I am a culture junkie. I am completely enamored by it. Culture drives my passion for travel. Discovering the customs, food, music, and many other details of people who are from a different background is enthralling. However, I cannot travel to distant lands as often as I would like and some are unable to travel at all. That does not mean we have to stop exploring. We can learn about other cultures through books, museums, festivals, and restaurants. While traveling is the most authentic way to experience another culture, we can also learn in other ways and promote cultural understanding in our daily lives.
Some people connect with one culture in particular. They instantly connect with another culture and are hooked, wanting to understand as much about that one culture as possible. Julia Child is a famous example of this. She and her husband landed in France during the 1940s because of his job, and she was instantly in love. She was enamored by the French way of life, the food, and the language. She learned about all things French and made a living bringing that culture, in particular the food, to American households through her television shows and cookbooks over many decades.
Unlike Julia, I want to learn about as many cultures as possible. I adhere to the Dalai Lama’s quote “Once a year, go someplace you’ve never been before.”
For me, this means to visit a country that I have never visited before, but it can also mean to visit a local museum to learn about African-American Heritage.
Or a martial arts studio to learn about the Lunar New Year.
It can mean trying a type of food you have never tried before.
Or reading a book about a culture you want to learn more about.
Culture seems to mean a lot of things to a lot of people.
Before continuing, I think it would be helpful for me to use the definition I connect with, which I found on the website livescience.com, “Culture is the characteristics and knowledge of a particular group of people, encompassing language, religion, cuisine, social habits, music, and arts.” Kim Ann Zimmerman What Is Culture? Definition of Culture. The article continues with this quote from Cristina De Rossi who is an anthropologist at Barnet and Southgate College in London, “Culture encompasses religion, food, what we wear, how we wear it, our language, marriage, music, what we believe is right or wrong, how we sit at the table, how we greet visitors, how we behave with loved ones, and a million other things.”
A million other things … I love that, it is so true. It is not just the first few things you think of when you say culture – language, religion, music, and food.
Your ideas expand when you are exposed to the millions of nuances that are evident when you compare your life to that of a person with similar traits living half a world away.
At a very high level, culture is broken down into Western, Eastern, Latin, African, & Middle Eastern. There are numerous subsets within each of these categories, but this gives us a structure to reference. As a traveler, I think of these categories when planning future travels because of my desire to experience as much as the world has to offer as I can. I have not been to Asia since my twin boys were born, and I have been thinking of Asia a lot lately, but I know that planning a trip to China is vastly different than planning a trip to Thailand. While both are part of the Eastern culture, the two places differ vastly.
I usually seek out non-Western culture in my travels, but there are so many differences in Western culture even within my own country. I often do not notice culture between regions in the United States because I mistakenly think of culture at those higher levels. I think I do this because I am fortunate to live in a country where people can proudly celebrate both their Western culture and unique heritage simultaneously.
An American of Eastern descent can celebrate Lunar New Year.
An American of Middle Eastern descent can celebrate Ramadan.
Yet, they both can celebrate the Fourth of July with me as we celebrate our American, and thus Western, custom.
What has really bothered me over the last few years is the realization that not everyone shares my enthusiasm towards Americans celebrating their Western roots and their non-Western heritage. As I travel the world and see first-hand the traits of a people and then see the version of those same traits of their Westernized people, I marvel at how much of culture is inherent in the very core of our beings. My hope is that my exposing families to the beauty of culture and heritage, we can appreciate our differences instead of fearing them. No one should insist that people assimilate to their version of what our culture should be. Our multicultural society is ever changing. Many people suggest we put aside our differences and concentrate on what we have in common, but I want to celebrate our differences.
Traveling allows you to appreciate things about your homeland. Some countries I have visited are very homogenous, so an outsider stands out. That is the beauty of my country, people of every background are part of the landscape. My country has to work harder to make all of these backgrounds feel appreciated, but I look forward to doing my part with my kids to ensure that they grow up appreciating our diverse society.
I am not naive, I know the issues in this world are far too complicated for this mom to solve, but I can do my part in raising my children to celebrate the colors, the sounds, the scents, and the flavors of our world. By sharing our journey, my hope is to create a place where we can all share our ideas and inspire each other to celebrate all cultures, not just our own.
Stock photos used in this post are from Unsplash & Pexels.