Found myself guilty of that slippery, easy, well-intentioned mistake of cultural re-adjustment: Believing that all people, deep down, are essentially the same, and gripping that belief as a compass through foreign territory. It’s not true, of course; there are deep and oft-divisive differences. But the big problem with the we-are-same perspective is that it’s my same informing my assumptions.
How are we the same? In what ways? If any one person answers these questions, the response is rendered invalid on a collective level. What I see or expect to be equal or translatable or essential comes from my own subjective perspective. When you get down to it we are not, in fact, the same. And we are certainly not the same in any way definable by me alone.
It feels like swimming in deep water, searching with your feet for something to stand on, lurching forward–sometimes in a panic–to get to solid ground. It can be deeply unsettling to realize that, in intercultural dynamics, there is no ground to stand on: it’s all about the swim. There is no quick save, no obvious resting point, no firm basis upon which to ground assumptions. Keeping your head above water requires constant movement and readjustment, persistent negotiations with surrounding context, and a willingness to cast off the clingy assumptions that weigh you down.