10 Ways I Experience Reverse Culture Shock When Going Back to the USA

10 Ways I Experience Reverse Culture Shock When Going Back to the USA

I can say that I get more and more shocked and a bit annoyed whenever I visit the USA. It is like reverse culture shock. I have been living in the Netherlands for two years now. Before the pandemic, I visited the USA several times. There are some things that I just cannot get over once I became accustomed to the Dutch way of living. Don’t get me wrong, I still do love the United States. It’s where I grew up and lived for most of my life, but let’s be honest, with some things, the Europeans just do better. Here are some of the things that shock me when I go back to visit.

1. Homeless People Everywhere

If I see a homeless person in the Netherlands, it’s really something special. I never really noticed homeless people in the US before because they are everywhere. Now, I really see it when I go back because it is very rare to see one here. The country does much better-taking care of its own people.

2. Inefficiency

The USA is so incredibly inefficient. This ranges from airports to banks. Why do I have to stand in line for almost 2 hours at JFK airport to go through security or passport control? Amsterdam has millions of people going through the airport a year, and I have never stood for more than 30 minutes waiting for security or passport control. And it usually takes less than 10 minutes unless it’s the busy season. I can go on and on, but I’ll stop here. 

3. Bragging Culture

Dutch people are not only efficient but they are very modest. They will brag if they got a good deal instead of what Americans do, bragging about how much they paid for something. For example, it is quite common to see a poor person in the US driving a car or wearing clothes they clearly cannot afford and bragging about their shiny new object. It is extremely common to see a multi-million dollar house in the Netherlands with a cheap old car in the driveway. The Dutch have got their priorities straight. If you brag about your designer clothes or whatever, Dutch people will just look at you weirdly. In America, people think it’s cool and so impressive.

4. Nudity

Why is it that the bathroom stalls have huge gaps in them so you can see everyone’s business but then nudity is this crazy taboo subject? Like how does that even make sense? Nudity in the Netherlands is very normal, especially at the beach or at the sauna. On the weekends, in the center of the city, they have public urinals for people to pee in. In America, nudity is very weird and not ok.

5. Care for Your Environment

I rarely see trash in the Netherlands, even in the big cities. People throw away their trash in the bin instead of throwing it on the ground. Yes, can you believe it? People just throw trash out their window or on the ground in the US. Would you believe me if I tell you that there are plenty of trash cans around every single city and town? Well, there are. They are just not being used and I really don’t know why. Also, the homes in the US usually look like they are falling down. They aren’t taken care of at all. You will never see that in the Netherlands. People want to live in their homes long term and care for those homes.

Dutch homes in perfect condition.

6. The Netherlands, Huh, What, Where

I am not lying to you, so many times when I say that I live in the Netherlands, people have no clue what or where that is. And guess what? Before I met my Dutch boyfriend, I didn’t either. I never knew that Amsterdam was the capital of the Netherlands. And that Holland was just a province in the Netherlands. Now I just say I live in Holland so people don’t look all confused. I don’t live in Holland though, I live in Noord Brabant, which is a province in the country called the Netherlands. 

7. Hotel Breakfast

If you go to a hotel in America, they are barely any food options. You can either eat pancakes, waffles, or bacon for example. It’s unhealthy and disgusting. Hotel breakfasts all over Europe include tons of fresh pastries, omelets, yogurt, and more. It’s 100 times better. And this is even if you go to a cheap hotel. The coffee at hotels in the US is gross, it’s so watery. In Europe, it’s just so much better. 

8. Giant Portions

A standard coffee in the US is 16oz (473ml), in the Netherlands, it is 8oz to 10oz (237-296ml). This is with everything, not only the coffee. The portions are for like 3 people. How can one person eat that much food? I used to order a 16oz coffee, but now I can barely even finish an 8oz coffee. Whenever I order a small coffee in the US, the baristas always ask me if I’m sure that I want that 6oz coffee and not something bigger. I’m like, yes, I’m sure.

9. Food Prices

Why do I have to pay $6 for a coffee with some soy milk? The same coffee in the Netherlands is around half of that price. Why does a smoothie cost $7-$9? Is it made out of gold? I can get it here for $3. This idea is evident everywhere, from the prices in the grocery stores to the airports.

10. Respect for Menial Jobs

In the US, if you work a job like being a waitress, it’s seen as something to look down on. Like it’s a temporary job until you can afford to get educated to get a better job. I find that in the Netherlands, plenty of people working menial jobs like serving or working in a clothing store, are quite happy and see it as a long term job. Americans jump from job to job a lot more compared to Dutch people.

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Have you ever experienced reverse culture shock? Share with us about your experiences.

