Cultural Plunge

About once a month activity

Visit a place you've never visited before because you feel you don't belong and document your experience (e.g. narrative, photo essay, video, an original art piece, etc.) and post it on the Cultural Plunge Buzz blog.

The purpose of this activity is to provide you with experiences with cultures different from your own. You need to be out of your familiar cultural and preferably racial element. Based on your own level of experience, comfort, and knowledge select an experience that would be most beneficial to you in terms of furthering your awareness. Your goal is to select an activity that will challenge you to move beyond your present level of comfort, yet not be so uncomfortable that you are unable to be open to the experience. Try to make it a type of experience you’ve never had before, with people you do not already know. Push yourself to have interactions with people during your cultural plunge.

Suggested places to go for a Cultural Plunge:

A performance of Tibetan Monks, A concert for the deaf, Culturally different dancing , A gay/lesbian/bi-sexual/transgendered social event, Dinner in the home of culturally/racially different person, A racially different barber shop or hair salon to have your hair done, A Vikings Game at the stadium, A Halal restaurant or market, apple picking in the country, A Hmong New Year celebration, or A retirement home.

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Gene's picture
Gene says:

Hi everybody! I'm Gene, and I'll be the facilitator / moderator / agent provocateur of this experiment. And you are the brave souls who have volunteered to boldly go where you have never gone before. Which strikes me as odd -- I always thought the whole point of life was to arrange it so that you *didn't* have to go places or do things you didn't want to.

Well, too late now. You know the rules -- they are printed above. Go some place new and come back and tell us about it. Let the fun begin!

posted on Tue, 11/01/2011 - 7:01pm
maiken's picture
maiken says:

On a dare from my father, my cultural plunge will be to eat Lutefisk. I had never heard of this before moving to Minnesota last year. According to wikipedia, lutefisk is "a traditional dish of the Nordic countries and parts of the Midwest United States. It is made from aged stockfish or dried/salted whitefish and lye. It is gelatinous in texture, and has an extremely strong, pungent odor. Its name literally means 'lye fish.'" I am a little freaked out just thinking about it, but I am going to keep an open mind and dive in to the whole experience... yes, you might have to hold me to this!

posted on Fri, 11/04/2011 - 9:10am
maiken's picture
maiken says:

“It is reminiscent of the afterbirth of a dog or the world’s largest chunk of phlegm” (Quote about Lutefisk from Garrison Keillor's book "Pontoon")
I am looking forward to November 18th. Who's going with me? http://www.immanuelstpaul.org/2011/10/lutefisk-dinner-friday-november-18/

posted on Sun, 11/06/2011 - 9:00pm
Peter K's picture
Peter K says:

I think I went to that very lutefisk dinner my first year in MN.

posted on Mon, 11/07/2011 - 2:06pm
maiken's picture
maiken says:

Peter K, should I be nervous? Is it really as bad as they say?

posted on Mon, 11/07/2011 - 5:04pm
SNAFU's picture
SNAFU says:

Sorry I wouldn't of been able to anyway. Although I've grown up in MN, my first time trying Lutefisk was last year. I found out I'm highly allergic to it..probably the lye since I can eat Cod no problem. So I opted to not have dinner on the 18th be followed by a trip to the emergency to get my color back to normal and my throat unclenched.

posted on Wed, 11/30/2011 - 1:22am
maiken's picture
maiken says:

In keeping with the Cultural Plunge tradition of taking yourself out of your comfort zone, I shall recount my Lutefisk Dinner experience in haiku form.

For sixty-two years
Scandinavians gather
at a Lutheran church

Meal tickets sold out
church basement full of seniors
chatting at tables

Cub scouts volunteer
serving peas and potatoes
meatballs come next and...

White fish soaked in lye
slippery, translucent with bones
slathered in butter

Tasteless, strong smelling
Norwegian tradition with
Lefse and fruit soup

For some its a first
others have made it at home
I'm glad I tried it!

posted on Fri, 11/18/2011 - 9:16pm
maiken's picture
maiken says:

Here's a Picasa photo collage of the Lutefisk experience. I hope it inspires you to do your own Cultural Plunge!
My Lutefisk Dinner
My Lutefisk DinnerCourtesy me

posted on Fri, 11/18/2011 - 9:48pm
Gene's picture
Gene says:

Well, the month is almost over, and I'm not going to make it to any unfamiliar places. But perhaps it would be OK to share a story from the past?

