Pretend you’re sick, and nothing is helping you feel better. Then a friend offers you a ground up herb, and explains that it’s something Bolivians have used for centuries. Do you accept it? Do you reject it? And why?
We have a tendency to classify “foreign things’ as either superior or lesser, depending on the situation. We love to try foreign foods, but shun foods that are too far beyond our comfort zone. Mysticism has gained a reputation in Western culture, but voodoo hasn’t. Girls dream of a guy with a British accent, but other accents just make them cringe. It’s interesting to think about what takes hold, and why. Why are some things cool, while others get mocked? Why do we listen to superstitions from other cultures but ignore the proverbs of our own? I recently read a Cracked article about when Americans “think foreign people are magic.” It’s a pretty sarcastic article, but it made me laugh a lot. Author Christina H points out that our decisions on whether something foreign is good or bad are pretty arbitrary, and often depend on the category. And what’s more: things that we’d NEVER accept in our normal everyday lives become “cool” if they’re presented from a foreign lens. One of her examples that made me laugh out loud is kombucha: Christina points out that the description of “moldy tea” would not sell many bottles, but when kombucha is presented as fermented superdrink, suddenly American wallets open up.
I’ll admit I’m guilty of this sometimes. Not so much believing in ideas because they’re foreign, but I definitely give places, people, products, etc. extra “points” if they’re of a foreign origin. I daydream about trips abroad much more than I daydream about domestic escapes. I’m more intrigued by people who grew up in other countries. I love trying “ethnic foods” and eat my body weight in new foods when I travel abroad. At one point while studying abroad, I actually had to remind myself that being European does not automatically make someone cool/interesting/nice. I know that sounds really dumb, but as someone who had always idealized European languages and the European way of life, it was somewhat of a rude awakening when some of the people I met through the European exchange student network were rather inconsiderate, and not very fun to be around. I literally had to tell myself that being European did NOT equal being cool.
Check out Christina’s list, and let me know what you think. Anything else you’d add?