Each part of the world has its cultural nuances. You learn by putting yourself in authentic – however you define that word - situations observing and talking with folks while refraining from making comparisons or judgments.
I take my clue from the late globe trotting Anthony Bourdain. He showed me how to eat local cuisine and socialize with everyday people through years of his television series.
Perhaps the message for you, whether you travel or not, is to remain a curious being and occasionally reach out beyond your own safe neighborhood to engage with others unlike yourself.
While I was in Africa this spring in the countries of South Africa, Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe, I observed how tribal (Black) people eat quietly and do not make conversation at the table. They are connecting to their food instead, and honoring those that prepared it.
On the other hand, Americans are such chatterboxes, while the Italians and French, to name a few, center hours of conversation around meals.
Wheat and corn are ground by hand in Africa, and food is wholesome in the truest sense. Desserts can be delightful without sugar, too. It is shocking to eat abundantly and not gain weight. (Yes, I did jiggle 20,000 steps daily bumping up and down in the safari vehicle according my friend’s Fitbit.)
The temperature was brisk in the morning – winter was coming to the Southern Hemisphere - and I selected hot porridge, mixing in local honey with a teaspoon of freshly ground peanut butter. One of the camp staff related that is traditionally what mothers feed their children to give them protein and carbohydrates for the school day.
The African people live in harmony with the animals and respect them, especially those residing within the vicinity of the large private game preserves and national parks. It’s the outsiders who attempt illegal poaching and bait locals with offers of money to assist them. With a very high rate of unemployment you can see why it is enticing to break the law.
On my first late afternoon wilderness game viewing drive in South Africa on a 15,000-acre game preserve, we weren’t one minute from camp when a giraffe came peeking out of the trees and an elephant loped across the road. They were so very close sharing space with me, and I was mindful of it.
I said to myself, “Kay, you finally are in Africa. It’s real. Slow down your pace.”
However, after waiting for two and a half hours in line at the Victoria Falls airport in Zimbabwe to clear customs and get my entry visa, I was more than frustrated hopping first on one foot then the other. When it was my turn to come to the counter, I realized what caused the hold up. Each visa was handwritten in perfect cursive penmanship along with a receipt given for the amount paid. Incidentally, the amount for the visa could change at the whim of the official, too, on any given day.
My tour guide, Vimbai hugged me while chuckling deep within her belly, “Welcome to Africa. Things take time here.”
She eased me gently in the way I would be living for the month of May.
Without the Internet in the tented camps - I stayed for two of the weeks - evenings were spent outside in the purest possible air. During dinner under the stars it was so much fun figuring out unfamiliar Southern constellations, too, with a guidebook and some conferring back and forth.
This is how I saw Africa.