Thursday, August 26, 2004

understanding culture
I remember when I was a kid, being fascinated by the stories my friend Nick would tell me of the quirky differences you could experience if you went abroad. He’d tell me that the ants were bigger, or that the beaches were made of sand and not pebbles. He’d talk about driving on the opposite side of the road, and eating exotic sausages.

My own first travels abroad were with my family during my early teens, going to Denmark and to France. Since then I have lived outside England for around 5 years in both France and Japan, and visited places all over Europe, Asia and North America.

These experiences have had a profound impact on my psyche. Something about the variety present between different cultures has reached far into my mind and left a deep impression, a burning curiosity to explore this aspect of human life.

It is not so much the superficial trivialities of enjoying and exploring another culture that entices me. Rather, it is a need to understand culture itself.

I want to know how culture works and what it consists of, how it influences me and what it is influenced by, why one thing is acceptable here but not there and what that means for our value systems and intercultural relations, whether is it possible to distil a self that is distinct from culture, what the world would look like to us without it, and how we can change it.

It’s clear to me that we live deeply embedded in our cultures and yet there seems to be hardly any general understanding of them in our day to day lives. We generally do not live our lives in a way that takes culture into account. Culture is subconscious.

This astounds me.

To me this signifies that we are hardly even awake in our world, that most of our behaviour is automatic and normally outside our conscious control.

I’d rather be awake, so here I am exploring.

I have made some progress in my explorations and hope to be able soon to post my first step - a definition of culture. But teasing my understanding out of my head in a way that makes sense and can be read is a slow process.

Hang on in there if you’re interested, and feel free to comment if you have any ideas of your own.

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