I have learned many things about various individuals this semester. The issue is I don't know how to categorize this knowledge and make statements of greater value. How do I know if what I'm experiencing is Western Culture, European Culture, Western European Culture, Southern European Culture, Iberian Culture, Mediterranean Culture, Catholic Culture, Spanish Culture, Western Spanish Culture, Center Spanish Culture, Liberal Spanish Culture, Conservative Spanish Culture, Castilla y Leon Culture, Salamanca Culture or am I just witnessing the actions of individuals?
How can I as a "bridge between cultures" be an adequate means of intercultural understanding if I don't even know which cultures I'm helping understand each other?
Salamanca is different than Barcelona which is different than Paris which is different than Frankfurt which is different than Kiev, but they do have some things in common. How can I honestly explain "Spanish" culture without mistakenly explaining European culture or Human nature?
A great thing about studying abroad in Europe is that I know many Europeans, not just Spaniards (in fact I know very few Salamantinos). So I've met Belgians, Germans, French, Spaniards, Italians, Portuguese, Englishmen, Bulgarians, Russians, Irishmen, Scotsmen, etc. But I've only met half a handful of each (besides Spanish) so statistically I can't make any claims of "truth" or "trends".
What I "know" about Spanish culture and European culture I have been taught or I have read. Some of what I've seen has supported these "facts" and some has contradicted it.
I can't make an authoritative statement on any sort of culture based on what I have seen since my life is not a scientific study of culture. I can say that bullfighting is illegal in Barcelona which suggests that most of them do not like it, meanwhile bullfighting news is on tv in Salamanca which suggests that they are interested in it. But I can't make any concrete statement about culture.
I can't even do it about my own culture. I have been told that I am acting as a "cultural ambassador of the United States" and that my actions, words and behaviors reflect upon the rest of Americans.
But I am hardly a representative of my own University or my as-yet-defined home town, or can I even think to claim that I represent the United States? How can I be reasonably treated as a representative of a nation when I still haven't seen Texas, much of the south and a good chunk of the west? Heck I still haven't set foot in every state in New England*. I have spent a lot of time in the Mid-Atlantic region but I can't say I am a typical Philadelphian, New Yorker, or even a DCist.
I don't feel like I can call a particular city home^ and I haven't seen most of the region I think I'm from** but somehow I am here and being treated as a representative of a nation the size of a continent, most of which I have not seen.
I don't know who I am and here I have no idea who I'm talking to. But somehow we learn about each other and develop vague ideas about various cultures. I can't say I know a whole lot about Spanish culture since I've seriously spoken with two adult Spaniards with jobs. I have spoken briefly with one Spaniard that voted for the rightist political party PP. I have not seriously spoken with the part of Spain that has careers and gets things done so I can I say I know Spain?
I don't know anything about cultures. But I guess I have some general ideas about them and I suppose that serves me well enough. Maybe it's like political systems and the rest of life. All I need is a decent enough idea to work from, and the details aren't that crucial.
But the details ARE important when studying and when trying not to piss off someone. People are touchy about identity. There are a band of people from Pais Vasco who'd be less than pleased with me if I called them Spanish and referred to Castellano as Spanish. Just as Josh said to Cher from Clueless when she didn't understand whats the big deal about confusing Central American countries, "You get mad if anyone thinks you live below Sunset."
So I'm going to keep hammering out the details here in Spain and Europe and when I get home I am going to try to do a little more exploring to learn more of the details about my homeland. So get ready The South and West, I'm heading over!^^
*One day I will visit Rhode Island
^Sorry Montclair, Merion and Bethesda, I tell people I'm from DC now
**I still haven't been to the Eastern Shore of Maryland
^^When I have free time...