After nearly a year of living in France and traveling around Europe, I feel as if the more I experience different countries and their cultures, the less different everyone becomes. While Rome certainly looks more ancient than Berlin, and Barcelona was definitely cheaper than Paris, I have made more mental notes of how similar and pervasive human behavior and emotion is than how different these cultures are.
In every city, you can find music and bar enclaves with graffiti, smoking and the youth. You can see the difference in housing, the difference in publicly-kept cleanliness, between those with money and those without it. You can see which groups of people are made to clean, to work, to serve and how so often they are brown and immigrant. You can see the snobbiness and high horses of the white elderly. You can see for as many unwelcoming people there are, there will always be those to show you kindness. You can see the energy of the city, the way how, whether slow, or fast, on bikes or on trains, we all move for the same reason: to work, to provide for those closest to us, to keep moving, to keep living.
It seems like the world is so divided, that first world countries are kept hidden and protected from the third world. That the social ailments created by imperial forces will never reach the developed world. But what I have seen in Ecuador and Morocco is that human behavior remains the same. Whether without the glitter of the West, and sometimes with it, we all interact and move the same way. We all gather, we all celebrate, we all work. The idea that we, in the first world, are so different, so privileged, is in many ways not real. We are not naturally privileged, we simply grow to be exploitative, we grow to accumulate, but we act, we react the same. A friend of mine had asked me recently what I have learned in my time living in Paris and traveling, and what I have seen most is how it is not us who are different but rather just what we’re surrounded with. It is not our identities that make us distinct, that make some superior and others oppressed, but the way how the world sees us and treats us.
It is not intrinsic that Western Europe does not suffer from famine and war, the susceptibility of their populations and their earth is no different. Consequently, our human behavior and psyches are no different. What is, however, is that while Paris can receive a billion euros when the Notre Dame burns down, Yemen gets forgotten. While, in the end, traveling does not make you, or make me, more “cultured,” it does make the world make more sense. It shows you just how connected, just how endless the expanse of human society is, and just how deluded we’ve become to think we are any different or any better than anyone else. It breaks down the idea of cultural superiority in real terms. Understanding that life in person is always different than the reality captured and manipulated through another’s lens. That misfortune and war are external circumstances, but human love and life is pervasive. Uncovering the layers of capital and classism, you can see real, common, human emotion, regardless of whether in Europe, North America, South America or Africa; while it may be manifested or interpreted differently we all feel the same. Traveling and experiencing are integral to really instilling the idea that history only paints a portrait of what has occurred to people, not who they are. It is with seeing and interacting with people that we flatten the earth in our minds, by making cultural differences more real and understanding how they are actually more us than anything else.