August 21, 2012

Roads Around the World

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If Europe’s culinary and linguistic differences are enough wattage for a good culture shock, the transition I’ve made between my summer in India and my fall semester in Geneva would be enough to get New Delhi back on the grid.

It’s not about “developing” or “developed,” Hindu or Protestant, or even the fact that one hosts the agencies and academics that write reports about the other’s social and economic issues. It is very simply this: Indian and Swiss people view the fundamental components of social responsibility and human interaction in entirely different terms from each other.

When I left India, I knew I was going to need a preloaded response to the inevitable and unvarying question, “So, uh, how was India?” What could capture eight weeks of cultural integration and internalization in a single sentence? My answer ended up being that the roads in India truly summarize the flexibility (if not the capriciousness) of Indian society.

Goats, stray dogs, motorcycles, people, bikes and buses made the occasional car seem out of place in what my oh-so-naïve American mind thought was made for it. Lanes are non-existent, traffic is very loosely restricted to the left side of the road and size is all that matters when deciding who has the right of way. When there was a corner to cut, it was cut until it became the new corner.

Flash forward to Geneva. If the bus is late, your watch is wrong. People wait on street corners for a walk signal even if the nearest oncoming car is four blocks away. I’ve been here nearly a day, and have yet to hear someone sound his or her horn for any reason. It’s amazing to me that one society can be so orderly and the other can thrive in such disorder.

But really, what’s the value for me (or anyone) of experiencing all that? For me, it was simply learning that neither order nor disorder makes a society any better or worse. It’s imperative to understand that no matter where you go or what you do, the cultural habits that seem to you the most bizarre and laughable are the things that millions, if not billions, of people do every day without a thought. And once I realized that, I realized that I too was just a member of a group of 330,000,000 people that do things that are weird by everyone else’s accounts.

And that is the value of leaving the United States

Original Author: Danny Sexton