Our Italian Adventure: Cultures and Attitudes
Updated: Jan 3
IX. This part is called: Cultures and Attitudes
PART 9: I thought it might be interesting to share how we pulled off living in Italy for part of the year. I will post some steps we took.
We are in Puglia until the end of September, then back again in the winter.
The topic we will explore is: How to Acknowledge my Own Culture While Appreciating Another?
Step 1: The Ugly American. We've seen it. Maybe we have been it. The person goes around complaining that things are not the same as they are "back home." This person whines, compares, judges, complains, and cannot wait to get back home, back to "civilization."
How can I grow in the appreciation of other cultural attitudes and practices while traveling and living abroad?
I don't claim to have all this figured out, but what I've learned about dealing with another culture is this: It is all about ATTITUDE.
Step 2: One extreme: diving in. I've had friends and acquaintances who dove completely into Italian culture while disconnecting from their own. I don't know if this is good or bad, but I wonder if adopting another culture without examining my own and how they interplay can become one-dimensional.
Step 3: Slow to judge. I just retired from being a high school social studies/history teacher. As we studied other periods and cultures, I made an effort in the classroom to see but not judge, experience but not categorize. For example, when studying the industrial revolution in the UK, we also examined the Amish community in the US. Rather than judging the Amish culture as "backward," we decided to look at that culture and our own without bias. The question we investigated was: is technology/industrialization good or bad for us? We looked at lifestyle, quality of relationships, family connectivity, work/life balance, and other factors in both spheres. Each student came up with their answer, backed up by evidence.
I try to apply the same "be slow to judge" as we immerse ourselves in another culture. Just because it is different doesn't mean it is good, bad, better, or worse.
Step 4: Acknowledging my own culture. Something that I am learning during this more extended stay in Italy is that acknowledging my own culture can be freeing; it can give me some perspective about what to hold on to and what to let go of.
We are from California and carry certain cultural traits; we like things done at a specific time, in a certain way, and at a certain speed. We like grabbing a bite, organizing our calendars, and getting to the point.
If I feel a cultural tension (something seems inefficient, too spontaneous, or too unlocked down), I can recognize the cause. "Oh, I'm feeling this way because, in my culture, we start and finish dinner in an hour, max"). Then I can become more open to seeing another perspective, like the focus on community building at meals here in Italy.
Step 5: Knowing my limits. Experiencing another culture and other perspectives can increase my understanding, acceptance, and empathy for others, which is a great gift. But knowing my limits can help keep the cultural interactions positive. For example, staying out late for long dinners or festivals every evening doesn't work for me, so I am learning to navigate time with friends and my own time, when to accept a ride, and when to bring my car.
Step 6: Avoid universalizing. When I don't know a culture, it can be easy to fall into the temptation of universalizing. But this can become an obstacle to getting to know and understand a person or culture.
A rude person may be someone having a tough day, a fast driver may be having an emergency, and a loud talker might be someone with a hearing issue. I try to avoid jumping to "All of 'them' are like this" so I can have a chance to get to know someone and grow in cultural understanding.
Step7: Openness to learning. This is an ongoing process for us, and experiencing another culture and letting it become part of our lives is one of the greatest gifts of this stay in Italy. I know I have much more to learn. I want to adopt the right attitudes to be open to learning.
Watch for my book coming around the 1st of the year: "Stories from Puglia: Two Californians in Southern Italy."
More next time.