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Traveling Makes Criticism of Culture Easy

Leaving Home Makes Criticism of Culture Easy FINCA TATIN, Guatemala- “You would have thought that by now they would have come up with a way to make change,” my friend Bob was lamenting the annoying fact that it is very difficult to get change for even relatively small bills at almost any business in Guatemala. [...]

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Leaving Home Makes Criticism of Culture Easy

FINCA TATIN, Guatemala- “You would have thought that by now they would have come up with a way to make change,” my friend Bob was lamenting the annoying fact that it is very difficult to get change for even relatively small bills at almost any business in Guatemala.

I laughed, I know the feeling of standing before a cashier in this country when they raise their arms up in defeat and proclaim that they do not have any change for the money I just paid to them. It happens almost every day if you are traveling here. When it happens to me, I now ask them if they would rather go and get me my change or have me not pay. They always find change somewhere.

Lack of change is endemic in Guatemala.

Bob and I laughed about it.

But then he looked up at me and laughed even harder, “You know,” he began, “before I came out to this part of the country a friend warned me that I would end up starting every sentence with ‘You would have thought,’ and I did not think much of it at the time, but look at me now: I am sitting here saying ‘You would have thought . . .”

For people who have left home, for people who live in a different cultural sphere than the one in which they were raised, it is easy to begin sentences with “You would have thought . . .,” it is easy to be critical.

Especially so when what you see around you would be completely stupid in your home country. It would be way out of the ordinary in the USA to buy something from a store and have the cashier say that they do not have change for a $50 bill.

Bob’s conversation soon moved on to a discussion of the town of Rio Dulce, or Fronteras. Bob said, “You would have thought . . .” a few more times. I found myself starting statements with “You would have thought . . .” as well. This statement seemed to fit the topic of conversation, which was about how awful the people in the city made their home.

We said, “You would have thought . . .” because it seemed to us that no thought was being used as we talked about the local people just throwing their garbage in the streets or the fact that the shop owners put all of their crap and wares all over the sidewalk so that pedestrians need to walk in the highway, which is therefore virtually a traffic jam at most hours of the day, and that there are very few animals in the jungle because the local people killed them all.

“You would have thought . . .”

It is easy to criticize other cultures when you live within the foreign fray. Bob and I, as Americans, are not expected to understand why Guatemalans throw their trash all over the street, or why the business have seemingly never figured out that they are going to need to give customers change every day, or that if the shops put their junk over the sidewalk that pedestrians are going to have to weave in and out of trucks stuck at a standstill on the highway, or why they have not yet realize that if they kill all the animals in the jungle there will not be any left.

It is easy for us to criticize all of this because things are not this way in our country. We were raised with a different problems, different solutions, and different ways. But it is normal for expats and immigrants all over the world to look upon their new country and preface their statements with, “You would have thought . . .”

I am sure that criticizing American culture is a primary occupation of the immigrant of the USA. Criticizing other cultures is normal, everybody who leaves home does it. It just makes sense:

Different cultures do things differently, when you see someone doing something differently than how you have been socialized to do it, it is easy to criticize. It is easy to start out a statement with, “You would have thought . . .”

Where there is no cultural mish mash there is often little change, little progress, few new ideas. Societies grow when people from all over the world get together and criticize each other’s ways of doing things — while coming up with better ways.

“You would have thought . . .” is a good way to begin a sentence when in a culture that is not the one that you are from. It is good to be critical of cultures, it is good to come up with better ways.

The greatest monuments of human progress were not the fruits of people sitting around complacent with what they had, no, progress happens when someone proclaims that what is going on is stupid, that they would have thought that things would be done another way.

Culture is the result of action that is mimicked without thought. Cultures are inherently pretty stupid things. Few people look around their home and start sentences with “You would have thought . . .” No, your home is normal, you don’t think about they way things are done — it is normal, you go through life without questioning. It is only when you step outside of your home culture you are ready to begin thinking:

Why are these people doing things like this? I don’t do things like this, what is going on? Is they stupid or am I stupid?

“You would have thought . . .”

Asking this question — identifying that there is a point of inter-cultural contention — is also the first step to understanding what is going on around you in a place that is far from home.

Multicultural Perspective Makes Criticism of Culture Easy

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Filed under: Central America, Culture and Society, Guatemala, Intercultural Conflict

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 91 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3722 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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VBJ is currently in: New York City

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