It’s hard to believe there are only a few short weeks left before the first leg of my journey – Tampere, Finland and Berlin, Germany. I’ve been doing my due diligence: reading books about cultural practices, watching any Finnish and German movies I can find online, listening to Finnish and German language podcasts, locking down the smallest elements of my itinerary, going over my packing list over and over and over. But ultimately, no matter how much I have prepared, all my expectations will crumble the moment I step onto the first plane.
Last week (which included vaccinations and multiple public-speaking engagements), the jitters had pounded my brain into jelly. I was in some serious need for warmth and nurturing. And, man… did I get it.
On Sunday, I was honored with an invitation to attend the Triangle Finnish Association‘s Independence Day Party, where I was greeted with wine and tables upon tables full of traditional Finnish food.
And Santa Claus, because everyone knows that Santa is from Finland.
After a brief introduction about my project, this joyous group enveloped me with genuine interest, eager questions, and tender tips for how to fit in among the stoic-and-generous Finns. And, as is apparently customary in every cultural group, there were consistent reminders to “Eat, eat!”
But as most of us know in this postmodern age, there’s no such thing in objectivity. Everyone has a unique perspective, and even if you think you’re being objective when you report… you have blind spots. There are things you ignore, you forget, or you don’t notice due to your own cultural baggage and belief systems. In anthropology, it’s known as confirmation bias, the tendency to notice those things that confirm your beliefs and ignore those that don’t, and everyone is susceptible to it. (A Field Guide for Immersion Writing by Robin Hemley)
Growing up in the American South, comfort and food are synonymous in my brain, which is probably why I notice food in other cultures so readily and why I felt so comforted by meatballs and pastries and warm red wine. When I slid into my car on Sunday evening with a bulging belly and a bag stuffed with leftovers, business cards, and Finnish dvds, I leaned my head back with a contented sigh. My belly was full, which meant my heart was full.
I will face confirmation bias, which means that I will need your help to keep me on track. (Because apparently, I will love any place that feeds me.) Even if I can’t escape my own cultural baggage, I can be sure to find people all over the world who will remind me to eat (and maybe give me hugs) and infuse me with the warm energy to keep moving forward. With their help, and yours, I can ask more and more poignant questions because we all need tools to make our communities better.
If you were by my side through this whole journey, what questions would you most want answered? What advice would you like from artists in other countries?