It’s a big world, and the future will belong to those who not only understand this but who are comfortable with cultural differences. From world population shifts to changes in the demographics of our communities to the globalization of production and distribution, Americans young and old need to develop the personal tools to live in a world whose boundaries are fading fast.
Many of the ideas in the section are explicitly directed at cultural exploration, sometimes in a virtual mode, while others challenge the readers to dig more deeply into aspects of their own lives, even to the extent of stepping out of comfort zones. The point is to enter each experience with an eager, open mind, ready to take in what is novel and exciting and then to reflect on how it relates to their own lives and aspirations.
IDEA #1. Go to a restaurant featuring a kind of national or ethnic cuisine you’ve never tried. Whatever you do, don’t order a Coke.
Eating what some grocery stores still call “ethnic” food is an experience as old as our nation itself—European settlers were trying pumpkin and corn as part of the same cultural exchange that gave native American Indian peoples a taste for breads and cakes. Within living memory Italian cuisine, once considered exotic has become a staple of mainstream American cooking, and today tacos, Chinese take-out, and pad thai can be had in nearly every American community.
The stipulation about beverages—no familiar cola drinks—challenges the child to step away from the ubiquitous and try out the particular. Lassi, tchai, or guaraná soda are emblematic of the cultures that have produced them and deserve a taste; the finicky eater can always order water to wash down the distasteful, although the open-minded eater may be pleasantly surprised. It might be harder to resist the fried potato, which eked its way into global cuisine a hundred years ago in various shapes and degrees of spiciness, but remember that macaroni was once a delicacy to be found only in eastern Asia. Perhaps this ought to be a reminder that, like so many other aspects of human experience, taste itself seems to be subject to globalization, and that restaurants serving the cuisine of a diverse planet are standing firm against the goal once stated by McDonald’s executive, to serve every meal to every person on the planet every day.
Vive le différence! we say.