In another life, I think I’d be an anthropologist. I love people watching. And I always find myself trying to figure out why one culture has no qualms about J-walking while while if you did the same thing in Seattle, you’d get slammed with a $60 infraction. While traveling, you’re always the one who doesn’t belong, the one who stands out. Not only that, but you’re also one among thousands that come through the same tourist attractions in any given stretch of time. So what is it about cultures that create such a different experience depending on where you are?
We can analyze it by bus drivers. In Italy, their first concern is how cool their shades look. But it’s not all about style, they are very proud of their work, and if you can eek out some Italian, they’re happy to help you with directions. Rather than give you the benefit of the doubt, drivers in Barcelona will shut the middle doors on you as you try to jump on, so step lively! And drivers in Dublin are the nicest I’ve ever encountered. The other day, one even dug into his own pocket to change a fiver so we could ride the bus.
Or what about restaurant experiences? Brick Lane in London is known for its system of bartering for your meals. Just a few days ago I went there with a friend, and through an intense session of haggling, we were able to get a beer and an extra side dish thrown in for the same price. I’m sure that’s what they do for everyone, but it is a much different experience than in Prague where they don’t stop bringing beer out to your table until you tell them to. And while prices are set, I’d dare anyone to eat enough goulash to come even close to the price of a meal in London.
When I consider the Christian buildings I’ve toured over the years, they’re all rather similar across cultures from Prague to Barcelona and Dublin to Rome. That makes sense because they’re all drawing from the same sources of inspiration. I can’t speak much to the synagogues or mosques, but the churches of the Anglican Church struck me this last week. Rather than a place of worship, they seemed to me, a catholic, as a place where people put plaques of each other up on the wall to be remembered. I’m all for remembering those departed, but does it make sense to do so within the walls of a place of worship?
Or when I think about my interaction with priests and pastors while backpacking, other thoughts come to mind. Even after having popped into a lifetime of churches and cathedrals, I don’t remember having a sit down with a priest. Then, just the other day, I stepped into a small Anglican church in London and the pastor greeted me right away. He asked me where I was from, and what I was up to in London. We then proceeded to have an entire discussion about my multitude of touristic options, and not once did our conversation venture towards holy and righteous subjects. He might as well have been a travel agent, because he unloaded a multitude of flyers, and even whipped out a couple binders full of informational packets, business cards and discount vouchers.
I love noticing and comparing the subtle (and not so subtle) differences between cultures, and I’m constantly building up mini-theories in my head to try to understand better what makes people the way they are, and what has made me who I am today.