Exploring world's cultures

I've been feeling the desperate need of writing, writing and writing. Thing is I've no idea what I want to write about so here's an attempt to dump whatever is in my mind that needs to go out.

I started the year with the intention of meeting new people, getting in touch with new cultures and having great conversations. So far so good. I've had the pleasure to visit amazing countries, meeting great people and coming back home with the feeling of fulfilment and success. I still have some trips ahead and I'm really looking forward to them. However, after having gathered so many things, information and experiences, I'm now sitting here without knowing what to do with them. Something will come up, something will happen.

I do have lots of notes about these trips, though. I have notes about the people I've met, the people I've had the opportunity to become - I hope - a closer friend of and the cultures I've had the opportunity to explore. Actually, I'd like to start from there, cultures.


So far, I think cultures are as hard as they are amazing. We all live our cultures in ways that we consider morally correct, self-fulfilling and emotionally satisfying. But, what's culture? What does it represent? Why is it so important for each one of us?

What I have is a definition of culture built out of my own experiences and beliefs. In addition to that, I've done some research and read some books on this topic to be able to understand all this in more depth. Let me start by quoting a piece of what wikipedia says about cultures:

In the 20th century, "culture" emerged as a central concept in anthropology, encompassing the range of human phenomena that cannot be directly attributed to genetic inheritance. Specifically, the term "culture" in American anthropology had two meanings:

  1. the evolved human capacity to classify and represent experiences with symbols, and to act imaginatively and creatively; and
  2. the distinct ways that people, who live differently, classified and represented their experiences, and acted creatively.[2]

Hoebel describes culture as an integrated system of learned behavior patterns which are characteristic of the members of a society and which are not a result of biological inheritance.[3]

After having met, and I mean met, these many people, I'm convinced culture is more than just the above-quoted paragraph. Our culture defines us, it describes how we behave in certain situations. It not only represents a high percentage of the things we believe in, but it also makes us recognizable. One of my favourite games is to sit somewhere - normally when I'm having breakfast in a hotel - and try to guess as many cultures as possible just by looking at people and the way they behave. It amazes me how vulnerable our own culture makes us.

If we go even further from being recognizable. I believe our culture helps us to survive. Regardless on whether you live in the place you were raised in, your culture will always be there. One can't simply give up its culture, it'll just show up at some point. Nonetheless, it's our choice to stick to it or not. Many times we will have to decide to live by our culture or to simply take new things from other cultures. I'm not talking about travelling and living new things, I'm talking about incorporating things from other cultures into our own culture. By doing so, we're evolving our own culture, we're pushing back its boundaries and adapting it to whatever we think makes sense.

This actually leads me to some other questions. For example, how much of us is actually defined by our culture? Where does the line between our own personality and our culture get drawn? Does that line even exist?

Being opinionated is as important as not being opinionated, this I've also learned in the last couple of trips. You know, you should always have a balance in between things. Your culture is part of you and you have an opinion about it that you probably want others to agree with and even if you don't, you certainly want to share it. The viewpoint of your culture may distort the behaviour of other people, you may interpret the things you live in ways other people won't because of how your culture distorts your own point of view. However, if you use your opinions in a healthier way by respecting and expanding the boundaries of what you think is correct or not, you'll be able to discover many interesting things from other cultures. You don't have to necessarily agree with everything coming from other cultures but this doesn't make other cultures any less interesting. Expanding such boundaries will make it easier or more difficult for some cultures to interact with others.

David Matsumoto, in Culture and modern life, defined culture as: "The set of attitudes, values, beliefs, and behaviours shared by a group of people, communicated from one generation to the next".

Regardless of how cultures are communicated, which I don't think should be part of culture's definition, I think this is one of the most accurate definition of culture I've read and it definitely matches my experience in the last months. During this time, I've had enough time to observe people and learn from them. I've taken notes about their attitudes, values, behaviours and especially their beliefs. The later is what I probably have found most interesting about the people I've spent time with - I'll leave that for a future post - and especially the trust they've put on me to share what they had to say.

I won't go into much detail on what trust is or isn't but I'd like to quote Sissela Bok:

Whatever matters to human beings, trust is the atmosphere in which it thrives - Sissela Bok

Trust is a huge topic that wouldn't fit into this post but as far as my experiences in the last months go, trust is one of the things I'm most grateful for.

In order to communicate with someone there has to be trust. Whether is lots of it or not, it's not relevant here. The point is that all the people that decided to share their experiences, cultures and beliefs with me trusted me enough to do so.

Human relations are definitely not easy. They require observation, patience, emotional intelligence and a whole bunch of other things that I'm not even aware of. The point is that in order to interact with other people, there are many things that come into play and you, as an individual in that interaction, need to be aware of this and be prepared to answer questions like:

  • How much time are you willing to dedicate to others?
  • How much time are you willing to dedicate to listening to people?
  • How much time are you willing to share with whomever is around you?
  • Are you willing to listen to stranger's stories?
  • What are the boundaries of your comfort zone?
  • ...

I can't stress enough how important it is to be aware of the above and to be willing to "give" your time away to understand others when it comes to discovering new cultures and sharing.

With all that being said, I think it's clear by now that I've had an amazing experience so far. I love meeting new people and I enjoy dedicating my time to others. I believe cultures are amazing but in order to fully interact with so many cultures and getting to know them you need to throw yourself on it 100%

Hi. I’m Flavio Percoco (a.k.a flaper87), and I’m a Software Engineer at Red Hat, where I spend my days working on OpenStack, speaking at conferences. In my spare time I contribute to Rust, write, read, surf, travel, smoke my coffee and drink my pipe.