Cultural Exchange 03.14.2013
My wife and I took our honeymoon in Spain. It was a two week trip that took us from Barcelona, Seville, Ronda, Grenada, and Madrid, spending a few days in each city. Spain is a fantastic country. Full of diverse cities and rich history. Full of interesting local traditions and unique cuisine. Architecture that ranges from the modern to the ancient. Like most countries, each region, city, or town has their own unique culture. But there was one tradition I noticed every where we went that seemed unique to Spain on the whole.
Usually starting around three or four o’clock in the afternoon, and lasting through the early evening, the markets, squares, main boulevards and other gathering places would fill with people. There were families, couples, kids — very young to very old — all out walking. This tradition is called El Paseo or “The Stroll”. It is a time for families to gather, friends to meet, neighbors to run into other neighbors. People shop, they gossip, they discuss their lives, or they simply enjoy the company of others. For an outsider, and someone who can appreciate such things, it is wondrous to behold. People out, every single day, just taking a walk together to enjoy, participate, and experience being a part of their community. And, when one travels from city to city and then realizes that, in all likelihood, an entire country is likely doing this at the same time, well… It bogles the mind! What a lovely idea.
Though I have never been myself, I have several friends that are from Germany. As one who is interested in the culture and traditions of other countries, I have had many a conversation with them about theirs. One of these is about their eating habits. In America, we typically have a light breakfast (if any at all), a medium sized lunch, then a big dinner. While they state it is a bit less common these days, traditionally, Germans eat a decent breakfast, a large lunch (which is the main meal of the day), then a lighter dinner (Abendbrot, literally “evening bread”) usually consisting of cold cuts, cheeses, and breads. In other words, their lunch and dinners are almost exact opposites from ours. It does make a certain amount of sense, if one thinks about it, to eat meals in this order. It ensures that the biggest meal is had during a part of the day you are likely to be working your hardest and being the most active — when you need it most.
Speaking of eating habits in European countries, another interesting favorite of mine is one that is pre-dominatly French — eating the salad following the main course. Generally, in America, it is served before the main course or, far less often, along side of it. But why? Salad not only offers something crisp, refreshing, and light at the end of a meal but, furthermore, the ruffage aids in digestion. This makes more sense to me.
I relate all of these not simply to inform you of cultural differences in other countries. I offer them up as a few examples of cultural traditions, outside of my own, that I have in-whole or in-part adopted. Most because, once exposed to them, they made more sense over my own and help me to appreciate my place as part of the broader human experience. So, when my wife, daughter, and I are taking our evening paseo, I feel a deep connection to our time in Spain and the whole of its people who likely had done the same that day. When I eat a larger lunch and light dinner, I feel a connection and kinship with my friends from Germany and its citizens as a whole. And, when we eat our salad following the meal, I feel oh-so French.
But it is not just the connection to these travels and culture that is a benefit. There is also the feeling (non-scientific as it may be), that the various traditions and cultures I have adopted make more sense than my own. That I was fortunate enough to be exposed to such ideas and that I have smartly adopted the best of them. This is part of my reason for travel to these places in the first place and I feel a certain sense of duty to do so. I travel not just to see the sights or take a vacation in a place far different from mine — such gains are short term and often fleeting. Instead, it is also to borrow and learn ways of doing things that I otherwise would not have been exposed to. Things that we have lost somewhere in our American melting pot along the way (or that never made the journey in the first place). I bring them back home in my small attempts to spread them here. I weave these ideas into the fabric of my own culture in the hopes of making the place that I call home a little better.