It’s peculiar, the things we do that are just like the things our parents do. We pick up little quirks, like color coding the sock drawer or saving half of a banana. I’m certain my forefathers left those half bananas on the counter just like my mother and I do.
I never thought I was a cultural dude until I started to pay attention to what influences me. These cultural tendencies originated from somewhere. Our microculture runs deep within us and makes us the unique people we are, which is comprised of an eclectic mix of our family lineage, the community of which we are a part and our own interests. Culture isn’t how we live, that’s survival. Culture is why we live; it’s what makes life worth living.
Traveling around the world has showed me how many different microcultures exist. Since I lived in the same town from when I was a kid to an adult, I was unaware of the many ways people live. Sure, there were the monks in the mountains and outback safari folks with big hats, but they were just some figment of Hollywood on my TV screen. Then one day I travelled to the high mountains of Arizona at age 21 and lived in a cabin with no running water. People lived at an entirely different pace and found value in leisure over work. It was completely backward from my Chicago homeland. Then, later, I left for Europe and saw how cultures were centered on religion, art or who makes the best cheese.
Seeing other cultures and traditions opened my mind to the idea that there isn’t just one way to do things. It’s harder to criticize other places and people when I keep in mind that they may be looking at the world through a different lens. There’s no need to condemn other cultures for having values different from mine. And I’ve come to appreciate the lens my family has given me. As a child, I thought I was born in the wrong universe and I needed to go find my place. The more I have accepted who I am and where I come from, the more I feel I belong everywhere.
As I meander through the planet’s corners – and enjoying people’s differences – it has become a pleasure to share my own. Instead of forcing myself to fit in, it’s better to embrace what makes me unique. Normal is a setting on a dishwasher, not a type of person. Turns out that there is no normal in this world. We all have our own brand of weird waiting to come out. When we meet new people, it’s a wonderful opportunity to share interests and enlighten each other. What a boring world we’d have if we were all the same.
By traveling around I’ve picked up little pieces that form into who I am. It explains why my accent sounds like I’m an Alabama Canadian who surfs in SoCal and bakes baguettes in France. At the core of all my quirks is my family heritage and just some guy who leaves half-eaten bananas around.
Peter Stadalsky is an Aurora resident and adventurer. He shares his travel experiences with a “glass-half-full” view of the world.