"Let's check out the blue and green one" dlandt's Profile
Hello! Its good to know you're visiting and I hope you will leave a note or some other sign of your passing as I like to stress the word "community" here. VT is by far and away about the people and I have met some very fun people here. Right now I'm actively looking for new friends from Central and South America, so let me offer a little extra encouragement to introduce yourself if you're from that part of the world. Believe it or not, I've made good friends with people who just happened to introduce themselves on a whim.
Since coming to VT, I've visited the following destinations and VT has helped with all of them.
March 2002, Greece (Athens & islands)
May 2002 North Carolina (Greensboro)
July 2002 West Virginia and Niagara Falls
September 2002 Florida (Orlando)
March 2003 Benelux
November 2003 Australia
April 2004 Philadelphia, Wilmington,Baltimore
July 2004 Nassau, Moscow, and Warsaw
March 2005 Catalonia on both the Spanish and French sides + Andorra
October 2005 St. Louis, Memphis & the Great Mississippi River Road
December 2005 and January 2006 Japan
May 2006 Galena, Dubuque, Fond du Lac and all points in between
October 2006 Berlin and Prague
November 2006 Cincinnati
June 2007 Rockford Madison Monroe
August 2007 Bermuda
October 2007 Charleston and Wilmington
December 2007 Tokushima and Kumamoto, Japan
April 2008 Frankenmuth
July 2008 Lake Erie near Sandusky
September 2009 Portugal
March 2010 Puerto Rico
Feel free to write me in English, German, Italian, or even Dutch. I love to talk about history, sociology, and politics, and just the world in general, but not with people who have very strong opinions. Also, I like to have those intelligent conversations in private e-mail. And of course food and drink are always some of my favorite topics.
When I travel, I do things in more or less my own way. What I really like to see, is how people live from day to day. One stop I'm sure to make is a visit to a local grocery store. Whenever I visit another country, I also like to watch the news, and of course, visit a little pub in some typical neighborhood.
I look forward to hearing from you.
How do you even begin to start talking about the United States? I guess I would say it is one of the most misunderstood countries in the world, even by the people who live here. The most common misperception I encounter is the idea that the United States has one cohesive collective culture. That's not true, though it does have some of the trappings of a common culture brought to us by the same transnational trends that affect the rest of the world. A better way to look at it would be to say that there is a common economy that binds several diverse regions.
Generally speaking, I've found that most stereotypes about Americans really pertain to suburbanites, a distinct culture that enjoys all the traditional criteria of a nation yet somehow (perhaps a portent of the future) lacks geographic continuity. It is true that suburbanites are Americans, but so are New Englanders and the Mormons of Utah, as well as Cajuns in Louisiana and Mexamericans of the border region, and that is only to name a few and ignore immigrant communities altogether.
In my opinion, the United States offers a great selection of natural wonders. It has mountains, swamps, deserts, plains, forests etc. Just about any kind of habitat that can be found in the world can be found in the US, including tropical rainforests and arctic tundra.
Even though the US is a Western country, its thinking tends to be a bit different from countries in Europe and Asia, though not so different from countries like Canada and Australia. At the end of the day, a country like Greece or Japan or Samoa is defined as the place where the Greeks or the Japanese or the Samoans live. the US is different in that regard in that the US has always defined itself as a nation of people with different backgrounds, religions, races, and cultures, but with a shared value system of democracy, equality, opportunity, some other things as well. I would be a fool to write that this shared value system could stand up to serious scrutiny, but the idea stubbornly persists in the psyche of the population(s). Europeans and Asians, in my opinion, don't usually understand this when they arrive.
I'll add more about this topic as time and ideas progress.
Canada is another misunderstood country. A lot of people simplify it by saying that Canada is just like the US, and they're right! And they're wrong! While it is true that Canadians usually have a lot in common with Americans, that truth seldom extends beyond the Americans who live immediately across the border. So while a Vancouverite does have a lot in common with (and probably warm feelings towards) a Seattleite, he or she won't necessarily have the same commonality with someone from Chicago or Nashville.
