Comparing two cultures is like comparing a Chicago Deep Dish pizza to a NYC thin crust pizza. Both are incredible. Both are juicy, succulent morsels of gooey cheese and garlic and both make me salivate just writing about them. Both have a truly recognizable smell that makes any Vegan think twice. While both share the fact that they have rich and deep histories, have distinguishing qualities, are a sort of visually trademark to cities and have definite ties to geographic locations, they are both very very different. And although they are truly different, one really isn’t better than the other.
I imagine Chiraques and Bronx Bombers, alike, are already hitting the comment button with some sort of irrefutable “fact” that states that one pizza is better than the other. But for the rest of us on planet Earth, except for maybe all of Italy, these two pizzas are equally amazing, and better than anything available at the local pizza delivery chain. Equally amazing, however, no one would dispute the fact that they are almost completely different types of pizza. These pizzas juxtapose Chicago and Manhattan.
This is my approach to looking at different cultures. They are all different, they have stereotypical qualities that are easily recognizable, but they also have histories, traditions and rituals that go so much deeper than the surface of what you see…or the smell for that matter! Many people use the “Iceberg Metaphor” when talking about the levels of culture. The idea is that you can only see part of the Iceberg, the part above water. And this part represents all the obvious constituents of culture; religion, language, clothing, hand gestures, etc. But most of the iceberg is actually under the water. It is unseen, and only discovered when diving deeper. Here, if you explore, if you really get to know a person, you can learn all the other millions of facets that make up a culture. Diving deeper, you can learn about the history that created a specific tradition, you can learn about the holidays celebrated, and the spices used to create the stereotypical food we know so well. You can learn about the manners and the customs and so much more.
I like the “Iceberg Metaphor” a lot, in fact, I use it in my classroom to help students understand the importance of trying not to prejudge one another, and to appreciate and celebrate the differences among each other. However, for comparative purposes, I love the pizza analogy. As I began to understand all the various counterparts of culture, I became increasingly interested in what sets these cultures apart. It’s very easy to generalize and say “European culture,” while we still know there are so many different cultures that make up each individual country in Europe. If “European Culture” is pizza, then “Germany” and “Portugal” would represent New York or Deep-dish pizzas. And Ireland is pizza from New Haven. And so on. And it works the same within each country. We may have common identifiers that we can refer to as blanket “American Culture”. But most Americans know that those blanket statements can’t be applied when discussing the cultures of both Fort Worth, Texas and Portland, Maine. They may both be “American” (pizzas), but they are vastly different, and with those obvious surface differences come histories, traditions, and beautiful tapestries of culture.
It’s my hope, through traveling, cultural experiences, and adventures, that I can unearth these differences and dismantle some stereotypes. Please know I am no expert, and that my posts are solely based on observation. But my ideal objective is that at least someone is inspired to learn, travel and, above all, appreciate other cultures.