Travel may have started as means to find more food, better shelter or protection from Sabre toothed tigers, but it has turned into something much more. Over time travel played a leading role in settlement, trade, the development of agriculture, industry, technology and politics; it shaped our world culture.
Today we giggle with delight when our plane ticket arrives imagining the sights we will see, the things we will leave behind and those we’ll discover. When we return we may sit on our couch with a glass of wine, share stories, bore many of our seemingly interested friends with pictures, pass out some souvenirs, then set it all aside as we plan our next adventure.
Many of us tend to visit places off the beaten track. We temporarily immerse ourselves in the culture because it’s conducive to a good trip and then we go home, giving no thought to the idea that we may have just swapped cultural skin.
Farthest from our minds as we revel in our experiences is the fact that somewhere in this world we have impacted other people and they us. At that moment we pour ourselves another glass of wine those people may be discussing you or me and not the trinket we brought them – because not many travelers bring gifts anymore – as was historically the norm.
We no longer share gifts, we share lives, ideas, experiences and opportunity.
On a subconscious level we have just become an integral part of these people’s lives and they of ours. Perhaps we have changed ideals, piqued imagination and inspired creativity by painting a picture of who they think we are and how they think we live in a world they have yet to visit. How they too could live in our mysterious world, whose grass is greener and opportunity better. It always turns into a funny conversation when I say, “There is opportunity for me here,” and my host laughs and says, “There is opportunity where you live.’
When I travel the one thing I always try to remember is that contact is often a catalyst that can manifest Culture Cringe, ‘an internalized inferiority complex which causes people in a country to dismiss their own culture as inferior to the cultures of other countries and can also result in Culture Shock, Reverse Culture Shock, Egocentricity and Ethnocentric biases.
We all remember the old cliche, “When in Rome act like a Roman,” but what we may neglect to understand is that after we leave, the Roman, based solely on a represented perception often acts like us, or vice versa.
Even worse, he may not like how we represented our country and culture which can lead to all kinds of no good.