Monday, July 13, 2009
One of my favorite travel hosts is Rick Steves, mainly because of his infectious passion for discovery and his admiration of cultural diversity. In his latest blog, he talks about being inspired all over again by his daughter's current travels through Spain -- and 'their unbridled fun -- not gumming the culture, but tearing into it with carnivorous teeth and selfish abandon.'
Here's to cultural carnivores.
Wednesday, July 8, 2009
I mentioned in an earlier post Sarah Lanier's book, Foreign to Familiar, and the distinctions she draws between hot-climate and cold-climate cultures. One of many significant differences between these two groups is the concept of individualism as opposed to group identity. In most cold-climate cultures, children are brought up with an acute awareness of their individual identity. We are taught to think for ourselves, find our own path, and in America, we are made aware of our "inalienable rights" as individuals. And many Americans will go as far as to say that's the biblical pattern, the way God intended it.
In warm-climate cultures (which, incidentally, include the lands where biblical culture evolved), much more attention is paid to collective identity. Perhaps the most important thing a child can learn is that he/she is part of a whole -- a village, a clan, a tribe -- and because of that, the child has significance. The Maoris of New Zealand are said to have a saying, "I belong; therefore I am."
Needless to say, the implications are huge. When important decisions are to be made, the concern in the hot-climate culture will be the good of the group as a whole. A spokesperson will be careful not to speak for himself but make sure he is representing his people. A cold-climate person will not necessarily stop and think of the common good or the opinion of his group as a whole; what's important to him is that his voice be heard.
We must be clear that we are not distinguishing between right and wrong here -- those intent on a right or a wrong are missing the point-- but the distinctions are so significant that anyone seeking cultural intelligence -- whether the business person, the leisure traveler, or simply the culturally curious -- will do well to understand them.
Thursday, July 2, 2009
Artist Luke Jerram wants to awaken Londoners from their humdrum daily routine and add a little music to the urban atmosphere. Jerram has had 30 pianos placed at well-known locations such as St. Paul's Cathedral, Millenium Bridge and the Liverpool Street Station. Called "Play Me, I'm Yours," the project is produced by a nonprofit called Sing London and City of London Festival. The pianos are intended for passers-by to perform impromptu recitals -- whether beginners or accomplished pianists -- anyone inclined to tickle the ivories. The instruments come complete with songbooks and are locked to the nearest bench or railing. They are also customized to fit their surroundings; at the Royal Exchange, for example, the piano has money printed on it.
Jerram has already pulled this off in cities from Sydney to Sao Paolo...perhaps coming to a city near you.