Friday, February 10, 2017

"Cultural Differences"

Some people don’t travel out of the country, believing America is the best place there is so why spend your money visiting someplace that’s worse? 

The standard response to this perspective is, “Travel is broadening.”  Inveterate “Globe Trotters” find it interesting to learn about places dissimilar from their own.  The contrarial stiffed-neck-ed counter-response is, “If I am interested in what it is like over there I will ask them about it when they show up – and they will – over here.”

It appears that one side of this dichotomy sounds inflexible and Xenophobic (which originally meant that people having a strong, negative reaction to a fellow named Xeno, before expanding to mean hating anyone that’s not “us”.)  One side appears liberally open to cultural diversity; the other side, truculently shuttered and closed.

The key word, however, in that preceding sentence is “appears.”

Upon further scrutiny, it turns out to be not a question of “open” and “closed” but where specifically you draw the line.

I’ll jump over the “funny examples” because I have rehearsed them in my head and they are unilaterally disgusting. 

Snippet of a disgusting example concerning professed tolerant people’s limits on tolerance:

“We are accepting of the traditional folkways and mores of all people.”

“We’re cannibals.”


“But we do not eat everyone.”

“I have an impulse to say ‘That’s good’ but I’d be making a value judgment, so I’ll just nod and you can interpret that however you want.”

“We only eat children.  Because they’re softer.”

A possible beat of silence.  A possible immediate response.  Both of which are identically


Sorry about that.  I am looking ashamed right now.  And I ought to look ashamed.  My exemplification is utterly unacceptable.

But not, I submit, what I am driving at.  Despite their longstanding commitment to “cultural tolerance”, there are behaviors other places engage in that even the most open-minded of us find inarguably “out of bounds”, objecting loudly and vociferously to those “cultural norms” rather than lifting their iPhones and taking pictures of them to show the people back home.  (“We call them our “Ew!” pictures.  You want to see them?)

Allow me to offer a less objectionable though “borderline tasteful” example from personal experience.  (Sorry, but if it were not somewhat odiferous it would be the wrong kind of example.)

Think of a stylish foreign (although not foreign to them) municipality, a fashion-setting European metropolis known internationally for its unsurpassable elegance and style.

You say Paris?  Good answer.  But, in this narrative context, incorrect.


Precisimo!  (Not an actual word, but it captures the flavor.)

We visited Rome once and we found it endlessly wondrous.  A capsulizing example.  Ten years after the fact, there is a pair of slippericious black loafers in a shoe store window that are still calling me name.  Others believe throwing coins in a fountain will cause them to return.  I believe it’s highly coveted footwear. 

From the food to the accommodations to the encompassing steepage in history, 
Rome is the epitome of beauty and perfection, in every imaginable manner, a gem.

Instead of a hotel – this was before Airbnb – we rented a place in what we discovered was an upscale suburban neighborhood, a penthouse apartment with a panoramic view of everything.  The area was teeming with foreign embassies, plus the Etruscan Museum within easy walking distance, although, sadly, not for the Etruscans, who, I believe, are no longer in existence.  It’s too bad.  They would have enjoyed that museum.  It was entirely about them.

As I meander to the point…

We set out on a relaxing morning walk.  “Take the air” and reconnoiter the terrain.  Maybe pick up a pastry, and some sludgy coffee in a really small cup.  Hey, it’s their country.  They can make any size cup they want.

We have proceeded for hardly five minutes when I catch sight of something on the sidewalk I would never encounter in Los Angeles. 

A pile of recently deposited dog shit.

In the middle of the sidewalk.  (I am trying to suppress “judgmental reaction” by avoiding an exclamation point.  Though I unquestionably felt one at the time.)

Okay, calm down.  An inconsiderate dog-walker in a fancy neighborhood.  It happens.  I’ll bet even in germophobic L.A. 

We continue our pedal excursion.  And before long…

There’s more dog shit.

Carefully watching our steps, we are soon encounter scattered pilings of dog shit all over the place!  (Sorry.  My restraint has its limits!)

Not in Borneo!  In Rome!  (With apologies to Borneo if I mischaracterized it.  I was searching for something "otherly.")

We are understandably chagrined.  The hygiene issues!  The smell!  The “bottom-of the-shoe” problem.  Oh, the offense to our delicate American sensibilities!  Dog-owners are supposed to pick up after their animals.  Leaving it lying there is… it’s uncivilized!

A TYPICAL ROMAN: “Not to us.”

(At least as evidenced by this experience.)

Tell me.  Is that intolerance?  Or is it just wrong not to “pick up” after your pooches?  Whatever it was, my reflexive reaction was “How can they live like this?”

Triggering an uncomfortable identification with the people who don’t travel.

I know, “When in Rome…”  But this “cultural folkway” unequivocally crosses the line.

Making me wonder, and write a considering blog post,

About the “line.”

1 comment:

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Presumably this is why they sell the fancy footwear...