I went to an all-boy high school in the mid-'70s. And at that time, about the greatest insult you could hurl was to call somebody a "fag." Now, mind you, none of us had ever actually met a gay person (to our knowledge), but we were all absolutely certain we knew what "those people" were like, and could spot one a mile away.

Flash forward about 10 years. I'd met a couple of gay people at college, and a couple more at my first job -- enough to realize that my stereotypes, and the fears they were based on, were baseless, but not really enough to sweep away the sense of "otherness."

Then one weekend, the local art house theater was showing a film I wanted to see -- I forget what it was. The matinee running immediately before was a gay love story. I got to the theater a little bit early, while the first film was still running. I sat in the lobby, and began thinking about the crowd that would soon be streaming out of the theater. Remember, I still had those old stereotypes banging around my brain, and I was expecting... well, nothing specific, but something "other."

The doors opened, the crowd came out, and they were...perfectly normal. I remember thinking, they looked exactly like every guy I went to high school with. No distinguishing characteristic of dress, appearance, mannerism, etc. Just a bunch of everyday guys, talking, laughing, heading out into the afternoon sun. That whole sense of "other" melted away.

posted on Tue, 11/29/2011 - 2:41pm
maiken's picture
maiken says:

Gene, it is interesting to me that you said "none of us had ever actually met a gay person (to our knowledge)" to describe you and your school friends' experience being around gay men. Then later you say "they looked exactly like every guy I went to high school with. No distinguishing characteristic of dress, appearance, mannerism, etc. Just a bunch of everyday guys..."
Once again, gay men were just as indistinguishable or invisible as they were in your childhood. The only difference it seems, is that when you were young "indistinguishable gay men" were scary. As an adult did "indistinguishable gay men" become less scary because they looked like you or your friends?

posted on Tue, 11/29/2011 - 3:16pm
Gene's picture
Gene says:

That's exactly right. In fact, I intentionally wrote the piece to make that connection.

I think it is natural to be wary of strangers, of things that are different, of "the other." With exposure and experience, though, those things are no longer strange, and thus no longer scary.

I wonder what would have happened if a friend had come out during high school. (This was Chicago in the mid-'70s, so pretty unlikely it would have happened. But what if.) I suspect, based on my experiences later in life with friends who came out, that people who knew him wouldn't have cared very much. But people who didn't know him -- people for whom he was still a stranger, an "other" -- would likely have attacked him, verbally and physically. Without any familiarity with him, they have imposed their stereotypes, which are based on fear.

In this case, familiarity dissolves contempt.

posted on Wed, 11/30/2011 - 1:19pm
SNAFU's picture
SNAFU says:

I went to Suuqa Karmel (a.k.a. The Somali Bazaar) in Minneapolis. I started with the unique stores around the building. The things were sale were different--often times I had no clue what they were except for the clothing--and I was the only white woman there and the only woman who had her head and arms uncovered. I felt out of place and the fact that I was also the only one who language of preference was English. I also noticed the shops lacked men shoppers and almost all the shop employees were female (only 2 men). After shopping, I had worked up an appetite so I decided to try some Somali food. Apparently, in so doing I had broke some cultural norm unintentionally. Women don't go to buy food there. It's a place only for men. Somali Men. They gave me weird looks. One of them even asked me if i was lost. He then kindly told me that women eat at a respectful distance from the men. They eat in the bazaar shopping area. Sure enough, there was a stand up window inside the shopping "mall" where woman picked up their food and ate on the ground outside. Not only didn't I feel like I felt in but I also felt horrible because I had the feeling that I somehow offended them.

posted on Wed, 11/30/2011 - 1:38am
Gene's picture
Gene says:

That's interesting. On the one hand, yes, you did commit a social faux pas. At least the man you spoke with recognized your innocence and corrected you kindly. On the other hand, this is a form of segregation, which is abhorrent in our society. 50 years ago, black people were not allowed to eat in the same restaurants as whites. That is now illegal. This sort of segregation by sex is also illegal, or should be, in public spaces.

It is important that we tolerate people of other cultures, but not to the point where we tolerate their intolerance. Our society has certain rules, one of which is: no segregation. Anybody is welcome to participate in our society -- provided they follow the rules. They are the foundations of our freedom, and must be scrupulously defended.

posted on Wed, 11/30/2011 - 1:09pm

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