In NBC's now-canceled sitcom, Heroes (yes, I'm a nerd), Sylar had the ability of absorbing other people's super powers. I sometimes feel like Sylar; only, rather than absorb abilities like regeneration, reading minds, flying, or stopping time, I absorb people's cultures – their energies, their lives, experiences, and what makes them who they are. Sometimes, I even start adopting their accents and broken English, before I notice and start thinking to myself, "what the hell am I doing?!?! I sound like a moron!" (Which everyone already thinks to begin with.)
I live for exploring new countries – partially for the sights, but more so to learn about its people and how they live, laugh, eat, and love. I'm addicted. I can't get enough.
When I travel to other countries, I spend very little time in museums, at monuments, and fancy restaurants – instead opting to interact with the locals, sharing a beer, spending time in their homes, eating at places where all can enjoy. I like to challenge what I know, which challenges my comfort zone. I love it.
Here are just some of the things I love... and am confused as to why we don't do them here:
1. Kisses on the Cheek – I LOVE kissing complete strangers on the cheek. Sometimes I put a little tongue on that cheek as well. It really freaks them out and reminds them to move away from me as soon as possible. And that's just the guys! For women, my cheek kisses linger just a little too long for comfort. I like to close my eyes and moan a bit, as if I've just taken a bite of crème brulée. This, too, quickly tells the women to avoid me at all costs. For the people who live in those countries, I'd imagine it's an excellent ice-breaker, leads to warmer interactions, and a greater comfort level.
2. Siestas – Originally created to get workers out of the hot afternoon sun, it's now a tradition amongst many Spanish-speaking nations, as well as in Italy and Greece. A siesta is a break in the early afternoon (typically 2 to 5pm), used for a nap or an extended lunch with a heavy emphasis on relaxation. In countries that practice, you can forget about shopping or eating during those times. I love it simply for the fact that it slows down the pace of life and you see people enjoying each other's company during hours that – in the U.S. – you typically see people running each other over with a cell phone in hand. For me, it's great because right when the siesta is starting, I'm just waking up and can participate in daytime drinking.
3. Taking Shoes Off At the Door – This is maybe the most logical thing done in Asian and Eastern European countries that makes no sense as to why we don't do it here in the States. Why would you walk on people's spit, gum, dog poop, dirt, grease, and every other filthy thing imaginable and then bring that into your house? Have you ever sat on your floor? Walked on your floor barefoot? Laid down on your floor? Had sex on your floor? Would you do that on the sidewalk!?!? How could you relax with your shoes on anyway!?!? (These aren't Al Bundy's God Shoes, for pete's sake!) So keep your floors clean, starting with taking your shoes off at the door!
4. Pouring Other People's Drinks – I love playing the part of the host, so I always make sure people's cups are filled at my house. In Japan, it's actually a custom that you don't pour your own drinks. Therefore, everyone gets sh*t-faced. I love the generous nature of it all, but also the symbolism of taking care of those around us. It's good practice to always be considerate and aware of other's needs in friendship, work, and relationships.
5. Respecting Elders – I think the United States is the only place I've witnessed where the elderly are sent off to live in homes. Think about that. These are your parents. Your grandparents. Do we live in a society that has taught us to be that selfish?!? In other countries, the elderly are revered and respected -- you bow, make sure they eat first/last, and are taken care of. That's the way it should be.
6. Roundabouts – When I drove through my first roundabout in Europe, I was pretty scared. I envisioned that scene when Chevy Chase drove round and round all day long until nightfall because he couldn't get to the outside lane to exit. Fortunately that didn't happen -- it only took me three hours. Roundabouts are so much more efficient and reduce traffic. There's a common misconception about ethnic people being bad drivers. Let's clarify that. It's only some of the ethnic people who came here to the U.S. Because if you've ever been to any Asian, Latin, or Eastern European country, those people can drive with an entire family of six on a scooter, around the ledge of a narrow cliff in a full-size bus, or weaving in and out of traffic on a one-lane road while you're screaming in the back seat wishing you had told your mother – one last time – that you loved her. Stop your stupid, clichéd, blanket statement stereotypes.
7. Long-Term Planning – You don't have the money? You don't spend it in other countries! Here in the States, you have all these idiots who mortgage their future for an expensive car, designer clothes, or new electronics. It's one thing to borrow against your future for advanced education or to start a business, but for unnecessary items that you saw Jay-Z wearing?!? My man, E-40, once rapped, "Don't buy an $85k car, before you buy a house!" -- maybe the most practical life lesson a rapper has ever spit out. Short-sightedness isn't just complacent in our buying culture, but also in our reduction culture! Global Warming is NOT a Democratic or Republican issue, but it has turned into that, since what one party champions, the other must refute. Here, we must wait for something bad to be practically upon us before we enact any sort of change -- like there's anything wrong with conserving, recycling, and saving today!
That's not to say that we, Americans, don't have some great things to teach the rest of the world. McDonald's anyone?!? Am I right?!!? The Big Mac is an American icon! How about the fact we politely greet everyone with a "hi," "how are you doing?," or a head nod -- even when we don't know a person -- while a large part of the rest of the world practices something called, "resting bitch face." We like to spread good cheer here in the states! Also, perhaps nothing speaks to our character the most than when it comes to helping out those in need -- in particular, natural disasters. No matter what tragedy -- tsunamis, earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, disease -- Americans will be on the front line helping with the relief effort. Don't get me wrong, I love my country!
Still, learn about other cultures. REALLY learn. Next time you're in another country, put down that Lonely Planet and see the country through your own eyes and experiences. Go to a supermarket and see what food options the locals have. Walk around and listen to the people around you, their conversations, and their mannerisms. Make friends with people who aren't from English-speaking countries. Dance like no one's watching. Take your shoes off at a local park with a bottle of wine, some cheese, and read a book. Relax. Breathe it in. You'll be glad you did.