I am always amazed by the amount of knowledge regarding my country showed by the people I met here.
I know what you are thinking: “Duh, it’s Italy. The country of worldwide famous cuisine, art and culture. Julia Roberts chose it as her first destination in Eat, pray, love! The Ninja Turtles are named after renaissance painters! The assassin Ezio swings smoothly up and down its beautiful buildings in the videogame Assassin’s Creed II! Are you really surprised that your country is so well known?”
Well no, and yes. I was, of course, already aware of Italy high “marketing” power abroad. Still, this is Asia. This is 12.000 km away. It’s the other side of the world and when I look at the map there are oceans and deserts to cross to go home. Unlike when I travel around Europe, none of the people I talk to in the street had ever been to my country. The pictures people describes to me come from other pictures, mediated dreams and informations that crossed severals borders.
It’s interesting to see the filter of distance at work: what of Italy travels here intact and what get instead distorted, changed, confused sometime with Spain or France, or weirdly attached to Hollywood romantic representation of my coutry. People talks to me, of course, about football clubs, pizza and beautiful cities, but also about details that I didn’t imagine were known abroad, outside the national borders.
This month I organized a little course of italian language in Denpasar, teaching just the basis: how to say hello, how to introduce yourself and read and counts in Italian. I started also to teach italian to my neighbor, a Balinese grandmother, enthusiastic student of Italian and Dutch. I was amazed by the curiosity, the questions asked and the energy showed.
To see your home from the eyes of the people living in another state, it’s one of the most enriching experience of travelling.
When you live in your country, you see it only from the inside, you evaluated your bubble only from within. The world beyond the border is just a bunch of shapeless figures moving outside a distorted glass. The moment you cross the threshold the focus shifts: the world outside becomes solid and it’s your bubble that changes shape. How different your life, your society, your country looks from so far away. Important things lose worth, meaningless details are suddenly important. The hash critics you had are now mellowed, what you were deeply proud of takes a very ugly and shameful form.
Travel. Travel as far as you can get. Even just a step well done it’s good enough. Look around and look back.