44 thoughts on “10 Ways I Experience Reverse Culture Shock When Going Back to the USA

  1. Are you visiting NY? I don’t see so many homeless in Milwaukee. I actually went as far as look up homelessness by country. So, in 2018 Netherlands had 23 per 10000, in 2019 USA had 17 per 10000. So, maybe it’s the city. USA is big, things are different in different places.

    1. I totally understand what you’re saying. I never used to notice them in Milwaukee because it was something I was so used to. I see those are the homeless numbers that Wikipedia says – a very unreliable source. Even on statista the numbers aren’t accurate because they are estimated. The US doesn’t actually keep count of their homeless people as well as the Netherlands does. In France, yes, there are a lot more homeless people than in the Netherlands. I have seen that with my own eyes many times.

  2. I am French and live in Milwaukee – Since I own a home in France, I notice the same things whenever I come back here. You could also add to your list: violence (this insane obsession with guns), intolerance (all these militia groups), bigotry (Kenosha has more churches than restaurants!), waste culture (how many bags does it take to bag groceries?)…

  3. Totally agree about the bragging culture !
    I’d also add that here religion is not so present in daily lives.
    It’s more about the person itself, there are no differences or comments made if you’re Moslim or cristian or whatever in your private space. Maybe cause here there are more atheists , I don’t know. But I like it, we are all the same ❤️

  4. In my experience, groceries are more expensive in NL. Milk in Michigan is $.79 (.69EUR) per liter. Here, it’s .85 EUR per liter.

      1. Would like to ask whether the price for milk in the US is a fair price. Can a farmer live of it as Dutch farmers barely get by and milk prices are low for consumers and do not reflect true costs that a farmer makes.

    1. In strict dollars and sense, yes it’s more expensive, but, in terms of the quality, doesn’t compare. Not at all. The food laws here are much more strict and we’ll enforced than in the US. Another difference is how well they integrate learning a second language in Europe as a whole compared to the US. I routinely meet “average” citizens who speak three or four languages better than some people speak English.

    2. have you ever tasted the milk in the netherlands compared to what we have here in the us ??
      here its way more watery then over there.

  5. Food is much more expensive here. Where do you live in the NL that you found such low prices? Amsterdam food prices in both grocery stores and restaurants are higher on average than the United States

    1. I have to agree with Soreh. A couple of years ago when I went back to NL, I went to the grocery store to stock up for a couple of days worth of things for the family to eat when we weren’t being “tourists” and were hanging out at the house. Please bear in mind this was for 6 adults. So, that would be for dinner that night, breakfast the next morning, some various snacks, some coffee and tea and a couple of bottles of wine – €55 and all from ONE store. Because I had noticed the difference in price, I set it up on the counter and took a picture of it, so I could replicate it when I got back to the U.S. When I got back, picture in hand, I went to the store(s) and got NEARLY identical items – almost $90. This didn’t include the time and distance factors it also took – I had to go to 2 stores, grocery and liquor, and that I had to drive to the stores and not walk. At the time I was living in a suburb west of Denver, and we were staying in Amersfoort….

  6. I’m sorry, but a lot of these things are BS. There is a ridiculous amount of homeless people and drug addicts in Amsterdam. In the student dorm I was living in during my studies, there was a bunch of homeless people that broke into the student run bar in the building, broke everything, and literally pissed all over the floor. This was right across the street from the Hermitage. As for inefficiency, Dutch service is very slow and they also have similarly slow bureaucratic apparatuses similar to that of the US. As for respect for menial jobs, I think this is bullshit as well. Dutch people have actual nobility and an actual noble upper class, and I’ve heard Dutch people say many xenophobic or disparaging things to immigrant workers. I think it’s delusional to think that some rich Dutch person respects their Polish maid more than she would be respected in the USA. Pricing wise, Amsterdam is very expensive. Much more expensive than Los Angeles or Chicago. Maybe you are comparing these prices in Amsterdam to New York.

    1. I am not eligible to compare prices with US, but I am migrant in NL, working as a skilled migrant , and my friends are migrants as well, I 120% agree how Dutch ppl treat migrants; same for Buro racy and ‘effectiveness’ of Dutch services; but definitely Dutch ppl believe they are very international and very effective and just as you say Nobel, but I would say arrogant.

    2. You read the part where she explains Amsterdan is just the capital city, not the country 😉 Just kidding, I get your point on some of these. But in the town I’ve been living in for the past 20 years, I can count the number of homeless persons I’ve seen during all those years on one hand.

