Of course, certain aspects of life can be assumed to be the same everywhere: people sleep, eat, work etc. However, there are a million little differences that are more or less obvious when you spend time in another culture.
For me, coming to the U.S. was an exciting experience. Before I left Germany, there was so much I heard and read about America that I truly believed I was well prepared - but then going and experiencing it was completely different.
But there are things that you don't expect. Things that nobody tells you and when you come across those items or aspects, you are facing the most beautiful part of traveling: the differences.
When talking about Germany with my American students, there have been plenty of situations when they would shout out "Wow, that's weird!" - Well, no. It is just different from what you consider normal. However, understanding what's and how things are different, can be quite hard. It still is for me, at least.
Let me share with you some of my thoughts on deodorant.
After I landed on the western side of the atlantic ocean, eventually, I went to a store to get deodorant. What I found completely grossed me out. I was looking for a spray but all I could see were roll-ons.
In Germany, most deodorants come in a spray bottle.
In my German mind, deodorant looked like this:
Yes, you could get roll-ons, but they look different, too.
Most kinds have some sort of liquid deodorant in there that is then rolled on.
The solid deodorant that I found in the U.S. was the strangest thing to me. In my mind, it reminded me of rubbing a piece of dry soap in your armpits.
Again, Mama came for the rescue and sent this poor girl some deodorant. The "normal" one that you spray. Of course.
Then, time passed. I met Nick, who, in return, thought that a sprayable deodorant was the weirdest thing ever - and he also had different thoughts about the smell than I did.
I remember that in the beginning, every time I used it, he would shout something like: "I hear you are using that strange deodorant" or: "just the sound of this is making me cringe".
The same was true for me, whenever I saw him use the American deodorant, I couldn't handle it. Just the thought of this rub-on kind was incredibly weird to me.
Now, five years later, Mama is no longer sending sprayable deodorant across the ocean. One day, just like that, I began using the kind that was available in stores right there. It took me a few times to get used to it, but eventually that's what happened. I got used to it. Now, it is completely normal for me to use that "piece of soap"-kind and I don't even think about it anymore.
However, we are back in Germany now and you may already guess where this is headed.
The deodorant story is coming back full circle. I am completely lost, once again. Yes, I could use the spray/ liquid roll-on that I grew up with for 20-something years. It is just that I have gotten so used to the American way of preventing pit stains and smells. Something that, a few years ago, was not only absolutely normal for me, but that was also the only possible way of handling this part of daily routine, seems so different to me now.
On top of it. I can't take the smell anymore. Whenever I'm at the gym, I am dreading to go into the locker room, because sometimes, the air is filled with an intense mix of all kinds of deodorant. It is too much. The other morning, this mixture of sprays smelled so bad to me that took me hours not to feel nauseous anymore.
It was a complete overdose. Maybe someone couldn't stop spraying? Who knows!
Anyhow, leaving the specific smells aside, it is these little things, the sprays/ liquid or non-liquid roll-ons, that make the big differences. Once you realize that it is neither weird, nor strange, disgusting, odd, but just unfamiliar to you, you also see that it is not the thing itself, but you, who is causing for this difference to present itself. It is you who just doesn't know it this way (yet).
... and it never ends. There are still aspects that are different to me, other cases of the "deodorant kind" that make me realize that no matter how similar a culture is, or how much you think you know about it, you will never stop encountering and exploring new things and most of the time, it happens when you least expect it.
The greatest thing, however, is that I am able to experience this now in reverse with my home country and I am grateful for this new perspective that I am given on a culture that I had only seen from within before. Now, especially with Nick viewing it with his eyes, it is exciting to see the differences appear on both sides.
Traveling is a beautiful thing and I am hoping for everyone to be able to do it at some point. Trust me, it will change your life, or at least, offer you a whole new perspective.
- Which may as well be the same thing.