Thursday, January 17, 2013
Cultural Exchange Guest Post by Michael Harling
A Guest Post by Mike Harling, author of Postcards from Across the Pond
Mike's interview (as well as my review for Postcards from Across the Pond)
Ed. Note: This is a guest post that Mike wrote for my old blog, Bridge the Gap. It was posted in 2009, so obviously it's been awhile...keep that in mind when reading to the end!
I was born in America; it seemed the natural thing to do. And there were times, I kid you not, when I would reflect on the rest of the world, marveling at how so many people could lack the good fortune or foresight to not have been born in America. Or at least Canada.
There was also a time when it seemed to me that anyone who really mattered came from America, as well. I shared this observation with my mother, capping it off with, "Even Jesus was an American." I was quite young.
My mom set me straight on the Jesus theory, but couldn't deny that the others on my list were true blue, as was I.
Over the years, I discovered the joys of travel, but never strayed too far from home (in a place as big as America, that's not as contradictory as it sounds) and certainly never considered leaving it. But then I did. (Short version: met a woman. Long version: buy the book.) Now I believe that every American should be required to spend a year living abroad. (In the interest of keeping their “Out of Nation” experience from being too much of a culture shock, however, it might be best if they started off visiting countries with indoor plumbing.)
Even the non-Americans I have posed this idea to think it’s a good one, as broadening the world-view of the United States is advantageous for all concerned, provided the Americans in question don’t come to “visit” as part of a large camouflage-clad group toting rifles and driving armored vehicles.
These days I reserve my wonder for the people in America who have never had the opportunity of experiencing a different culture; and I can’t help feeling a little sorry for them. They will never know the strange thrill that comes from seeing the weather map on the news not showing an aerial view of their own home county (like when you visited Baltimore that time on your school trip). They will never experience the simultaneous shock of astonishment, disbelief and disappointment as they ride down the A-303 and ask their travel companion about those strange rocks in the field off to the right and receive the reply: "Oh them; that's Stonehenge."
England, despite my erstwhile supposition of ubiquitous Americanism, figures large in our culture, or at least it did in mine. Remember that place the lady rode her Cock Horse to? Yeah, it's here. I drove through it a few months back. And the Muffin Man, well, he doesn't live in Drury lane any more, but Drury lane is still there. Also, once you get out of America you start realizing that many notable people (Prince Charles, for instance) are not, in fact, American. I mean, Oasis; who knew they were from Manchester? I thought they came from Seattle.
Even if you can’t arrange to live overseas, you should at least pop over for a visit. The UK is a good place to start because they sort of speak the same language and we share a great deal of heritage. And now would be the optimum time, while the dollar hasn’t free-fallen quite as far as the pound and you can actually get a decent rate of exchange. If you’re on a limited budget, visit London; it’s like New York City in that you can't swing a tea cosy without hitting something famous. On a pleasant day you could go for a stroll and take in Trafalgar Square, The Tower of London, Piccadilly Circus, Big Ben, Westminster Abby and Buckingham Palace and still have time for a pint and a visit to the gift shoppe. That’s value for money, and not always possible in other countries (try visiting Mt Rushmore and Old Faithful in the same day).
So think about it. Come for a visit or, if you can swing it, a longer stay, because nothing compares to the adventure inherent in the daily navigation of a foreign culture. Even after seven years I still, on occasion, look around myself and think, “Holy shit, I’m in England.” And being amazing by your own life is a great way to live.