At times I think another culture can offer insight into our own culture. It took a specific experience that I had in Greece combined with an experience of my fathers’ (with his close Japanese acquaintance), that made me realize what may be sparse within American culture.
I can remember it quite clearly. We were in Corinth, at a local tavern. From the rustic table where we sat, we could hear the owner pounding on the steaks and chopping the tomatoes with exact precision. It was an art to him, not to be rushed. We could hear joyful conversation coming from the kitchen. The chopping, pounding and laughing all seemed to fuse into our surroundings and melded into a lovely evening full of a banter which seemed to last for ages. It was so different from the hustle and bustle of the typical American lifestyle.
I was reminded of that night recently when my father told me a story about one of his Japanese friends. Instead of being disappointed by the fact that they would not be able to go site seeing on a rainy day, Kiko simply replied, “Well, we can enjoy listening to the rain drops.” Such a simple thing to enjoy! Such a simple thing to say! But I can’t quite picture an American saying it. My father’s meeting taught me a lesson. She taught me to listen, to pay attention and actually take the time to quietly observe my own surroundings, (even the simple sound of falling rain), in the same way that I would observe some new enchanting art exhibit. She taught me that there is something about being in the moment that changes one’s attitude about one’s surroundings. Perhaps by savoring each sense as we experience it, we become more involved in our environment, and in turn we actually enjoy our experiences at a higher level.
Although we often search for locations that offer quiet and tranquil surroundings, perhaps we can find the same serenity in the midst of our own homes. Sometimes the fresh smell of chopped produce or the slight sound of dropping rain can become a tranquil moment if only we wish it to be. Perhaps we simply need to be mindful of our own environments. To learn more about other cultures is to learn more about our own, and in turn it opens a door to learning about the ‘American Self.’ And maybe, just maybe, a little introspection can go a long way. As for teaching my two and a half year-old to be introspective, well, I guess I’ll just have to start out by modeling my behavior first and figure the rest out along the way!