In my Social Psychology course I discuss the concept of social norms. Norms are rules for behavior, some of which are formal and may be integrated into our system of laws (stop at red lights, don’t steal, file your taxes); others are more subtle and are learned by watching the behavior of others around us as we grow and develop (shaking hands when we meet someone, maintaining certain physical distances from other people, holding a door for someone behind us). Adhering to these norms tends to keep us out of trouble and wins the approval of others; deviating from these norms can lead to being punished or socially ridiculed. And while many social norms are universally shared, others tend to be culturally specific. One of the aspects of travel that I find particularly fascinating is being exposed to different sets of social norms depending upon the culture I’m visiting.
I wish I could remember the exact quote and its source, but I recall reading a passage about someone who saw the Grand Canyon for the very first time and was of course overwhelmed by the sight of it, but couldn’t help but feel that something was missing about the experience. And then they realized that what was lacking was MUSIC. Prior to visiting the actual place, this person had seen many documentaries about the canyon and the images were backed by a swelling soundtrack that was missing at the canyon itself. I have always been amused by that story, because for me, music has always been something that enhances my travel experiences; however, for me it has to be just the RIGHT music for the place.
As soon as I hop in my Fiat 500 rental car and drive off from the airport in Rome or Venice, the only thing that I want to listen to is my favorite Italian music, either on Radio Italia, which plays only Italian music 24/7, or on one of the many CDs I pack in my luggage for such a trip. Music is an important part of any culture and it seems to me that listening to songs being sung in Italian and becoming familiar with some of the artists that are most popular gives me more insight into Italy and its people. Over many visits to Italy I have amassed an impressive collection of music and attended several concerts by Italian artists. So now, whether I’m driving the autostrada at breakneck speeds, fighting traffic on the clogged arteries of Rome or Milan, or ambling through the Tuscan countryside the familiar voices of artists like Eros Ramazzotti, Giorgia, Laura Pausini and Tiziano Ferro make me feel like I have an old friend in the car with me and give me that sense of familiarity and “home.”