“My Collection of Cultural Treasures” by Capt’n Julii
*Editor’s note: This piece has been edited for space. Read the complete article on-line at www.thebocasbreeze.com. *Tambien se encuentra la version en español el la pagina de web.
“Your daughter is beautiful,” a woman once said to my mother when we were living in China. My mother answered “Nooo, No.” Afterwards I asked my mother if she didn’t think I was beautiful. She said, “Of course I think you are beautiful!” In Chinese culture, it would have been rude and arrogant of my mother to just say “Thank you!” These kind of cultural experiences have been prevalent throughout my whole childhood.
Different cultures have influenced my life to a great extent. After living in Asia for 15 years, it was a challenge to return to Germany and cope with the culture. I learned only recently how to stick up for myself if someone older than me said something to me. In Asia, you would never talk back to someone older than you. In Germany, you have to!
During my travels I’ve heard so many times: “Why are you so pessimistic?” We are not pessimistic! German people are just very direct and honest. If we do not like something, we say it. These are stereotypes that people have of each nation. It is easier for the human brain to categorize a person into a big group of people in order to get an idea of what kind of person he or she is instead of seeing every person as an individual. Getting to know the individual and their unique traits only comes over time. Just like any stereotype, the ones that Germans get are sometimes exactly on point and other times completely overrated. Just some of the things my friend and I hear: “You don’t drink beer? But you are German!” or “German people have no sense of humor” or “Your language sounds so harsh and mean.” I was able to confound this last stereotype by showing many friends German music.
Now my best friend and I are living in Bocas del Toro. The culture here is again extremely different from the Asian or German culture. I love learning about different cultures and putting myself up to the task to learn and embrace different cultural aspects. Having lived mostly in Germany the past 10 years, the cultural differences between Germany and Bocas del Toro really make themselves noticeable.
Traveling through a country in a few weeks you never see the bottom of the iceberg. You see cultural things such as the language, food, dance etc. If you live in a different culture for a longer time you start to see what the culture is really about. The depth of a culture includes things such as work ethics, friendships, relationships, neighborhood habits, safety standards, racism (I have discussed not only once with a taxi driver that I will pay the local price and receiving the answer that I am a “gringa”, meaning I should pay tourist prices) etc. Even raising a dog is different in this culture! Everything is completely new and so exciting.
I embrace all cultural differences and love seeing it as a way to grow and adopt certain things into my personal culture – like little treasure pieces! Until now, I have been trying to be as respectful as an Asian and as direct and honest as a German. Now I would like to be as tranquilo as a Bocatoreño. I want to enjoy life to the fullest and live in the moment. I want to listen to loud music so that my neighbors enjoy it as well. I want to celebrate the 3 different songs all playing at once, booming from different bars while I am writing this. I love how the little street we live on is always full of a few people sitting around enjoying a nice conversation. I adore the way the taxi drivers call me “mi amor” when I get into the car and the mechanic asks me “Ey mami! You need help carrying your groceries?” I am so thankful everyday for all these influences I get to experience in Bocas del Toro.
I wish more cultures were as open as Bocas culture. Just now, taking a break from writing and going out for a walk with my dog, once again-nI did not walk alone. My neighbor’s son walked with me and asked me all about Germany. Other days there is a little girl that joins me. Here, it doesn’t matter if you know the person. You can start a conversation with anyone!
It reminds me of my favorite pub back in Germany. I live in a small town and the same people have been going to the same pub for years. Usually everyone has their table at which they always sit. My friends and I have been sitting next to a group of people for years. I have no idea who these people are! We have never introduced ourselves. We have never talked. This would never be possible in Bocas del Toro.
In Bocas, it is not only the Bocatoreños that I learn from though. I learn through all the different cultures that arrive and live in this melting pot. I have learned a few words in Hebrew, Dutch and Gnobe, one of the indigenous languages that is spoken here. I now know how to make a Cesar (a Canadian drink) and what poutine is (a Canadian dish). I have learned about insects from an entomologist from Canada, I have learned about boats, sailing and fishing from many friends from all over the world. I have driven a lancha and a big catamaran. I have learned that my dog’s name in German is extremely inappropriate in Panama. And I have gained so much through the stories of people I have met from Finland, Netherlands, Sweden, England, United States, Israel, Ghana, Argentina, Brazil, Australia, Switzerland, Estonia, Portugal, Spain, Norway, South Africa, and many more.
On the other hand, I am happy that my friend and I can teach others about our own culture. For example the important rule of looking into each others eyes when you say cheers before drinking. Teaching people sentences such as “S’lebe isch koi zuckaschlecka!” which basically means that “you cannot only pick the nice things in life and that you just have to go with the flow.” We also try to support people in doing what they want to do with their lives. You should always try to be the happiest version of yourself. Live your dream.
One very important thing, that must be mentioned though, is the following: my friend and I are guests in Bocas del Toro. For us, it is most important to be conscious of this fact and try to adapt to the Bocatoreñian culture accordingly. We enjoy all different cultures and love the mix of people, but as a sign of respect: Bocas culture should be respected to the fullest.
There is nothing more beautiful on this planet than learning from different people of different cultures. My soul absorbs all these cultural aspects that it loves and makes them its own. We are so blessed to live in such a diverse world and I am so happy that I can travel and learn so much about myself and other cultures.