What are some good blogs for learning about other cultures?
January 2, 2014 6:55 PM   Subscribe

I'm interested in resources (particularly blogs) that will help me learn about the interesting aspects of other cultures. I would like to be exposed to ideas that will challenge my assumptions about what is "normal" and about how society should work
posted by casebash to Society & Culture (12 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
That's a tall order, but maybe try PopAnth.
posted by gudrun at 7:11 PM on January 2, 2014

This question is really broad because of "other cultures"; there are tens of thousands of cultures on the planet and most people are members of a number of cultures. Also, I don't know what "other" is to you, but based on your use of speech and spelling, I will assume you are North American.

Assuming you mean "culture" in the sense of national cultures such as French or Moroccan, I would recommend reading blogs by English-speaking expatriates that have lived in those cultures long term. That way, you avoid the "gee whiz" factor of newcomers or those who are just passing through who tend to write about things like, "get a load of these weird toilets" or "look at this crazy stuff in the grocery store". There's also expat subreddits for various countries that can be worth checking out because it is mostly the expats talking to each other about life in country so they aren't trying to "wow" each other. Take Japan, for example, where I lived for some years and to the extent my family is compromised of mostly Japanese citizens and we speak the language and home, I've been living in Japanese culture for about half my life. Japan is known to most people as being "wacky" - oh, the talking toilets and wacky game shows! The fact is that the vast majority of the time, people are just going about their business normally like anyone else anywhere on the planet. It's like if all you saw of America was "Jackass" or "Fear Factor" - how crazy those Americans would seem!

FWIW, I don't think it is really possible to learn about a culture by reading. Since culture is what people do, I think the only way to learn it is to experience it by living that culture.
posted by Tanizaki at 7:18 PM on January 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

Have you ever taken a cultural anthropology class? If you haven't, try to find one you can take, or get a textbook and read it. What you're asking seems too random and unfocused to me. What aspects of cultures interest you?

Reading well-written autobiographies or fiction by people whose backgrounds are very different from yours can help you learn about other cultures. I think I first saw A Year of Reading the World mentioned here. Check it out.
posted by mareli at 7:43 PM on January 2, 2014

Seconding that you can't learn about another culture by reading, and certainly not by reading blogs. Such approaches only give one the false impression of knowing anything. In fact I think many people nowadays believe that they understand something about a culture because they have acquired some little tid bit about it. I think it can help to read within the culture's literary tradition, perhaps by reading some poetry, fiction, fairy tales ( I suppose it depends on the culture), but ultimately you can only "learn about" a culture from within. Understanding a culture has nothing to do with gathering bits of information or facts about it, and then thinking, now I "understand".

And though I agree with Tanizaki that the English speaking world has seemed to create a ridiculous caricature of Japanese people going back before Lost in Translation, and constantly fixates on silly things like vending machines and toilets instead of the really stunningly fascinating aspects of it, I think many in America seem to underestimate difference. They have little inkling of the depths and complexity of old traditions and cultures and therefore underestimate the distance involved. People are different, very, very different.
posted by Blitz at 8:20 PM on January 2, 2014

How are you defining "other cultures"? If you're open to reading about culture/cultures that exist (possibly/probably) right next to you at home, I'd suggest Dave Hingsburger's blogging.

casebash: "I would like to be exposed to ideas that will challenge my assumptions about what is "normal" and about how society should work"

That's a big question. For me, it would absolutely include reading about intersectionality and about immigrant and non-majority cultures in my own country of birth. Both of those areas will present opportunities to, as you say, challenge your assumptions about what's normal and how things ought to happen.
posted by Lexica at 8:43 PM on January 2, 2014

Try the documentary "Babies" - tracks four babies being raised in very different circumstances all over the world - and they're all fine, healthy, babies!

While nothing beats living in a culture as others have mentioned, I HAVE lived in a foreign culture very different than my own. I could have lived there forever and never understood it - honestly, I'm not sure I 'understand' western culture, either. Also, I wasn't a member of that culture, and I would have always been a visitor, even if I'd lived there my whole life. I could only witness and partake to a certain extent, and was almost always effected to some extent by "big tall foreigner over there!". It's not everything. (And of course, the documentary was effected by the presence of the cameraman etc.)

I think books, films, blog, etc... are great. We have access to so much now, the funnest part is learning about each other! Just don't go all 'modern jackass' and think you're an expert or start making broad assumptions! ;)
posted by jrobin276 at 10:14 PM on January 2, 2014

This just popped up on my Pinterest - it's YA, but why not? I also loved the Moomintroll books... "so happy he had to run away and be by himself!"... what?! =D Kid's books can be pretty revealing, since often they're trying to impart values and not being very subtle about it.

Have fun!
posted by jrobin276 at 10:23 PM on January 2, 2014

I'm not making this up - the blog of a travel writer who has married and settled in Venice.

There are some mystery writers who I like:
Fred Vargas 'The Chalk Circle Man' and 'The Three Evangelists'.

Fred Vargas is a French historian, archaeologist and writer. Her books are good at summoning up conveying a sense of character and place, and, notedly, don't present cloying aspirational descriptions of tweely ethnic meals.

Meaning it's not "A Year in Provence (but with Murder)". Unlike a few authors I've run into.

I also liked Andrea Camilleri's The Shape of Water, about a Sicilian cop. And Donna Leon's series set in Venice.

Good Reads has a lot of this stuff. There's a host of mysteries set in Africa, or, presumably, thrillers set in South America. Some will pander to our preconceptions of what places are like, and others will be more honest. Stuff written by locals is more likely be good, I suppose.

Phillip Kerr's Bernie Gunther series about German PI in pre-war, war, and post-war Berlin are great, well-researched, and a little depressing.

Autobiographies may be a better resource than mysteries; but mysteries may be easier to find and more fun to read.
posted by sebastienbailard at 12:07 AM on January 3, 2014

To augment on Tanizaki's suggestion: don't just look for expats - they're likely to be stuck in their own expat enclave. There are plenty of bloggers worldwide who write in English.

Try Global Voices Online to start.
posted by divabat at 5:12 AM on January 3, 2014 [3 favorites]

I read a lot of blogs by people from cultures outside of my own, but rarely do they talk about things that might challenge assumptions. There are LOTS of things in general that would challenge assumptions, especially in Lexica's intersectionality example.

However... iIf you want books, I'd start out with the opposite of what you believe in or were raised in. I read a lot of books on Chinese communism and I thought Wild Swans by Jung Chang was interesting.
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 5:26 AM on January 3, 2014

I've learned a ton about other cultures just by reading askme, especially relationshipfilter questions. And not just the dating ones, but also the "My parents...." ones and the "My kids..." ones. Every time I forget that what is totally normal to me is not at all universal, askme reminds me.
posted by rtha at 9:44 AM on January 3, 2014

A lot of these blogs aren't going to be around any more, but you might find some interesting ones in these previous AskMes.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:57 AM on January 3, 2014

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