By some odd twist of fate, a Canadian will likely also have more in common with the Americans living directly across the border than they will with fellow Canadians living in the next province over. The reason for this, is that Canada is also muh more diverse than it is traditionally given credit for. The most vivid example of diversity is, of course, Quebec, yet it is by far not the only example. Newfoundland is another unique and quirky place I would love to visit, and the native Indians remain a cultural presence in much of the shield, plains and west. Once again, this altogether excludes immigrant communities of all stripes, from the Chinese in Vancouver, to the Russian steppic Germans of Manitoba.
Despite their differences, Canada does have an active sense of nationhood, sometimes in opposition to the US, sometimes not. The shared legacy of Britain and the Commonwealth shouldn't be forgotten either. A common misperception about Canada is that they aren't nationalistic, but in my experience, Canadians are extremely nationalistic, and take pride in symbols of nationhood that are sometimes a bit bizarre, such as what they put on french fries and the shape of their cigarette packages. At first glance, this is really strange, but after a while it begins to make sense when you realize that Canada's nationalism really developed well after their traditional national symbols. I don't want to write too much on this subject, but things like maple leafs and mountie uniforms don't really touch the day to day life of a Canadian the way they did when they were first invented.
One thing that Canada has in common with the US is a lot of nature and the wide open spaces are as much a part of the Canadian experience as they are in the US or Australia to draw close parallels, or Argentina and Russia to draw further. Of all the sights in my life I think the Canadian Rockies are one of the most beautiful. Vancuver Island's coastline, and the many sights I have not seen in so much of Canada are also necessarily divinely created.
I will write more about Canada as I feel inspired.
Australia is a nature lover's paradise. This size and scope and terrain of the continent is mind-boggling, as are the animals. Many of the animals, like the platypuses look like they have been sewn together from the parts of other animals, but others, like the koalas and wombats, are just the cutest things.
Socially, I found Australia to be so close to the US as to be almost scary. You can see a British tradition, but when I spoke with Australians about their attitudes and opinions, they seemed more conservative. In fact, it seemed to me that the vast majority of Australians lived a suburban lifestyle that would have been mostly indistinguishable from its US or Canadian counterparts.
One difference between "Oz" and North America, is that the Australian cities aren't really inhabited to any great degree. The cities are places where people work and play and shop and eat, but people reside in the suburbs. I think I read somewhere that the actual city of Syndey has a population of 50,000, as opposed to 2.5 million in the metro area.
Another key difference between Australia and North America is that there doesn't seem to be much in the way of regional identity in Australia. The only difference I could find or get people to talk about was that between urban Australia and the Outback. They do however have a relationship with New Zealand similar to that between the US and Canada which amouints to something of a regional rivalry. This could leave a reader to think that Australia is very monocultural but that would be far fromt he truth. Australia is very very cosmopolitan, even by US standards. Asians in particular are often the majority and predominate in whole swathes of Australia, but, like other new world countries, Australia is a land of immigration for the entire world. Hindus, Lebanese, Somalis, and Polynesians of all stripes have emigrated in droves to enjoy Australia's open hospitality and that is to name just a few.
I intend to take my next trip to Australia within a few years, and hope above all else to see Tasmania "Tassie" and the west. I don't know how the country will have changed within those few years, but I look forwards to seeing.
Mexico is almost unique in the Americas in that it has a sense of national identity that is almost European. There is, in the people's national psyche, a blend of the land and people and food and music and language that is much more similar to Europe than to other countries in the hemisphere. There isn't the idea that they are a nation of immigrants or a frontier waiting to be settled by the myriad peoples of the world. I tend to think of this as being because Mexico is a lot older than most of the other countries, even if formal independence came a bit later. Culturally speaking, Mexico is a more 'mature' nation for lack of a better word.
