Although I was not born into high culture, there is no question I’ve always aspired to it. Not for the status, but for the knowledge.
How would I know if I was a cultured individual? I’d need a checklist like this:
- Well-travelled and feels comfortable with people anywhere in the world
- Well-spoken and can spontaneously refer to significant people, places and events during everyday discussion
- Can speak and read several languages
- Has knowledge of world geography, history and politics
- Has knowledge and appreciation of visual arts, music and literature
- Enjoys wine and fine dining
How do I rate?
Well, until 2008 I had never travelled outside Canada and the US, and since then my travel list has only expanded to the UK. But if I relaxed at a resort in Havana every Spring Break, I’m not sure if I’d be any more cultured. I doubt I’d feel comfortable everywhere in the world. I like my creature comforts. I wouldn’t bring a box of Shreddies with me to Tokyo, but I probably wouldn’t eat raw eggs over rice for breakfast, either.
I have a reasonably good knowledge of significant people, places and events. However, I have very little talent at working it into conversation. I have high school French, and I can make myself understood, but I’ve never been fluent. My geography is not bad, but my command of history is limited. The areas in which I feel more confidence are literature and music, with arts at least a strong interest. I could choose a bottle of wine for friends at dinner, but I wouldn’t try to eat an artichoke in public.
I probably score higher on the “culture scale,” if there were such a thing, because of my education and reading. Through them, I grasp a lot of cultural references. If Kahlo, Karsh or Kael came up in conversation, I would have some context. I am happy I studied Theatre, English, Philosophy, and Russian Literature in university. I’ve read a lot of books, seen a lot of movies, and listened to a lot of music. If I’ve had a cultural awakening, it’s been gradual, as I was exposed to more art and current events and food experiences over time.
Maybe when we think of cultured people, it’s the ones born with a silver spoon who come to mind – those whose parents travelled with them, and sent them to private schools, and raised them with the Suzuki violin method and a nanny with good enunciation. I am not knocking that kind of privilege – you can use it for good in the world!
Of course, the majority of the world’s population doesn’t travel or read for pleasure or eat at restaurants. My definition of “cultured” is definitely a Western/White/European construct. It seems you don’t get recognition for your wisdom if you know how to forage for edible plants, or if you can make a living from scavenging valuable metals from trash heaps. Obviously we set a priority on what knowledge is socially acceptable for us.
I do admire people who can do culturally-cool things like navigate NYC as easily as their hometown, or identify Louis XIV furniture, or know when to use a runcible spoon. But I also admire people who drive a standard or play outdoors with their kids every day!
I risk being perceived as a high-falutin’ snob because I don’t watch TV, never know YouTube celebrities (Boo who?) and don’t eat at McDonald’s. But I can live with that! One thing I don’t like is anti-intellectualism. Just because you can quote Shakespeare doesn’t mean you’re artsy-fartsy and out-of-touch with real folks! I especially dislike it when politicians make fun of “the liberal elite” (which would be 90% of Canadians, LOL!)
Rom and I had a chat and agreed on our new definition of a cultured person: someone who enjoys other cultures, adapts to their environment wherever they are, learns from and respects others, and uses their knowledge to put others at ease.
And if they own a Tibetan mastiff or a Tag Heuer watch? We won’t hold it against them!
How do you rate yourself for arts and humanities knowledge? What is your snob factor?