west were like night and day, of course I did.
She said that she longed for Australia and woke up every morning feeling out of place in a country which she could no longer call home.
This last sentence sent shivers down my spine.
Will I be expressing the same sentiments on my return to the UK? I guess only time will tell.