Reverse culture shock (and who really owns London?)


I get reverse culture shock every time I come home! It’s like a U-bend. There’s the initial euphoria of returning home – seeing family and friends, wearing the cooler-weather clothes in my wardrobe, eating my favourite foods. Then, suddenly, I start feeling like a fish out of water, out of place in my own culture.

From having to look the other way when crossing the road to remembering to grab an umbrella every time I leave the house, reverse culture shock is the bottom of the U-bend. It feels like you’re a performer in a play who’s walking round the wrong stage – the setting is familiar, yet unreal.

Emirates Air Line
Home from home: Crossing the Thames on the Emirates Air Line

As Robin Pascoe, author of Homeward Bound, writes: “Re-entry shock is when you feel like you are wearing contact lenses in the wrong eyes. Everything looks almost right.”

And I honestly think it’s more ‘shocking’ than the initial culture shock of moving abroad. That reaction you expect. Reverse culture shock can be quite unexpected and unanticipated.

Which is maybe why when it was suggested we take the boys to Bricklive at ExCeL London, I said, “Ooh, we can cross the river on the Emirates Air Line!”

All of a sudden, the idea of paying money to get a Dubai fix seemed a good idea. They might even serve champagne.

The cable car swings across the Thames at a vertigo-inducing altitude with views of the glinting Canary Wharf tower, the Cutty Sark, Royal Observatory and O2 arena. The brackish-brown river glides underneath, twisting and turning through London, an arm of the sea, never the same water and never still. My eyes followed the river’s sweeping path to the steel gates of the Thames Barrier.

After disembarking on the other side, we walked towards the ginormous ExCel centre. I soon noticed the oversized lettering on the front of the building: ‘Part of Abu Dhabi National Exhibitions Company’.

And that’s when I was reminded: the Middle East owns more of London than the Queen these days.

London cranes
From the window of our cable car, London looks just like … Dubai!

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