Culture, Race, and Beliefs
From 2000 – 2003 I had the rather unique cultural opportunity to live abroad in Germany. Since I was only in middle school at the time I may not have noticed it, but my experiences suggest that true cultural differences really only separate entire groups of people, not necessarily individuals. Although you may see entire cultures clashing over certain issues, these kind of things seem to dissipate and become less relevant between individuals; rather than being a reason for separation, these differences provides the starting point for a conversation.
It was always an interesting experience for me to travel within Europe – regardless of whether it was Spain, Italy, Greece, Germany, or France I always seemed to run into at least one individual that I was able to talk to (or at least attempt to talk to) despite any cultural differences. Certainly at times you run into some people who will practically go out of their way to tourists a hard time. Nevertheless, cultural and even racial differences seem to become irrelevant when you met someone who shares even one similar interest – in some cases even simple curiosity about a person’s background is enough to spark a three-hour long conversation.
These encounters were, without a doubt, most frequent during my vacations to Italy. I’m sure anyone who has been to Italy would suggest that you plan to spend at least three hours at dinner if you are going to a restaurant – not because the restaurant will be full, or because service will be slow, but because you will end up spending a couple of hours talking to waiters, waitresses, restaurant owners, or simply other customers, regardless of where they come from, what they believe in, or what color they are.
As a kid, my encounters with foreigners were always interesting. I remember meeting Turkish boy, around my age, during my trip to Turkey. We happened to be staying at the same hotel, and ended up playing ping-pong together nearly every day for a week, even though neither of knew the other’s language. We’d simply nod when we were ready to start a game, then, when one of us scored a point we would hold up the score on our fingers and continue playing. Then we’d meet again the next day and play again.
Perhaps it was only because I was a kid at the time, but racial or cultural differences never seemed to be an issue to me, regardless of where I traveled in Europe. Certain cultural or racial generalizations only really seemed to apply to large groups of people – sometimes something as simple as race, culture, or beliefs were powerful enough to drive such large groups of people apart. It seems rather curious that something so simple can divide such large groups, yet occasionally provide complete strangers with a starting point to learn more about each other.