When more than half of the Earth’s population live in cities, that, by the way, occupy just three percent of the world’s land surface, changes, be they genetic or cultural, are bound to take place:
It is having an effect not just culturally, but biologically: urban melting pots are genetically altering humans. The spread of genetic diversity can be traced back to the invention of the bicycle, according to geneticist Steve Jones, which encouraged the intermarriage of people between villages and towns. But the urbanisation occurring now is generating unprecedented mixing. As a result, humans are now more genetically similar than at any time in the last 100,000 years, Jones says.
The genetic and cultural melange does a lot to erode the barriers between races, as well as leading to novel works of art, science and music that draw on many perspectives. And the tight concentration of people in a city also leads to other tolerances and practices, many of which are less common in other human habitats (like the village) or in other species. For example, people in a metropolis are generally freer to practice different religions or none, to be openly gay, for women to work and to voluntarily limit their family size despite – or indeed because of – access to greater resources.
You need to know where to meet foreigners. I can tell about Abuja at least. Go to play readings and art exhibitions organized by embassies. It doesn’t matter if you do not really care about plays or if you think Australian art is just a waste of space. Join the hash. The hash is plenty of white people running or walking, wearing similar colours, drinking plenty beer and doing things you will find very strange. Don’t be a bush person. Google the hash and learn their terms. Find out what “Hares”, “On-on”, or “Down-down” mean. Sometimes there is a small fee you pay. Don’t be stingy. Pay up and mix with foreigners.
Every 14 days a language dies. By 2100, more than half of the more than 7,000 languages spoken on Earth – many of them not yet recorded – may disappear, taking with them a wealth of knowledge about history, culture, the natural environment, and the human brain. National Geographic’s Enduring Voices Project (conducted in collaboration with the Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages) strives to preserve endangered languages by identifying language hotspots – the places on our planet with the most unique, poorly understood, or threatened indigenous languages – and documenting the languages and cultures within them.
You know that decades are a recent invention? Decades are hardly a century old. Not the concept of having ten years of course, but the concept of the decade as a sort of major cultural unit, like when I say “the 90s” and you think of flannel shirts and grunge music and great R&B music, or when I say “the 80s” and you think of people with big hair using floppy disks. You need a lot of change for a decade to be a meaningful demarcation. Back in the 1600s they didn’t really talk about centuries as much either. It was all about the life of the king, the reign (of King James and so forth), or the era.
Do switch-off power sockets, and an absence of leafblowers and tipping, define Australia? Whatever, they are among concepts James Fallows thinks the US should more widely embrace.
Yes, some people expect and offer tips in Australia, but that’s the exception rather than the degrading-to-all-parties rule. I realize that there is no chance that we’ll actually switch to a similar system with a much higher minimum wage (> $15/hour in Australia) and consequently higher service-sector prices, but no expectation of the ongoing bazaar-and-bribery ritual that is the tipping culture. That’s too bad, because the no-tip system is better.
Fado music from Portugal, Chinese shadow puppetry, and poetic duelling from Cyprus, are among cultural traditions considered to be endangered by UNESCO, as a result of things like globalisation, modernisation, and the inexorable march of time.
Dr Paul Hodkinson, deputy head of Surrey University’s sociology department and an expert in youth music subcultures, has been re-interviewing a group of goths he first studied in the late 1990s to find out. “They were teenagers and in their early 20s then, and I thought it would be interesting to go back because a number of people do stay involved in the goth scene,” he explains. Though many people who belong to youth subcultures such as punk and rave tend to drift away in their 20s, Hodkinson says it’s more likely that older goths will want to remain involved in the scene, even though it may become harder to combine with the responsibilities that come with age.
This one is absolutely vital – don’t interfere with others’ privacy. New York is a very crowded place. The way people deal with it is to create their own space. Thus, what outsiders often see as aloofness and isolation is, in fact, a sign of community; there is a shared ethos that everyone respects others’ privacy and expects others to respect his own. This is chiefly communicated through eye contact. If you stare at someone on the subway: if you linger in looking out your window into someone else’s bedroom; if you react to or interrupt a celebrity; or if you seem to be intentionally listening in to another’s conversation, you are violating one of New York’s most sacred unwritten rules. Keep yourself to yourself, buddy, and let others do the same.
During our second day of culture training, Lekha dissected the Australian psyche. It took about 20 minutes. “Just stating facts, guys,” Lekha began, as we scribbled notes, “Australia is known as the dumbest continent. Literally, college was unknown there until recently. So speak slowly.” Next to me, a young man in a turban wrote No college in his notebook. “Technologically speaking, they’re somewhat backward, as well. The average person’s mobile would be no better than, say, a Nokia 3110 classic.” This drew scoffs from around the room. “Australians drink constantly,” Lekha continued. “If you call on a Friday night, they’ll be smashed – every time. Oh, and don’t attempt to make small talk with them about their pets, okay? They can be quite touchy about animals.”