We spend our whole lives growing through the power of socialization, experiencing primarily our own culture, but for many Americans, seldom do we experience another.
When we look at other cultures do we not think that they’re different because their culture is different? Do we not think that people who speak a different language are different? Of course we do, because by definition, being different is being unlike yourself.
Yet, with an open mind, we are one in the same.
While many of us spent the Thanksgiving holiday in good company, cherishing the moments before the Black Friday brawl, I had the opportunity to travel to the city of lights, Paris, France. Extraordinarily, this journey would be my very first expedition outside of the United States. Armed to the teeth with cultural stereotypes about the French people, there was little more I could expect than the convoluted exaggerated Frenchman we’re shown through television and movies. Yet, what I discovered on my journey to France surprised me in a way I never thought it would. What awaited me on the other side of the world was a realization.
On the Other Side
What I found on the other side of the world struck me with a strange curiosity the moment my father and I hailed our first yellow cab, an action no different than back in the states. I suppose that the idea of traveling to France was such a fantastic thing, one in which mouths gape upon mere mention, that I sincerely imagined that I would dive headlong into a something totally unlike I’ve experienced before— more or less a rendition of a Disney movie. Quite the opposite occurred as I was not greeted by a cast of intriguing characters and dramatic music, nor a little mouse that could cook, or an introvert with a hunch.
What I expected to find was something completely different from what I was used to back in the states; however, I found it all a little too similar. Dining out at exclusively classical French restaurants I found, with slight tweaks here and there, much of the menu items to be something you could find here in the states. Items such as braised lamb with roasted fall vegetables, pomme frites (french-fries), tarts, baguettes, and even foie gras (goose liver) which can be found at a variety of upscale restaurants. Then again, the American cuisine is heavily influenced by a number of foreign cuisines including the French cuisine, thusly picking up on similarities here and there would not necessarily be uncommon.
Then there came the much revered French artwork, especially that of the famous Louvre. What I saw was a deeper meaning then the artist intended. I saw not just famous works of art but famous pieces that looked, because of the style, much in the same as artwork hanging in the Philadelphia Art Museum. Then I noticed the street signs that, although significantly smaller, made clear and perfect sense because of their similarity in shape and color. Even the layout of the city reminded me of Washington D.C. which makes perfect sense because it was designed by the French architect, Pierre Charles L’Enfant. And lastly, the fact that the people around me were speaking French didn’t faze me. After all, with such a mixed society in the states, a large majority of people don’t speak English in the first place, so to be surrounded by people speaking another language is like walking the streets of New York City.
It was because of these similarities and more that in the back of my mind, I felt as if I had never left home at all. It felt as though the people around me were not alienated from my person as French per se, but rather people just like myself.
And Back Again
The realization I had during my visit was to say the least, enlightening. To see the beauty of the architecture, the serenity of the country, and the diversity of another culture was a fantastic experience, but to realize for myself that we are all one in the same is more than that. Although separated by a sea of diversity, from what I could see was the constant pursuit of happiness. People of all shapes and sizes whether it be traveling the metro to work, enjoying a moment in company with bitter espresso, or begging for money with the accompaniment of music seemed no different from my daily experiences back home. Because in essence, what divides us is what we do not understand, but beneath all that we’re all human. We live in a world of limitless diversity, but what is diversity but a multitude of people.