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Culture is an interesting thing. Most people have some idea of what I mean when I say that, of what I mean by culture, but the really interesting part is all the stuff people don't realize. Culture is so much more than the shallow idea of it presented at airports and museums and tourism departments. I think it's one of the most important things that should be understood when traveling or meeting new people.

Everybody knows the basic idea of what culture can be. Japanese culture or Mexican culure are popular wells to draw from, especially for entertainment. Tacos and anime, sombreros and kimonos; these may come to mind when the topic of these cultures are broached. To others, these same words might bring the idea of cultural appropriation to mind.

Are those really good examples of a foreign culture? What is a culture, is it really just food and fashion and other surface level niceties? Of course most people would agree that there is much more to culture than what ends up on display at Disney's World Showcase. What exactly is it, though? How would you describe it?

Breaking down the culture of different countries is very susceptible to shallowness like this, reducing them to just cuisine or language or music. Of course these all do culturally matter, but when talking about what culture really means they tend to get in the way. It's about things fundamental to an individual and a society. Values, worldviews, why and how people derive meaning.

One decent example, at least in North America, might the difference between urban and rural culture. Whether you break it down as city vs country, democrat vs republican, modern vs traditional, it's evident that there's a clear distinction between the two, despite the fact that for the most part the two groups eat the same, speak the same, dress the same, and live in the same country. It highlights a fundamental difference in values, which is what culture is really all about.

It can be difficult to get along deeply with people from very different cultures. When values deep down clash, like how much to value family or the social norms that should exist. Political and religious topics can be like this as well. I always enjoy meeting people who are very different though, I think it's not only enjoyable but also becoming very rare.

I think that in a sense, distinct cultures are slowly becoming harder to find. There's a way in which the biggest cities in the world like New York or Tokyo or Paris or Hong Kong are more similar to each other culturally than they are different, at least in the most cosmopolitan areas. You can live very similar lifestyles in each of those places and run into very similar kinds of people, even if at face value they seem very different.

However, I'm sure that there is deep culture that all these places do draw from. It's just that in the biggest cities it's becoming diluted by modernized globalist culture. That's why when I travel I like going to the smaller locations away from hubs of commerce or tourist hotspots.

When discussing culture, I often like to use the phrase subculture because I feel like it captures a better sense of what I mean. People might have one primary 'culture' but they belong to far more subcultures. Niche internet hobby based ones or hyper local neighbourhood subcultures for example. I'd say I can claim both the Pakistani and the Canadian subculture, but also the similar but distinct Pakistani-Canadian subculture too.

What makes all three of those different? Like I said earlier, I generally think the most telling difference comes down to fundamental values. Pakistani-Canadian culture has roots in both of its predecessors and might look identical to them at first, but it is meaningfully distinct in many important ways. I don't even know if I'd be good at articulating why, but having experienced the differences I'm sure they exist.

The internet adds another complex layer to this whole discussion. Cultures and subcultures start because a group of people live in close proximity, and develop their own rituals and structures of meaning. In fact, I think it's almost impossible for a group to live somewhat independently and not develop some unique variation on their parent culture, thereby making it their own.

On the internet, everybody is in close proximity with everybody. You can entirely curate the people that you interact with and see if you chose to, and if you don't then the algorithm will likely do it for you. It's also trivial to remove people who you don't want to see anymore, with no recourse from them. It makes the internet the perfect breeding ground for strange new subcultures and niche communities, a potent social petri dish.

Having spent a lot of time on the internet, I've had a chance to see a lot of these niche subculture evolve and mature and, sometimes, disintegrate spectacularly. I'd even consider myself to be part of some of these; I guess I could argue I'm part of the twitter subculture, rationalist subculture, tech bro subculture, the gaming subculture.

In fact, I feel weird because I'm not really strongly associated with any subculture. I don't feel like my identity fully belongs with any of them. Not that that's a bad thing; I think having one foot in and one foot out in a number of different communities can be really valuable, and helps to get a broad perspective. I love seeing how female culture can differ from male culture, how subcultures full of older people differs from ones with lots of young people. Especially the drama when different subcultures interact without realizing how different they are.

It's difficult but it can be enlightening to think about what cultures you are comprised of. What do they each contribute to your values and systems of meaning. In the same way that people in the US don't even realize they have a distinct accent, I think a lot of people don't even realize that culture is a thing that they have. That only makes introspecting about it all the more valuable.