A week from today, I’m heading back to the States for the first time in three years on a month-long visit with friends and family. This is the longest I’ve been away, and a significant percentage of the total seven years I’ve lived overseas. And I am bracing myself for a whole new level of reverse culture shock.

Reverse culture shock may seem like something expats made up in order to remind people back home that they lead an impossibly exotic life, but I can assure you from my own experience that it’s very real, completely involuntary, and can be hugely embarrassing.

My most embarrassing reverse culture shock moment happened in a deli in Manhattan the day after I arrived in 2006. I bought something with what I now know was an old $20 bill, and received as part of my change what I now know was a new $10 bill. After accusing the deli owner of being a crook and extracting the opinion of some poor guy trying to buy the paper, I learned that the Treasury Department had gotten all creative on me while I had been jingling euro coins in my pocket.

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