At some point or another, American expats come home. When you do, you’ll face some level of reverse culture shock as you try to figure out how your country has changed while you’ve been off galavanting around the globe (not to mention how living overseas has changed you). If you’ll be heading to the U.S. soon, I thought I’d give you a heads-up on what has developed while you were gone.

1. Beverages

People go to work, school, church, meetings, Target, the grocery store, sporting events, and restaurants (why?) carrying a beverage. Pretty soon it’s going to be a municipal violation to NOT have a cup of something in your hand as you walk around. You might want to play it safe and grab a drink at the airport when you arrive so you can walk onto U.S. soil prepared.

2. Halloween

Halloween has gotten big. BIG. It’s not just that people are spending more money on candy and choosing more elaborate costumes. Decorating one’s house has become The Thing To Do. Think Christmas but with gravestones and skeletons instead of reindeer and baby Jesus. People have strings of lights, projected images, and giant inflatable monsters haunting their yards, not just a couple pillowcase ghosts as in days of yore. (Here’s some interesting numbers on Halloween spending for 2017, and the Top 10 costumes for children, adults, and pets this year in case you want to see if you are on-trend.)

3. Pods

Specifically, of the laundry, dishwasher, and coffee variety. They are a win for convenience but a boo-hiss for saving the planet. You may benefit from having an American friend demonstrate these in person.

4. Sparkling Water

Regular soda has too much sugar and diet soda has too many chemicals, so Americans have turned to sparkling water as their soda of choice. Sparkling water does not contain sugar or artifical sweeteners. In fact, it’s not sweet at all. But that hasn’t stopped sales of the stuff from skyrocketing in the States, and it’s now even served on some domestic flights. Ask an American friend to fill you in on Dasani, La Croix, Schweppes, etc. and help you figure out how you feel about pamplemousse. This will be important.

5. Dogs

Americans have always loved their dogs. The difference now is that Americans take their dogs everywhere with them. Not just to the park or on walks, as in the past. I’ve seen pooches trotting through stores, restaurants, airports, and the produce section of grocery stores. And we’re not just talking Clueless-style purse dogs. Breeds of all sizes get taken along on errands and outings, too. Sadly, part of this seems to be rampant abuse of “therapy dog” or “service dog” vests, which are unregulated and super-easy to obtain. While some people really do need their dog with them to help them with everyday errands, there are plenty of unscrupulous owners who use the vests simply because they prefer to have their doggo accompany them. (Also: Learn what “doggo” means.) Certain states are starting to crack down on this, but for now, don’t be surprised to find dogs anywhere and everywhere.

6. Fidget Spinners

I think this trend has now jumped the shark, but you wouldn’t know it from the displays in stores. Retailers are hoping you might be enticed to buy another six if they light up, glow in the dark, and/or are in your favorite team’s colors. With schools banning them and kids moving on to newer trends, these may disappear soon. Get ‘em while they’re hot!

7. Shrinking Female Clothing

If you’ve been living in a country where women’s fashions are on the modest end of the spectrum, be forewarned that you might do some double takes when you see what females in America wear these days. I’ve seen things that would have been classified as beachwear or lingerie in the past get worn to school (by students and by moms coming to parent-teacher conferences) and yes, even to church. Even if you’re in the camp that thinks women should be able to wear whatever they want, it’s a bit of a shock to see all those body parts out in the open at once. Men’s fashions, meanwhile, haven’t really changed that much. Is anyone surprised?

8. Pumpkin Spice

PSL was just the beginning. There is now an unbelievable variety of pumpkin spice scented and flavored things, including pumpkin spice dog treats, pumpkin spice deodorant, and pumpkin spice hummus. (You think I’m joking about the deodorant, don’t you? PROOF.)

9. Crossovers

You are probably familiar with sedans, hatchbacks, SUVs, and minivans. Now there are “crossovers” that look like someone tossed 2-3 of those body styles into the blender and marketed whatever came out. They are incredibly popular.

10. Profanity

Bad words are on the rise in America. For one thing, people no longer watch their language if there are kids or grannies around. (In fact, there’s a good chance it’s the kids and grannies who have the potty mouth in public.) For another, profanity is appearing more frequently in print right where anyone can read it. You might have a little jolt when you see swear words in big, bold type on movie posters, and have to stop your eager little preschooler from sounding out the letters as they walk past on their way to see Cars 3. Thanks, America.

11. “Reaching Out”

This phrase may throw you the first few times you hear it. It has very little to do with showing care and concern to loved ones. If you simply mentally substitute “contact” every time someone says “reach out,” you should do fine.

12. Tattoos

When tattoos first became mainstream, they were generally located in places usually covered by clothes. Not anymore. People have them on hands, forearms, necks, calves, faces, you name it. Or maybe it has more to do with #7?

13. Mandarin

China expats might feel comforted to know that Mandarin is continuing to grow as a a foreign language in the U.S. So, when you’re missing China, you can go hang out and listen to these kids practice their tones . (No, wait, it’s creepy for you to be hanging out around kids you don’t know. You’ll have to figure something else out for your China homesickness.)

14. Outrage

Outrage is apparently the new national sport. You can be outraged over a new thing every day. If you don’t know what to be outraged about, just jump on Facebook or Twitter, and you’ll be instructed in the day’s rant. You’ll also be given an appropriate hashtag with which to show your indignation. There are blood-boiling topics for any and all groups you might identify with, so don’t worry about feeling left out of the fun!

15. Millenials

Everyone is analyzing, blaming, complaining about, or catering to the Millenial generation. They have caused the death of Applebee’s, the resurgence of liturgical services, and a boom in the beard care industry. If you’re a Millenial, just know that the country is focused on you at the moment. If you’re not, you can either grieve or rejoice at being out of the spotlight.


Some people see these items as signs the country is traveling at lightspeed to a certain destination in a handbasket. Others are saying, “it’s about time!” No matter what you think on each issue, it’s good to have an inkling about what has happened in your passport country while you were away.

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