We have a famous phrase here throughout Asia, “same, same but different.” It's frankly one of the best phrases I've come across in my travels and I can apply it to most any situation. In a nutshell, it is the epitome of unlocking the door to cultural differences because you must learn to see things the same and differently simultaneously.
My first radical experience of this notion came in Nepal when I ordered 100 RED X-mas tree ornaments and I received 100 ORANGE X-mas tree ornaments! (of all the rainbow colors, orange is the hardest one to make work for X-mas....trust me.) When a frustrated me phoned India to complain, “madam, same, same” shot like a bullet down the line! What? Red and Orange are NOT the same. However, guess what? They use the same word for both colors. Yes. They. Do. And that was the moment I fully understood, “same, same but different.” If I was going to work in Asia, I was going to have to think differently. And since that very first costly discovery, I've challenged my ideals, routines and assumptions daily throughout my travels
But what if you aren't out globetrotting? How do you learn to embrace and become open to different ways of thinking, of doing, of planning, of being? Below are 5 easy ways to start unlocking the door to cultural differences right from your very own home!
Change the house rules for a month. It can be as simple as not wearing shoes in the house, or sitting on the floor for dinner (I once hauled out a tablecloth everyday for a month and set the “table” on the family room floor)!, heck—you could take it a step further and become vegetarian or vegan for a month! Even rearranging the furniture is a step in the right direction! The point is that it can be small, but it must be different from your everyday norm. The slightest change in routine lends itself to opening up to knew perspectives and understanding. In fact, some philosophies encourage children with disruptive behavior to switch writing hands in order to help change their mindset. Who's brave enough to give that one a go?
Dance. Dance. Get serious about your eclectic musical collection. Listen to a variety of ethnic music everyday from countries around the world. See how it grows on you. Dance to each and every song! This will heighten your curiosity by connecting your senses and being to different rhythms. Explore the cultures of your favorite songs! There's a reason you find yourself be-boppin' along without realizing it!
Invite 5 people who are different from you to a cross-cultural coffee conversation at a local cafe.They can be co-workers, teammates, classmates, your hairstylist, the gal who bags your groceries, a friend of a friend. The more diverse, the better. Remember that religious, ideological, or socio-economic differences contribute to a richer conversation. Choose a simple topic such as travel, laughter, exercise, or even grandmothers or grandfathers and then ask each participant to share how the topic relates in their own culture. A 'talking stick' such as a shell or pencil can be helpful to make sure everyone has a chance to speak. Discuss what you learned from each other and what came as a surprise to you afterwards. It's always a hoot to see the friendships these simple conversations can spur!
Sign up for a cultural exchange with Couchsurfing or Workaway. I've personally signed up as a Workaway host and I can not begin to tell you how many interesting things I have learned from different folks around the world during the past year! Workaway is a simple work exchange platform, where travellers agree to volunteer a few hours a day in exchange for room and board. It could be as easy as housecleaning, gardening or addressing envelopes---but I tell you there are some talented volunteers out there willing to work for a bonafide cultural exchange!
Last but not least, you're not always right. In fact, make it your business to try to be wrong. Try to do things differently just because. Who says the peanut butter has to go on one slice of bread, and the jelly on the other? There's always more than one way to do things, and if I've learned anything during my 20 + years of travel, it's that I'm often wrong and that people do things in different ways, yet achieve the same results. I've learned to sit back silently and just watch. Sometimes when I'm on the road and I see someone doing something completely inefficiently from my point of view, I take a deep breath and mumble my sanity mantra: “I am open to change and I am willing to be wrong.”
So go ahead and get started with some of these simple ideas so that you too can resonate with the liberating phrase, “same,same but... different”!
Gina Lauricella Hope is the Co-Founder of Global Groove Life.
When she's not advocating for Fair Trade or designing over copious cups of chai, she's raising and homeschooling two great third-culture-kid teenagers. The family spends 6 months a year in Thailand and 6 months a year learning something new, somewhere new.
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