      PS. Don’t judge my comment by my Dutch name, it’s still true 😉

  7. Traveling internationally really opens your eyes to a greater reality. My wife and I are both American but the Netherlands are one of our favorite places on Earth. We’ve spent a lot of time there and the people and culture are amazing. Europe
    (EU) in our experience, is much better in terms of quality of life in general. Much of this has to do with the culture but another important aspect is how taxes are spent. Most EU European countries spend much more of the tax base on their citizens and infrastructure instead of on the military and grants for huge corporations. It makes a difference. I just wish more Americans would travel abroad. Only then can you realize how we’re getting short-changed. I really enjoyed your article! Stay well.

  8. Thank you for your article regarding differences between our countries.
    First thing I’ve always noticed is the inexpensive groceries in The Netherlands. Then the cleanliness of the cities and country…and of course my pet peeve…..the terrible homeless problems in the bigger cities. They’re getting worse and worse and the messes they leave behind. Its outrageous!!! I’m often ashamed of the USA! I’ve lived in Oregon for almost 50 years and am often considering moving back to The Netherlands.

  9. The jobs in the Netherlands come with security, living wage, vacation money, sick time, and the assurance that if you get sick or injured you will not become homeless or starve.

  10. It is very interesting article. I consider about point 9. It is really that in the USA is more expensive than here? I have always though that in the USA prices are good and relevanted to salary. Could you extend this point?

  11. I have now lived in the Netherlands “Holland” just over 3 years. I have also written a blog on the topic. I completely agree with you. There maybe a few more things I would add to the list but that maybe becouse I’m from California. I’ll just say stress is a ugly thing when you are not used to being around it at that level.
    Tot zines 😎

  12. Hurray! Bis! Applause! What a nice article. Thanks for writing this. As a Dutchman, I am indeed not bragging about our culture, but it is really uplifiting to read a ocnfirmation of what we do and how we do it. It is as much a mirror for me as your experience was to you and your culture. This is also why I studied Cultural Comparative Studies first as a hobby and later for my work.
    You are most welcome in the Netherlands. I would like to leave you with a comment a Russian professor at the University of Amsterdam once made when I interviewed him; “I have lived and worked in the USSR, I have lived and worked in the USA, now I live and work in the Netherlands and I never want to leave. It is the best of both worlds.”

  13. I would disagree with you on some points, and agree with others. Having experienced USA quite a bit and having lived here in Netherlands for close to 2 years, i agree on the points about prices, portion sizes, breakfast in hotels, religion being personal , propensity to brag etc. But as for racism/classism, there is a huge sense of racism and lookdown upon on migrants among native dutch. I believe any country/society which still accepts nobility/monarchy/royalty, has classism and class divide. There is simply no place or role for it in a democracy/modern society. What purpose do they serve apart from beisg ornamental and a cost on tax payers. As for old cars in million dollar homes, its a well known fact that Dutch are stingy and count every penny. “Going dutch” dint come from nowhere. They still ride old cars coz they dont want to spend on a new one, till the old does its job. As for respect to menial jobs, they dont have a choice!!! The dutch dont want to do those jobs!! Thats why they are tolerant of ceetain nationalities from southern and eastern extremes of Europe andnorth africa to come in. Have you ever seen a local dutch guy plumbing, constructing, delivering food or such?? I havent!! They need to conserve their homes because again, 1. Getting permits to buildnew homes is not easy, 2. Its cheaper to maintain than build! And!! Theres lot of inheritance money/assets in Netherlands families from past centuries!! Why do you think there is a 1.5-2% asset tax here??

    Well its not all hunky dory always!!
    Disclaimer: that doesnt mean i support few things about USA, as you have rightly pointed out!

  14. Lol “coffee is half the size in NL” “why is coffee double the price in USA”…Um, just read what you wrote, it’s half the price in NL because it’s half the size 🙄

  15. I find the point about garbage interesting, I’m glad to hear that the Netherlands is tidy. I live in Belgium and think that too, for the most part. But I have traveled all over Europe and lived in the UK for 17 years — Europe is not a clean place overall. The UK in particular has a huge problem with people literally dropping garbage on the ground as they please (I have witnessed it, it is shocking) no matter how many bins are added. They have a huge problem with flytipping too. Italy (with apologies to all Italians) is the dirtiest place I’ve ever been, and Greece is pretty bad too, with garbage being tossed into the sea and down the sides of mountains, spoiling beautiful countryside. By comparison, I think the US — at least where I’m from — is a lot tidier.

  16. Really interesting article. As a Brit that has spent extensive time in both countries (amongst others) I think it is basically accurate. The point about bragging is quite amusing. It took me a long time working for and amongst Americans to realise that the British (and maybe European?) habit of self deprecating humour really doesnt work in that enviroment. If you say, for example, I’m really rubbish at x or perhaps I need to work on y it will be taken at face value. Similar with sarcasm and satire. Initially I found it challenging but now, for the most part, I find these cultural differences fascinating although I still struggle with Dutch directness occasionally!!!

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