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Travel Tolerance and Simply Weird

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Travel and Tolerance and the Simply Weird

“Man knows so little about his fellows. In his eyes all men or women act upon what he believes would motivate him if he were mad enough to do what that other man or woman is doing.” -William Faulkner

As you travel the world, it is my impression that you happenstancially cultivate a deep sense of tolerance for other people and develop strategies to prevent yourself from become too annoyed by the actions of others. I figure that this should either happen automatically, or someone would be compelled to just stop traveling. World travel is annoying. The small cultural quirks that you were socialized to follow are often not followed by the rest of the world.

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Wade from Vagabond Journey.com
in Istanbul, Turkey- March 11, 2009
Travelogue Travel Photos

The moment that you realize that you can ride a crowded sleeper bus in the west of China that is full of spitting and smoking Chinese people, chickens, bulk goods, and huge bags of agricultural fodder on an overnight journey with a calm and curious disposition is perhaps the moment you become a traveler.

But no matter how tolerant you are, sometimes the behavioral barrier between cultures is simply too think, and you realize that you are, in fact, a cultured human, and have deeply ingrained senses of how a person should act and how they should not act.

My traveler tolerance credentials were pushed to the limit last night, but I realize this morning that there is nothing wrong with this: travelers are people, too.

Majid, my roommate here in Istanbul, is from Syria. He is as loud as an Arab, for he is an Arab. He screams – REALLY SCREAMS – into his cell phone when he speaks to someone in Arabic. He yells so loud, in fact, that no person anywhere near him can have a seperate conversation, let alone think. His phone conversations dominate the entire apartment. But it seems to be intuitive for him to yell his mother tongue, as he does not speak loudly in Turkish or when he attempts to communicate in English.

I broke down last night.

I was sitting next to the fellow in the apartment’s living room, and I found it so absurd that he was screaming right next to me that I had to leave. It just makes me feel too odd to have someone compulsively yelling at a little chunk of black plastic while sitting within two feet of me.

I got annoyed, and I broke down – I couldn’t take it anymore. My tolerance was pushed to its uppermost limit.

The moment you learn to accept the world as it is is the moment that you have learned how to travel the world.

The moment you learn to accept yourself as you are is perhaps the moment that you have learned how to be yourself.

I can get mad, annoy, and have my tolerance decimated, and it is alright. No problems. I can be a dick, too. I am a human.

“I can’t take this shit anymore,” I proclaimed as I left the living room. I was right, I really could not. It is normal to have a limit to your tolerance.

The person who can travel across India without wanting to bop an Indian or two upon the head is not a human. I would not like to meet this person, for how interesting can a person be if they are wishy washy to the point of utter transparency? How much substance can a person have if their tolerance knows no boundary?

No, I like my people with character.

It is OK to get annoyed, but it is also OK to just walk away.

I did not tell the Arab to stop yelling, I just walked away. It was a simple matter of acceptance: I do not want to be around this person, so I am not going to be around them. I don’t want to change them, I am not going to tell him to be quiet, I am just going to leave.

The word “weird” is a good word. When something is proclaimed as being weird it is accepted without the will to provenience or alter it. If I call a culture weird it means that I have accepted the culture for what it is. It is weird that Chinese people spit all over the floors of buses. It does not make sense to me, but it does not have to. It is OK to leave something as being weird, everything does not have to be figured out.

It is my impression that it is difficult for Americans to accept their surroundings, as we are from a culture that takes as a given that we can fix, change, and improve everything. My initial reaction was to tell Majid to stop yelling, that it is annoying for the people next to him to hear him screaming all day long.

But I admire the man who can sit in a doorway and just watch the world pass by. It is my impression that ethnography and the social sciences fall short because they are bent on unraveling the riddles of other people and cultures. I do not think that it would be academically appropriate to deem the ways of a society as “simply weird.”

But simply weird is what cultures are.

Culture is sometimes simply weird

I want my people and places weird. I do not want to be able to figure things out, and I do not want to try. The weirder the better. I want to go to Syria with renewed vigor because of my roommate is so friggin weird. I can’t figure it out, and I like it.

An internal conflict has been created, and internal conflicts lead to stories. Give me the weird and I will ride it like a raft over the furthermost oceans and across the raging seas.

Travel and Tolerance and the Simply Weird

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Filed under: Culture and Society, Eastern Europe, Europe, Intercultural Conflict, Turkey

About the Author:

Wade Shepard is the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. He has been traveling the world since 1999, through 76 countries. He is the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China, and contributes to Forbes, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3054 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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Wade Shepard is currently in: Cincinnati, Ohio, USAMap