One of the things I love about SL is the intermingling of cultures that occurs routinely every time we log in. There can be few platforms or situations that are comparable – perhaps working an international airline check-in desk is the closest you can get – where you have the opportunity to spend time in the company of so many people with backgrounds, nationalities and cultures so very different to one’s own. Even if we’re not directly interacting with those around us, it’s surprising how much we subconsciously learn about how others interpret and relate to the world around them.
Simply spending time in the company of those from other countries and cultures allows us to develop an understanding of complex cultural traits – humour, language, perceptions and social norms, for example. All hard to appreciate and explain from a purely academic perspective, but when we spend time with and amongst people with a background different to our own, it’s amazing how – even in a virtual environment – we are able to pick up and begin to understand even subtle cultural differences and we can even learn how to take these into account and adapt accordingly.
We can also gain fascinating insights into how the rest of the world differs from our own way of life by taking a more direct approach. Just recently, a group of us were gathered together – roughly a 50/50 split between Brits and Americans, along with one person who can lay claim to being a bit of both – and our conversation explored the differences between our two cultures. Starting with music and popular TV shows of our youth, it was surprising to see just how little we knew of the formative influences for our cousins on the other side of The Pond. Then we talked about humour and language, especially how is so easy to accidentally cause offence simply because words have different connotations and meanings, depending on where you’re from.
Then the conversation turned to one of my favorite topics: Food!
I don’t know whether my fellow Brits are as guilty as me when it comes to food, but until I discovered SL and gained a few transatlantic friends, I’d always assumed that there wasn’t a huge amount of difference between food in the UK and food in the US, apart from portion size and a difference of opinion over how turkey should be cooked (us Brits prefer the methods that don’t burn down the house!) How wrong I was!
There’s a vast array of foodstuffs that are everyday fare in the States, but are scarcely even heard of around these parts, and the same is true of British food too. And it’s not always as straightforward as you might think to explain. It’s as difficult, for example, to explain mushy peas and Yorkshire pudding to an American as it is for an American to explain grits and creamed corn to a Brit. Interesting and a lot of fun though. There is one thing, however, that I do feel a little jealous over, and that’s the vast range of authentic regional and ethnic foods available in the States – everything from Cajun and Creole to Mexican. Yes, we do have pale imitations of those delights over here, but they’re nothing like the real thing. I’ve always been of the opinion that proper Brit food is in a class of its own, but for some reason we’re incapable of delivering a decent curry, Chinese, Thai, French or Italian meal – for some reason, when it comes to foreign or anything that’s not purely British, the main ingredient we tend to throw in is blandness, and I feel that’s a great loss.
When an American friend raves about burritos, I can nod appreciatively, but I know that the UK version is going to be nothing like it, and it’s disappointing. So I have to admit to just a hint of jealousy!
And there’s another thing that I’m jealous about when it comes to America and food… Those little fold-open cartons of Chinese takeaway that come with their own chopsticks. I’ve rarely seen them over here, and I can’t help thinking I missing out in some way. Alright, I’ll be the first to admit it’s hardly a big deal, but I reckon it’s a key part of the takeaway experience… Not forgetting, of course, that one is the best ways to understand a culture, or a cuisine, is to immerse yourself in it. So, to forge stronger cultural relations across international and virtual borders, I’m more than willing to make sacrifices – and if that means gorging myself, American style, on delicious Chinese food, then I’m game.
And you’re welcome to join me for lunch too!