It’s hard to fully grasp white if you have never seen black, or green if you don’t know red or orange. And the understanding of water a fish carries in its tiny brain is probably not so great. (That’s except for flying fishes, of course. They exist; they are amazing.)
The same is true for cultures in general, including national cultures. I am pretty sure that observant individuals who have good knowledge of another culture understand best the culture in which they live. “Compare and contrast” always does some good. It does not matter much where the knowledge of the other culture comes from; it all works out the same. Thus many long-term immigrants we would expect to have a grasp of American culture superior to that of the native-born in general, with some predictable gaps.
I, of course, was reared in France. I know the French language as well as anyone and better than almost all younger French people whose vocabulary is astonishingly poor and whose command of grammar is often downright rustic. I have also a good access to Mexican culture because of many small conversations with California Mexicans, because of several long stays in Mexico, because of my readings of Mexican authors but above, all, because of my sometimes dedication to Mexican telenovelas. And here is an aside: Anyone who thinks telenovelas don’t tell you anything about the “real” Mexico is missing the relationship between a people and the art forms it develops and consumes. He might just as well say that “Dallas,” the soap, was not about American society. Was it about Estonia, China, Germany, Egypt, then? End of aside. Anyway, here again, being able to understand the language corresponding to the culture is essential. (Speaking it does not matter nearly as much.) (more…)