“Where are you from?”
“I’m from Brazil.”
“Wow! So, you speak Brazilian!”
“I speak Portuguese…”
That was a conversation that happened between two of my summer course classmates in 2014… in a lecture room at Melnitz Hall, UCLA. After that last sentence, the whole class burst into hysterics.
“Why are you giggling?”
“I’ve never seen a guy wear pink before. It’s strange.”
“That’s a bit sexist.”
That conversation also happened in 2014. This time I’m sorry to say I was a part of it. But how could my friend expect me to react normally to him wearing pink… when as an Asian girl whose culture was struggling to catch up with the west, I didn’t even know what the word “sexism” meant?
As embarrassing as these moments were, they triggered a learning moment. They brought two people, inherently clueless about something, out of their comfort zones and into the world. That real-life scene I came to call “The Pink T-Shirt Incident” made me realize how often we walk around unknowingly offending someone else with our ignorance. It came at that perfect moment when I was perfectly mature in my own culture, yet knew next to nothing about someone else’s.
“I want to make slow travel the norm, where everyone is interested in learning about another culture, another language, and a bit more about our world.”
A year after that in 2015, I moved from Thailand to Orange County to attend graduate film school. Set to be there for 3 years, that was my first time living for an extended period of time in another country.
And despite having worked with American colleagues on countless film productions before, it turned out I still felt foreign when living IN the culture. Instead of only understanding terms like racism or sexism on an abstract level, these issues became real to me. I learned that while it’s very offensive to insult someone’s father in Thailand, it means next to nothing here in the US compared to insulting someone’s mother.
When I spent 3 weeks in Costa Rica in 2022, I learned that “Pura Vida” doesn’t only carry hyper-positive meanings like what tourists understand from the outside. The locals use the term to make snide comments, too.
Then, later the same year when I was living in Seoul, I learned that the root meaning of the word “Onion” in Korean actually means “western onion.” Because in their cuisine, it’s all green onions. So to them, the green onions ARE onions.
I could go on with these instances, but I’m afraid I’d bore you out…
But aren’t these differences fascinating? To me, discoveries like these are the essence of travel.
It’s not just about the big sights and taking photos with you in them. It’s largely about having access to a different culture… a different way of thinking… a different perspective on the same world we live in. It’s because of this reason that I can’t seem to stop digging into another language, and another, and another.
The good news? You can dig into other languages, too, if you’d like… but you don’t have to. All you have to do is stop by this home of mine, just like you’re doing, and stick around.
Because my friend, I come on here to share all of these fascinating things with you. Wherever I go in the world, the words that exist only in the local language, the cultural nuances, I pour them all onto here.
I hope you feel somewhat glad to have found Polyglot Petra, and that you find something you can take away. I thank you for being here and for reading thus far.