The last days I have been thinking a lot about what to write next. I have been going over my diaries and pictures and found quite some adventures that haven’t been told yet but I couldn’t decide what story write first. So I made up my mind and thought that maybe it’s time to write about the one thing all of them have in common. The way they should be told: honest and colourful, erasing black and white from the vocabulary, showing the individual instead of fitting everyone under the same umbrella.

Of course, we are all subjects, formed by our cultural and social surrounding, our experiences and ideas of life. Accordingly, there is no such thing as an objective perspective because then it wouldn’t be a perspective at all. Still I consider it very important when reporting about different countries and cultures not to generalise or classify from my ‘advanced western standards’, what I see or who I meet.

On my trip around the world I looked frequently for advices and tips about my new destination on different travel blogs and I was disappointed how regularly I found terms like “The Burmese people are… / the Japanese all like… / be careful because Costa Ricans like to…”.

It surprised me to read this generalisations about cultures and countries from people who I assumed have experienced the same diversity, the confusing chaos of millions of different customs and ideas while traveling the world. It is simply not possible to sum up one culture or group of people or country with a generalising statement. It is not fair to the people who is being written about, so we shouldn’t write about traveling like this.

Two girls in Kimono. Tokyo, Japan. Photography by Guille Álvarez

Writing in generalities

Imagine how you would feel if somebody would call you a Hitler fan just because you are German or assume that you like toros just because you are from Spain? I am sure you would not be amused.

Now then how can somebody say that all Japanese are accurate, punctual, overachieving and capitalist slaves? Because you know what, the only Japanese I ever lived with was a man living of social services, a chain smoker who never left his house or his jogging pants.

Why did people warn me not to speak or even criticise Cuban politics with its critics? The truth is that we found a lot of people happily sharing their criticism and stories with us in order to carry them out into the world. When I voiced out loud and directly my rather disapproving views on Fidel Castro, nobody was offended at all.

What’s with the surprise I sometimes see in peoples faces when I tell them that I have muslim girlfriends who happily wear a hijab and pray five times a day? Well, they assume that muslim women are oppressed and forced to follow these religious customs (and yes, I have met those women too). Just look at the faces around you. They are all different, each one carries another story. How could they all be alike?

A monk says hi in Inle Lake, Myanmar. Photography by Guille Álvarez

What I’m just trying to say is that as traveler, journalist or simply curious observer we have a responsibility. We should try to portrait the reality the people live in as best as we can, to tell stories as diverse and individual as we can. To leave out blacks and whites and instead get engaged with all the shades of grey.

Certainly, I cannot make myself free from the fact that I write in a subjective view, a German and European view. This is the culture I grew up with. Everything new I automatically compare to what I already know. Each one of us has different impressions and ideas when facing an unknown situation, a new culture or country. The important thing is just to be conscious about the fact that this is your personal view on the world. Therefore we should at least state clearly that this one view is only a little piece of a puzzle of millions which creates the whole picture of a culture or a country.

I wanted to write about how to tell a story instead of what to tell in the story because words are the most powerful tool we have. The way things are written can raise or destroy prejudices, create or overcome boundaries. So whether you are a writer or a reader I want to ask you to think carefully about the words you choose, to reflect on what you read because it makes a difference with what eyes our world is seen.

A young student in Luang Prabang, Laos. Photography by Guille Álvarez