It’s a cliché to call any place, “a city of contradictions.” After living in Japan for almost a decade, Pico Iyer realized, “contradiction is in many ways in the eye of the beholder.” He writes for WorldHum that foreigners often interpret contradictions in their superficial readings of situations. For example, Japanese people may be quite comfortable mixing traditional and modern cultures, while Americans think it’s strange to see a Buddhist priest popping a beer and watching television.
“The biggest challenge today is how to make our peace with alienness,” Iyre wrote for Utne Reader back in 2000. It’s helpful for foreigners abroad to remember how strange they must seem to other people. Recognizing the mutual strangeness, and finding comfort in the contradictions, teaches people as much about themselves as it illuminates other cultures. Iyer writes, “The global village has given us the chance to move among the foreign, and so to simplify and clarify ourselves.”