Reverse Culture Shock – On Foreign Soil

We, my American friend and I, arrived at the fancy Holiday Inn Continental in beautiful Lisbon, Portugal.  It was a 3 hr drive from my small, not so fancy village.  I was glad it wasn’t further.  Gas and tolls are crazy expensive.

Glittering lights, fancy marble work and a very friendly staff who spoke remarkably well in English, greeted us in the lobby.  We checked in.  I spoke Portuguese with them.  They liked it.  They were impressed and it  made me feel good.  Maybe part of me was a little uncomfortable speaking English with them?  I wasn’t quite ready to be “American” again.

We arrived at our room #604.  Beautiful view of old Lisbon and warm, very warm actually.  The layers of clothes I’m used to wearing in February weren’t going to be necessary in this heated hotel over the next 4 days while I had the privileged to attend The Women of the Harvest retreat.

Michael told you a few days ago the mission of this fabulous organization…which is to basically to help North American women thrive in their cross cultural work.

photo 1The purpose of this retreat was to inspire, encourage, pamper (yeah me!) rejuvenate and love on ladies like me!  I was one of the fortunate 60 ladies that attended.  Some from as far away as South Africa.  (Thankful now I only had to drive three hours.)

My friend and I grabbed a quick lunch at a cafe around the corner and returned to begin the retreat experience.

First on the agenda: Sign up for your pampering activities.  (i.e. massage, pedicure,haircut..etc)

The first table we approached was the hair cut table and I was sad to see the lady before me got the last available spot.  “Nina – Rm#604” was put on a waiting list.  (I ended up getting squeezed in! Loving that part of the American culture!)

The second table had a smiling, well polished, beautiful American women seated at it and a sign that that read: “Fashion Consultation”.

I was immediately intimidated.

About the only thing in common she and I had was that we were both born in America.

I’m neither beautiful or well polished and I certainly don’t have a fashionable bone in my body.  Just ask my girls.

The first thing out of my mouth was this……and I’m still regretting it today…..

“That’s SO American!”

Her smile disappeared, and her brows took on a curious arch while trying to process my words.  She was trying hard not to be offended. I immediately took note and began back peddling.  Trying to explain that fashion isn’t necessary in my little village and that I haven’t thought about what was fashionable for many years.  We dress to stay warm in the winter and cool in the summer…..mais nada. (nothing more)

I quickly left her table embarrassed some, but feeling somewhat justified also.

I turned to my friend with a look of despair and she said, “Nina, we going to have to learn how to be around Americans again.” – Simple words screaming the truth from my wise, veteran missionary friend.

I later apologized with tears to the beautiful, well polished lady for my inconsiderate words.  She traveled a long way to bring some of  “home”  to me and I offended her.  I’m still sorry…even now.

photo 4What I experienced in those first hours of meeting many of the 30 person volunteer team that came to minister to us, was nothing short of reverse culture shock.  Something I wasn’t expecting.  That only happens when we re-enter The States, right? Not in Lisbon.  Not on the field of my service.  I wasn’t prepared to see such beauty.  Both outwardly and inwardly.  The Christian.  The American Christian Lady…..true beauty indeed.

John 13:34 – The words of Christ – “..that ye love one another, as I have loved you…”

They loved on me.



More to come about my once in a lifetime experience …..


  • The Domestic Fringe

    I’m so glad you got to enjoy your time there, even if it was a bit of culture shock for you. It’s kind of funny, we go through culture shock every time we take a trip down south. In America! We all love it, but it takes us all a little time to adjust to the different attitudes, the friendliness, the people actually being nice to my kids. My kids can’t get over how nice people are to them in Georgia. It’s sad really.

    So, we’d all love to see your new “American” hair cut. 🙂
    The Domestic Fringe recently posted..5 Tips for Fire Safety – Are you prepared?My Profile

  • Nina

    FringeGirl, I moved from Birmingham, AL to LaGrange GA and experienced culture shock too! We went there for Michael to pastor and just moving 2 hrs away from my hometown was a “huge” adjustment for me. Now, looking back, I see God’s hand in it all preparing me for the even “huger” adjustment moving to Portugal. But, you’re right. Things are certainly different in Georgia! I adore those people! Part of my heart remains there.

    My American hairdo is the same as my Portuguese one….only trimmed up a bit. Nothing exciting. I was afraid to take too much of her precious time….she squeezed me in after hours of non-stop haircuts….she was precious I tried not to take advantage.

    I would be nice to your kids…..that’s very sad that they experience that…..I’m so sorry.
    Nina recently posted..Reverse Culture Shock – On Foreign SoilMy Profile

  • Michelle

    So glad you got to go and that it was a good time. I wish I had know you were going. I tried to find someone going from this direction because I did not want to travel alone. Hopefully they will be back again soon.

    • Nina

      Hi Michelle!

      It was a great opportunity. I’m so sorry you missed it. I traveled with my friend from Braga. The teaching was just what my thirsty soul needed and of course all the gifts and love were much appreciated. I was able to make banana pudding yesterday with real Nilla Wafers! Sure beats maria cookies!

      The won’t be back in Europe for many years, but they have a furlough retreat every summer in CO.

      Hoping your day is as sunny as it is here! 🙂
      Nina recently posted..Reverse Culture Shock – On Foreign SoilMy Profile

  • Dani Joy

    awww Nina! I would have done the same thing. I so often have to look at things in the States and tell myself it wouldn´t work in Gijón (Europe) ect. I so feel like a fish out of water back in the States.
    However, we need the refreshment and the spiritual upliftment so much right now. I think we are at the point where we will hit burn out soon if something doesn´t change.
    I so wish I had known about this conference. How can I get involved and be sure I don´t miss another one here in Europe?
    Miss ya girl,
    your neighbor, Dani

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