Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Culture Shock

AdventureMan and I have discovered we have lived overseas for so long that we suffer from a little culture shock every time we come back to the United States. We come back two or three times a year, so you would think we’d be keeping up on everything, but things change and we fall behind, especially when we are not living here.

Here are some things – like nobody writes checks anymore. I’m not exactly sure what people do. One time, before I had my burner phone, I went in to Verizon to activate an account, and when I went to pay, the woman looked at my $100 bill (most of which was going to activate my account) and her mouth formed a little “o” and after a pause she said “oh, I don’t think we have change for that here.”

I said “there isn’t going to be that much change!” as I think it was going to come to like $89 something, but she laughed and said “but no-one pays with cash anymore!”

I was really embarrassed. “How do they pay?” I asked, and she said “Everyone pays by credit card.” “No problem,” I responded, “I can pay by credit card,” which I did and everything was cool. Then I started watching, and everyone was paying by credit card, maybe a few with debit cards, but usually the debit card machines were malfunctioning, I don’t know why.

We know a lot of the young people don’t have land lines into their homes anymore, and that makes sense to us. We aren’t sure how people connect for television – it seems there are a lot of different ways, so how do you figure out which is the best? And some have phone, cable and internet all bundled together, and you pay one bill . . . again, how do you know which is the most cost effective?

If people don’t write checks anymore, how do they pay their bills? I have been doing some bill paying online, which sure is convenient when you live in Kuwait and have bills to pay in the USA, but is that how normal people pay their bills, like utility bills? Magazine subscriptions? And if you do that, how do you keep track of things for taxes, when you don’t have checks to back you up?

It’s almost overwhelming, trying to figure all these things out.

In some areas, I feel like I am anti-too-much. Like I don’t want a GPS in my rental car – I know the area, and I know how to use a map to figure out where I need to be. I know how to use GoogleMaps! Sometimes the GPS things are just distracting to me. I have a bad feeling that makes me old fashioned.

This morning, my first back in Seattle, it was raining softly. I was glad; a little rain helps keep Seattle green. On the other hand, I had thought I would go for a walk, and the steady light rain was a little too much rain for walking – for me, anyway. There were a lot of Seattle people out walking – they wear rainhats, lightweight rainproof jackets – and shorts!

Gas is running around $4.59 a gallon, in contrast with 80 cents a gallon in Kuwait. 😦

July 28, 2008 - Posted by | Community, ExPat Life, Financial Issues, Living Conditions, Seattle, Social Issues


  1. People pay their bills online, or use their debit cards as credit cards. Its funny you mention not wanting a gps in your rental car and I wonder how many young people will be able to even read a map in 10 years. LOL… Just like anything else, when it comes to the internet, tv and phones, you just shop for the best deal. One really nice thing about home now is that there is no more true long distance phone calls, even from your home land lines, unless you just insist on paying for it.

    Oh, and you asked how you keep track of everything? Well, your credit card company can sort your charges for you. The company we use sends us a year end statement that breaks down our charges into categories such as transportation, lodging, dining, etc. It is really convenient and makes a nice receipt to hand over to our CPA. Most everything can be kept digitally now, so there is no need to use paper for everything. The promise of a paperless system is getting more realistic all the time… so we really can save all those beautiful trees!

    Comment by mimfoy | July 28, 2008 | Reply

  2. i noticed this the last time i was out of town. those credit card companies must be making a killing. its happening alot more here as well, and its clogging up the lines at the supermarkets.

    personally i share your anti-gps sentiments, and i raise you a paranoid(ish) ” visa doesnt need to know how much cheese i eat, or where i like to buy my hummus”.

    Comment by sknkwrkz | July 28, 2008 | Reply

  3. Every time I travel I say I want to spend atleast a month but the max I have spent outside Kuwait is 3 weeks that was because I was stuck and couldn’t get a flight to come back home…I always have this culture shock no matter how much I love traveling!

    Comment by Amu | July 28, 2008 | Reply

  4. Oh, good information! Thank you, Mimfoy!

    Hmmm. . . Skunk, you are right. I hadn’t thought about how our spending habits can be so easily tracked that way. Hmmmm.

    But Amu, do you get culture shock returning to Kuwait? It’s funny, feeling culture shock returning to my own country! I wonder, where were you stuck?

    Comment by intlxpatr | July 28, 2008 | Reply

  5. Check writing has become a liability, especially if you are mailing them. Unless you have a locking mailbox or take everything to the post office, you run the risk of mail theft and resulting identity theft. It happened to us recently, and we live in a really good neighborhood. Fortunately the check cashing place the theif used was heads up and called us and the check was retrieved and the guy arrested. I pay all my bills online now. My bank also gives a statement that lets me know where my POS (debit card) purchases were made. I keep a back up register by hand but it is all in the computer. Yep, it is pretty much all debit card or credit card now, especially for large purchases, but even at fast food places and coffee places.

    Comment by momcat | July 28, 2008 | Reply

  6. interesting post! I never experienced a cultural shock (not a severe one to say the least)! I have no idea why! Is that weird or what?

    and I hardly carry cash with me that I am always OUT of cash and it bugs me that some of places here wont accept cards like gas stations and some salons! I mean sometimes when we order food at work and someone pays for me, say KWD 2-3… I would give them the money back instantly electronically *Watani online transfer* LOL

    Comment by Ansam | July 28, 2008 | Reply

  7. Good points, Momcat. I have a lot to learn.

    Ansam – hmmmm. . . how funny! LOL @ Paying people back 2 – 3KD electronically!

    Comment by intlxpatr | July 29, 2008 | Reply

  8. think that’s creepy? I just got a new US passport to come to Kwt, and it’s an “electronic passport”, only, funny thing is, it tells you that if the electronic part breaks, it can still be used as a normal passport. Okay, then why exactly does the government need a microchip telling them every entry and exit point I pass through? Some countries have no idea how to use the electronic part and it ends up taking even longer for the hand inspection than with a regular paper passport. It seems to serve as no convenience. Big brother, much?

    Comment by soupprincess | July 29, 2008 | Reply

  9. Soupprincess – LOL, we have had some of the same problems with the new passports. One woman told AdventureMan “This passport is a forgery” when her machine wouldn’t read the magnetic strip or something. Couldn’t have been her machine. . . .

    Comment by intlxpatr | July 29, 2008 | Reply

  10. It won’t be long and we will be doing away with cash and credit cards – they are so easy to lose and all that fraud – how about instead we put a little chip in your forehead and scan that instead?

    And as for culture shock .. I know exactly what you mean .. I spent 4 years in the States (being from NZ) and when I called home they all sounded like Australians … which is like saying Americans sound like Canadians .. it was totally weird. However after a couple of months at home it mostly returned to normal.

    Comment by petmemorialworld | July 30, 2008 | Reply

  11. LLOOLLL! PetMemorialWorld.

    Comment by intlxpatr | July 30, 2008 | Reply

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