For the most part, I don't experience a lot of reverse culture shock in the U.S anymore. This probably isn't even the right term for what I'm thinking of. I'm trying to describe the immensely overwhelming, nearly-crippling feeling that I'm supposed to feel like an insider in a place where I actually feel the opposite.
Ski resorts are the single place that I feel the most out of my element at this point in life. Mostly, I feel very confident moving through the world. I either know how to look reasonably curious in a place that I know nothing about, or I know how to look very comfortable in a place that I know a lot—but not everything—about. At ski resorts, though, I feel neither confident nor comfortable. I think it's because: a) these are places where people ask "where are you from?" a lot. This is something to which I'm very accustomed, and it would be totally fine and normal, except for the fact that b) I grew up half of the time in Colorado, so I tell people I'm from Colorado. This is also usually fine; however, c) I am not a skier! I like skiing, it's cool, I've done it twice, I probably feel the same about it as I do about surfing or painting with a twist. Unfortunately, d) skiing is one of the top things that people associate with Colorado culture, especially at a place where everyone is skiing all day and then talking about skiing all night.
I don't have any of the right things for fitting in on a ski slope. Nothing I own is either waterproof or particularly warm. I don't have the right experience level for moving around in the cold, wet snow. I don't have skis or the money to rent them. In a situation where, say, I looked different enough than everyone around me, or was able to say something like, "I'm from Australia, mate," I would feel a lot more cool with walking around, looking at everything in amazement, pretending like I was trying to ski for the first time, and saying "G'day! Crikey!" when I crashed on the slopes. It also probably doesn't help that the last and only two times that I've been skiing were both during my first years back in the U.S. and therefore trigger so many other memories of feeling out of place and of a girl yelling "nice sweats" down at me from up on a ski lift as I stood on the mountain by myself.
Sitting in a hot tub at night with one person I did know and three that I didn't, it just so happened that all of them were from somewhere within a 20-mile radius right around Boston. They talked about neighborhood lines, town squares, bridges, casinos opening up, and small city names. This was all well and good. I listened to their semi-funny stories about their times growing up and now living in geographically similar places. It wasn't unlike two weeks before at a lunch when I listened to two people describing their childhoods in Afghanistan and Pakistan respectively—again, places that I know almost nothing about—and had little besides questions to contribute to such a conversation. I started wondering about what it would be like to get into a hot tub and then have everyone who joined me happen to have similar backgrounds. Imagine if we were all able to talk about our favorite airports, international schools, hilarious mishaps of returns to passport countries, best styles of coffee from around the world. Is there a place that might happen in Maine?
For a person who feels more at ease taking a Go-Jek across Bali alone or showing up in Tunisia for the first time than hitting the ski slopes, it can be important to remind myself that getting out of a comfort zone looks different all the time. I hope that, like the man in the hot tub who was "not a strong skiier" when he first started going to Sugarloaf, that I continue to get opportunities to learn how to ski, feel socially awkward, attend generous family weekends with super hospitable people, and keep getting to know a culture that, although it looks close to my own, couldn't feel more foreign.