We Are Not The World


Sarah Hoyt reminds us how presumptuous and simply wrong-headed it is to imagine the rest of the world is just like us, only dressed differently. As she puts it, “I don’t think anyone realizes just how different the texture of life is elsewhere.”

She’s right. My wife and I spent three weeks in a village in central Mexico where I researched Aztec Midnight. Though I’d been in the country before, I was not prepared for what I encountered.

The locals we met were extremely hospitable, generous, and eager to talk to us. I admired how social they are — we attended a birthday party for a 75-year-old man we’d just met, and our hosts kept offering us homemade rum and beer, pastries, and enchiladas. They love to fiesta.

But Mexicans are indeed different. There’s a certain Mexican attitude that encompasses both cheerfulness and fatalism, and it’s expressed with a grin and a shrug of the shoulders. Their national character is a striking contrast to American triumphalism.

The more we learn about others, the more we can appreciate who we are.

4 thoughts on “We Are Not The World”

  1. I agree. I spent a decade i France… not a million miles away from England… yet the attitude to life and to each other is completely different. It is one thing to realise we are all brothers under the skin, but misunderstanding is the least ill effect of judging any other culture by our own.


  2. I think you hit the nail on the head. The notion that we’re all the same leads people into judging others by their own standards, which makes them overlook actual motivations and values being expressed in behavior we don’t understand.

    The 1942 Bataan Death March is viewed in this country as the epitome of evil. But to the Japanese, death is the honorable path for one who has surrendered in battle. It was inconceivable to the Japanese that warriors who’d raised their hands in defeat would expect to live, much less being treated with respect.


  3. For one thing – America is a huge country where English is spoken by most. In Europe, where I’m from, you are only mere hours away from another language and language carries culture. I grew up knowing about differences in language and therefore, also culture.


  4. Elizabeth stokkebye,

    Knowing other languages also helps you learn more about your own. Off the top of my head, I recall that Ezra Pound spoke several, as did Joseph Conrad.

    One of my new year resolutions is to brush up on my schoolboy French.


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