Culture Schmulture

Everyone has a favourite place they have been to. The reason, most often, is a feeling of connection that endeared them to the place, which seems frustratingly impossible to fit into a suitcase.  As humans we naturally seek out a tribe, search for familiarity that precipitates a sense of comfort and safety.  So many people claim to seek connections throughout their lives and never truly find them.  Why not?  Scholars and artists alike have studied the theme at length.  I have a theory on this, which, if you would allow me the pleasure, I will now regale you with.

Local transport in Thailand

Backpackers Community Spirit

It has become platitude amongst backpackers, a lore, this sense of immediate bonding and easily accessible community spirit upon arriving, stinking and laden with baggage, at a remote location where every turn presents one with a heretofore unimagined arrangement of seemingly normal objects, such as glasses filled with neon shades of tea, strange presentations of the alphabet and dogs wearing t-shirts against the evening chill.  How can such a picture be ideal for giving into a sense of adventure with abandon?

That itself is the reason: that we must abandon our sense of the mundane in order to continue putting one foot in front of the other.  Yet once we embrace recklessness, an irresistible part of us flickers always towards safety in the shared community of others.  Yet, in foreign lands, almost everyone looks and sounds starkly different.  Without the usual café lattes and office worker clichés to pitter-patter on with, travelers launch into new companions with a certain determination to find that comforting sense of relatable humanity.

Back home, many struggle with the surroundings, so familiar and ingrained, that they are no longer safe.  Here, everyone is so sure of the sameness of everyday life that they search no deeper for shared humanity than they rummage absentmindedly in their pockets.  That’s not to say that it’s not there, of course, but how to wheedle it out?

The help of strangers

The most common feature I have seen in my years “on the road”, and found echoed in kindred souls, is that, no matter what the perceived culture of a country is, nor whether in city or jungle, a person standing nearby will almost always set out to help you in any way they can, whether it be warm blankets, sustenance or directions towards farther frontiers.  As strangers, we backpackers seek such lights along the way and are so grateful that we reciprocate.  I have no adjectives to sprinkle over that reciprocity; it has already been done to death.

I have been guilty of labeling my own culture as this, that and the horrible other; yet even I have not taken enough time to seek out that common humanity, to ask strangers to share a part of my day.  Just recently, a visitor to my country offered to share his post-lunch dessert and engage me in rather lovely conversation; a government worker gave me advice on my love life; a woman left chocolates on my doorstep after I helped her with a flat tyre.  Ultimately we do not set out to experience other cultures, as the old adage goes we set out to find ourselves.  It’s bringing yourself home again that’s the real trick.

About Mary Llewellyn

Mary Llewellyn is of Irish citizenship and spent four years traversing remote areas around the globe.  Keeping off the main tourist trail, she worked several jobs from farm hand to non-profit foundation manager in Asia.  Now back home for a spell, Mary enjoys meeting other travelers, sharing experiences and offering helpful tips to those setting out.

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