Only Seeing the Differences

“Wow! That’s really cool that you and the other groomsman wore matching tuxedos!”

I was amazed at the comment. How could it be any other way? But this wasn’t a typical wedding, it was my brother and his Swedish bride’s wedding that took place just north of Stockholm. The sum of the comments was even more interesting. All of the Swedes commented at how American the wedding was; conversely, all of the Americans commented at how Swedish the wedding was. Who was right?

I found this disconnect fascinating. The reason, of course, is that we can’t notice the things that are familiar. We can’t tell the difference between a custom which is shared by both cultures and a custom which is unique to our own. Everyone assumed that the parts of the wedding that felt normal were shared by both cultures but noted every difference because it was unexpected. We are an expert at spotting contrast. It’s interesting though that we don’t stop to recognize that what feels normal to us might not be normal to someone else. In truth, probably only my brother and his bride fully knew which parts were Swedish, which parts were American, and which parts were common. The rest of us simply aren’t versed enough in the traditions of both to tell the difference. It made the wedding uniquely special.

This illustrates one of the reasons I love to travel. It allows us to see a different way of operating in the world. It challenges things we’ve never even thought to do differently because we’ve always done them our way. It also illustrates something that, if we can, we should watch out for: assuming that we are seeing the full picture clearly enough to make a judgement about it (i.e. “That was a very Swedish Wedding”). If we can take a step back and realize that we can’t always see the things we are familiar with as different, it can help us be curious about the perspective of others.








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