For me, an important part of any experience is taking stock of what I’ve learned. Even if I don’t necessarily know how to apply this knowledge immediately, identifying these moments of clarity helps me recognize them later when I may need them. Sometimes the lessons are sweeping and esoteric, but more often they are small and practical. Most of all, through them I learn more about myself and the color of my own glasses. In no particular order:

  • Europe is not homogenous. Okay, I admit that seems self-evident, but visiting France for the first time shook me out of my Germanic reverie and reminded me that Europe is a continent, not a country. It is filled with different cultures, traditions, mindsets, opinions. Please permit me one self-directed DUH.
  • In other countries, I find that people are often more willing to make allowances for what I call human-ness. In the US, if you drop your fork in a restaurant, it’s considered proper to leave it on the floor to be picked up by the waiter after you leave. Elsewhere, if you drop your fork, you pick it up. If someone bumps into you on the subway, it’s just life.
  • As a rule, Americans don’t like to be touched; we tend to keep a safety zone around ourselves. If someone enters that zone, even unintentionally, we feel violated. If you don’t believe me, think about the last time you shared an arm rest with a stranger on an airplane.
  • We Americans ascribe euphemistic names to our toilets–bathroom, restroom, powder room, ladies’ room, etc.–but we don’t tend to hide what happens in there. In other countries I’ve visited, the aforementioned rooms are called toilets. However, people sometimes try to cover the necessary events by flushing first to mask the associated sounds. I’m not sure what that means, but it’s an interesting dichotomy.

I find it fascinating to observe and reflect on differences in culture. Identifying these things helps me understand where I might stumble and how I can build bridges. It doesn’t matter if the culture is related to a country, a company, or a companion; the exercise is the same.

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