Rosalind Cummings-Yeates is a freelance writer, arts critic and travel blogger. Her blog, Farsighted Fly Girl, explores travel from a cultural perspective, including music, art, food and fashion. Based in Chicago, she escapes the Windy City's eight months of winter by traveling the world, one culture at a time. Follow her adventures on her blog, Farsighted Fly Girl.
Brandon, the differences in fashion and style around the world has gown less and less because of the universality of Western media. Jeans are pretty ubiquitous and so are casual shirts and shoes. The differences are really in the details. For instance, unlike in the U.S., you rarely see adults in athletic wear or shoes unless they are indulging in a sporting activity in most of Europe. Shorts are also not generally worn by adults in Latin America and much of the Caribbean. Traditional clothing has remained the same in much of the world, it’s the circumstances when they are worn that has changed. Wearing intricate, traditional dress isn’t always a daily affair like it used to be, maybe a hundred years ago. People have more choices and more disposable clothes so that traditional dress is often reserved for special events and holidays. I definitely see global fashion merging in more ways than before. Versions and interpretations of the traditional Indian sari or the Chinese cheongsam or an African boubou an be glimpsed in fashion shows and knock off retailers alike.
–Please talk on your favorite and least favorite cultural experiences... And if you could, please touch on some of the stranger customs, traditions and oddities you’ve discovered while traveling:
It’s really difficult to narrow down my favorite cultural experience; I always enjoy a close-up window to a culture. Probably my most unforgettable cultural experience was being invited to witness a candomble ceremony in Brazil and being presented with the priestess’s personal alekes or beads, which is a very sacred and valued item. I was moved to tears by her generosity and the warmth of the people who allowed me to join their private community gathering. I also will never forget getting a semi-permanent tattoo by an Embera elder in an Embera Indian village in the Panamanian rainforest. It’s a ritual that is a part of their daily life-- all the members of the village were covered with the vegetable dye tattoos. Sitting still as he brushed a traditional image for a house onto my arm, I felt authentically welcomed. The tattoo lasted for three weeks and I thought of all the villagers every time I glanced at it on my arm. My least favorite cultural experience was probably eating poutine in Quebec. I’m glad I opened my mind to try it but I never want to eat it again.
–What are some suggestions for overcoming culture shock? And fighting the fear of staying within one’s comfort zone when challenged with the new and unfamiliar?
Culture shock is to be expected when diving deep into unfamiliar cultures. I think it helps to research and to talk to natives as much as possible before you travel to help gain a grasp of the culture. Once arriving, have a local to explain and suggest experiences always help me ease into the culture versus jumping right in with no preparation.
It can be scary and uncomfortable jumping out of your comfort zone but you have to push through the discomfort. I always remind myself that it may be disconcerting trying something weird and unfamiliar to you but the experience and the memory of it will be so worth it. And it always is. I’m always excited and impressed with myself after I tackle an unfamiliar experience but rarely during!
–Part of traveling the world is trying anything and everything different that comes your way... What was an experience that you found to be quite trying and difficult? Do you have any interesting food experiences?
I challenged myself to do the rainforest zip line in Costa Rica, which is a sprawling, daunting zip that terrified me. This was when they first developed the zip lines so it wasn’t as smooth or comfortable as they are now. My terror never lessened as climbed lines that were higher. Finally, on the last line, I got stuck in the middle because I didn’t get enough speed going to reach the platform. I hung there, in the middle of the rainforest, until an operator came to get me, swinging from his arms and pushing me to the platform. It was quite trying and now, I’ve zipped all over the world because nothing even comes close to the terror of hanging thousands of feet up in the middle of the Costa Rican rainforest, with no way to get down.
As far as food, I’m a picky eater but I force myself to sample any traditional food that’s an important part of the culture. (see poutine). I’ve tried alligator in Louisiana swampland and Mozartkugein in Salzburg and cactus juice in Mexico all because it was what locals enjoyed.
–Where are you looking forward to visiting next? What is a culture that you have been drawn to, but have yet to experience?
I’m looking forward to exploring India, hopefully in the fall. It’s a culture that I’ve always been drawn to, from the music, to the fashion to the spiritual traditions. I feel that I’ve experiences so much of the culture that it will be somewhat familiar once I finally travel there.
–Do you ever find it difficult to understand certain rituals and reasons why cultures do what they do or believe what they might? Could you talk a little on what you’ve learned about the intersection of religion and its influence on culture?
I always approach different cultures from a respectful position, which means that I honor it because it’s important to the local people. It’s not always easy to understand different rituals from a Western perspective so I always adjust my viewpoint as much as possible. I don’t think it’s as important to understand the customs as it is to experience it from the local perspective. Religion influences most cultures on some level, which is why it’s important to always be respectful. We may not see it that way but often, spirituality is not separated from daily life like it is in the West. So, daily living and rituals all become acts of faith for many people.
–How big of an influence does history and negative happenings like unrest, war, or government suppression have on the creation and change of a culture?
Of course, history is what helps create a culture and war and political struggle often factor into that history. I have witnessed negative situations like suppression and violence create a culture that values life on every level and I’ve seen how violence can do the opposite and create a violent society. I think it’s extremely important to learn about a location’s history because an understanding of the culture will be tied to it.
–What advice can you offer up for those who are interested in traveling more, to experience the world and all of the various and unique cultures of the world?
I would advise them to start by opening their minds. Read blogs and books about where they want to travel, learn some of the language. Once you open yourself up to connecting with other cultures, it will be much easier and enjoyable to travel anywhere.
–Last, but not least: What are a few lessons that have served you well through your life and throughout your travels?
Lessons that have served me well are to let go of expectations, expect valuable but not necessarily comfortable experiences and to be humble.