Culture is a little like dropping an Alka-Seltzer into a glass - you don't see it, but somehow it does something. ~ Hans Magnus Enzensberger
ADVENTURE # 3: APPRECIATING A DIFFERENT CULTURE
I pass these ducks every time I walk to school. Sometimes my Italian roommate walks with me and we have to stop (or as she would say, “take a pause”) so she can watch them. She frequently starts a conversation, telling them how cute they are, apologizing for not having any bread today, asking them if they’re cold, etc. Sometimes she even takes their picture. It’s the same routine every time we pass them - two to three times a week. Doesn’t matter how cold it is or if we’re running late to class, she stops. It drives me absolutely crazy. I mean, they’re ordinary ducks. They have them in Italy. Why do we have to stop?
To her, though, they aren’t “just” ducks. These are Finnish ducks. She has been walking by them on her way to school since September. Even though there are similar ducks in Italy, they aren’t THESE ducks. So, she will continue to stop each time she sees them because once she leaves Helsinki, she won’t see them again.
Leave it to an Italian girl’s love of ducks to make me take a closer look at my time here. In my quest to absorb all the sights and sounds of Finland, I have been running around from place to place, in search of the big things, like museums, art galleries, and events. I have been a so wrapped up in “finding” culture, that I have failed to truly appreciate the culture diversity I am exposed to every day.
Things like “taking a coffee” most afternoons around 3:00 p.m. with my Italian roommate as that is something she typically does at home, or allowing my (very traditional) friend from Macedonia to open every door for me when we’re out because he’s insulted if I do it myself. How about watching American movies with my French and Italian neighbors and having them hit pause so I can explain the slang? And then hearing them confer with each other in a mixture of English and Italian/French to make sure everybody understands. It’s how a group of friends or classmates will switch from speaking in their native language to English, so I can be included in the conversation.
If I think about it, it is exposure to these things that have affected me the most. That’s not to say living in a foreign country and going to school full time in a “traditional” setting hasn’t been an eye-opening experience in and of itself. By all means, it has been a lot to take in. But seeing first-hand how these young adults have come to incorporate the nuances of the cultures of others into their daily lives has been a humbling experience. I thought I was open-minded and accepting before coming here. I didn't have a clue. These “kids” have opened my eyes as to what it really means to be culturally diverse. And they, more than any textbook, class, or work project, have shown me how important it is and how much we can learn from each other.
It took flying over 4,000 miles and watching an Italian girl’s “Finnish ducks” to make me realize that culture is around us every day. And there is so much we can learn, if we only open our eyes and see it.