Things I got from my dad include weird-shaped eyebrows, passion for cooking, lack of patience and a thing I wouldn’t change for the world – wanderlust.
I believe it’s because of all the stroller journeys with my dad, that I fell in love with smell of the sea, warmth of blooming rye and the vibe of sleepy villages. I think it’s because of his way of percieving the nature that I don’t like sightseeing, taking zillion photos and learning apparent facts about buildings, and squares.
I am way more interested in how was this city built, why is people’s culture the way it is. I’m interested in why is Tours grey, why are streets in Piran so narrow and why are buildings in Porto and Guimaraes so very tight. Why are cemeteries in rural France abandoned and why do so many people go to catholic church on sunday in Malta? People tend to see the obvious – there are soooo many bikes in Amsterdam. But did you ever ask yourself why? I won’t tell you, google it.
I still remember the day when my dad took me to see the cemetery in Foëcy, France. It was weird, because apart of La Pere Lachaise in Paris, noone really visits cemeteries. The scenery was perfect for an Agatha Christie’s book – sun was setting, the place was old and grey full of abandoned graves (at least in my impression), some perished flowers and no candles defined the paysage. Very different than Slovenia, where all the graves look the same and the competition with the neighbors is strong. My father then said to me: “in every city, village, country, wherever you go, you must see three things: cemetery to see how long people live, traditional market to see how good people live and public school to see where young people go.”
I know I’m not old and wise, but I allowed myself to add some things to that list: Public transport, church ceremony and a bookshop. Why? The only reason is getting to know the culture. In my opinion it is easier then to interpret and simply find the meaning in visiting all those buildings, parks and even shopping malls we visit.
1.) Cemetery: Cemeteries tell us how long people live, what are the most common surnames, which families built rich chapels, do they have separate graves for the children, how much work do people put into graves? Do they light candles? Why don’t they? It might sound very weird, but give it a shot.
2.) Market: to see how people live, who are the people selling at the market. On one hand, it is very interesting to observe what people sell, and moreover – how they sell, their strategies, negotiations, even how the pricing is set, is it more expensive than in supermarket? why? on the other hand – who are the buyers? who goes to the market? Old ladies with grandchildren and those funny shopping carts, or is it people going to work and stopping by? How do they interact in the buying/selling situation?
3.) School tells us how young people are percieved and how much money the country is spending on their education. How do the benches look like? Do they still have the blackboard? Is children’s art displayed in the hallways? You don’t have to attend the lecture, just observe the interior.
4.) Public transport is my favourite point of observation. The most fascinating were Malta aland France. In Malta, there were so many old ladies praying all the way of the ride, and in France, everyone is so polite. I got so embarassed once, when I gave one girl my well-known morning bitchface instead of polite ‘excusez-moi’, and ruined her day, obviously. Not proud of that. I’m very interested in the sitting order. For example, I remember when I was younger and used public bus every day, I had a strategy of blowing my nose every time someone was looking for an empty seat on the bus – because, who would interrupt someone blowing their nose to ask whether they can sit beside them. In France noone asks, they just sit. In Slovenia, everyone rather stands. Another great thing to observe is what do people do during the bus ride? do they talk to eachother like in Indonesia? do they read like in France? youngsters stare at their phone, this is quite a cross-cultural universal norm.
5.) Church ceremony: it doesn’t matter what you believe in, it is always nice to go to church in another country. Sometimes the churches are full, but sometimes all the eyes will stare at you. Sometimes they sings, sometimes all they do is pray. Sometimes the nuns are the queens of the jungle, sometimes they are not even present. In Bali, the church ceremonies are held on the street, people give gifts to the god several times a day.
6.) Bookshop: It’s my thing. I keep buying books, but I don’t look at it as a problem anymore. Bookshops tell us what kind of books are read in this culture – which department is the largest? I was very surprised by the lack of anthropological literature in France and Portuguese obsession with fiction. The other thing – how expensive are domestic books? in France, people read a lot, and books are cheap, because the circulation is large. In Slovenia – go to the library. Another thing I observe is the presence of books in foreign language. In Portugal for example; many many books in french and spanish, but very poor choice of books in english. Must be a reason behind that, another cultural manifestation to explore.
In the end – it’s cliché, but I think it’s important to offer yourself something to remember your travels. If you are fed up with stickers and magnets you put on the fridge’s door, start collecting something completely yours. Like coins, mugs, t-shirts, or as I do it – books. Everytime I travel somewhere new, I buy a book. Books are forever, even though you don’t read it right away, it will wait for you with all the memories of the places you visited.