Most of what I know of Mexico stems from my years in San Diego. I had a Mexican girlfriend and would visit with her family down the coast from time to time. Beyond that, I really haven't travelled much in Mexico, or the parts of the US that border Mexico. I'm semi-proud to say I've never seen the inside of a Mexican resort, but also mature enough to know that if someday I do decide to vacation in one it isn't like I'm going to magically transform me into some kind of cultural ignoramus.
The part of Mexico with which I am familiar is a kind of rural place. It isn't comprised so much of cities as it is large towns and small cities with definite hinterlands. That's the north of Mexico. To the south is the true source of Mexican culture and civilization, the Valley of Mexico. Other very distinct regions are Chiapas, which in colonial times was part of the Kingdom of Guatemala, and the Yucatan states. These are all very different from the dry arid Mexico I know. Mexico City in the Valley (and its regional equivalents like Guadalajara and Monterrey) is quite urban, while the southern states are tropical. My understanding is that in Central and Southern Mexico you can really see how the Indian cultures and the Spanish really came together to form modern Mexico.
I'm not sure why, but I've always found Mexicans to be relatively uninterested in the world beyond their borders. The US is of practical interest to them, but they aren't usually curious about the way other people live their lives in different parts of the world. I read once that there are only three universities in all of Mexico which offer curriculum in foreign affairs, and one is for the training of the Mexican Diplomatic Corps. If anyone offers insight, please feel free to write me, because while I have noticed this phenomenon, I really lack any kind of an explanation as to why it exists.
I don't want to write too much about Mexico simply because so much of my map is still white and so much of my experience is so old, but I would like to say that the unique development of Mexican (perhaps only Peru would be similar?) society is fascinating to me. I really hope that one day they will be able to overcome many of the very obvious problems that afflict the country.
Japan is a country that I might not have gotten to know if I hadn't married a woman from there. It is, in some ways, a kind of honorary member of the West, yet retains its fundamental Asian identity, resisting the tides of mass consumerism and materialism to a much more successful degree than Europe or America. Although having many Western chartacteristics on the surface, the Japanese have very different cultural roots. I sometimes like to say that Westerners will feel very much at home in Japan if they don't associate with the Japanese.
Going local in Japan is both difficult and rewarding. Written Japanese alone presents major difficulties for Westerners, who must first pretty much forget everything they know about what a writing system is all about. Add to this the immense gap between Japanese and any Western tongue, completely different religious and cultural roots with a whole different mentality and philosophy on life, and you get a good picture of just how difficult, but how rewarding the experience can be. Those hardy souls who can make the effort to mingle with the Japanese will be well rewarded indeed, for the veyr differences which make entry difficult make the experience all the sweeter.
For those people who have been to a Japanese restaurant and think they know Japanese food, they are sadly mistaken. Like many other aspects of Japanese culture that we think we know and understand, it is much more complicated than it appears. Even taking your shoes off before you enter a home, something which seems simple on the outside, is not quite so easy.
The Japanese remove their shoes with a different mentality, and for different reasons than we expect, making it possible to screw even this up.
The Japanese are polite, conflict adverse people with a penchant for imitation. What I find to bve one of their most fascinating attributes is, however, a sense of being young at heart. This aspect of the Japanese is much more current than the samurai and cherry blossoms of the movies, much more real, and much more intriguing. One symbol of this is the cartoons that are used to advertise all sorts of products, from automobile tires to lumber, it just seems that the Japanese have what is best from childhood still inside them.
In my experience, it seems that Japan's love affair with western culture is coming to a close. Being a cultured and educated nation, they will probably always partake of some amount of western culture, but the infatuation is now past and they are returning to their own traditions.
For people who travel to Japan, I encourage them to eat what the Japanese eat. Goods and foods of western origin usually aren't very good in Japan. Things like cheese, beer, sausage etc., tend to be purely of the mass market quality. Their own food, however, is excellent. They have a culture and tradition of handling seafood that we can't touch. The cooking can seem bland at first, but after a few days that impression is lost.
I'll add more as things occur to me
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