The Loss of Different Sameness

Posted on Oct 2, 2012 in Travel | 0 comments

Picture atlases. Remember being 8 years old and cracking the spine of a shiny new picture Atlas?  They were always too big for little hands and arms to hold so had to be spread on the floor.  There I am, on the rug with my knees tucked up under my chest, opening the cover to the bright colours of kids from all over the world.  This one’s Chinese; they have black hair and wear shiny dresses. This one’s from Paris; wearing a beret and holding an artists’ brush. Germans wear braces, Italians eat pasta and Spanish have pet bulls. Ignoring the obvious stereotyping, how thrilling it was to think of a world with pockets of Different Sameness. Where everyone was Different to me but the Same as each other.

I was on a train in Paris a few weeks ago, surrounded by Parisians and, well… everyone looks the Same.  Actually, Different obviously, in the way that each individual is different; there’s dark skin opposite my seat and light hair next to me. A sad brown face in hippie clothes by the door watches the businessman in a polo shirt read his newspaper.   The lady wearing a head scarf across the aisle quiets her boy toddler wearing mini Converse Shoes and a fake leather jacket.  It’s just that these are the same kind of differences you find in people on a train in Australia. And Italy. And Portugal come to think of it. I could have picked up that carriage and put it on a line from Surry Hills to Parramatta and it wouldn’t have been out of place except for the language.

It seems we have lost Different Sameness and instead just have the Same Differences.   Admittedly I’ve only travelled Western countries so perhaps it’s a phenomenon affecting just those cities.  It was bound to happen, I guess, what with the rise of globalization and the inevitable multiculturalism that it brings but I can’t help just a little bit of me being sad and mourning more of a culture clash experience.  When I’ve found it – usually in discussions with a group of locals who have also travelled around a bit – Different Sameness has changed my perspective.  In Stockholm, I talked with two American guys for hours in a cafe about how they wished for the lifestyle focussed culture of Europe rather than the pressures of ‘getting ahead’ Americans seem so obsessed with.   Sweating it out in a Sauna in Finland, Jouni explained that there are two words for happiness in Finnish – long lasting happiness (sort of like contentment) and short lasting happiness (like just a fleeting feeling).  One of my favourite memories is of a Greek explaining in a loud voice and with large gestures why the world owed Greece the EU bailout and why he absolutely refused to sleep with any Germans this Summer because of the austerity measures imposed.  We all wear the same clothes and listen to pretty much the same music but fortunately there are some cultural norms the rest of the world hasn’t adopted from America.

I just googled the image for this blog, looking for something with all the children  in their traditional dress holding hands around the world.  To my shock, the images of the kids holding hands around the world are there but they’re all wearing the same clothes!  Now I’m mourning the demise of my picture Atlases too.  Hopefully by the time my children are old enough to travel, we would have discovered life on another planet.  That way there’ll be some Different Sameness to experience.  Makes me wonder what the picture atlas for my grandchildren will look like, aside from 3D, interactive and downloaded directly to their brains.  Whose Same Differences will have won?


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