CultureGrams: Making the foreign familiar


Created by Ella Francis Sanders for Maptia.

A while back, the beautiful site Maptia published an entry called 11 Untranslatable Words From Other Cultures. Complete with charming illustrations, the post lists words like the Inuit iktsuarpok (the feeling of anticipation that leads you to keep looking outside to see if anyone is coming) and the Indonesian jayus (slang for someone who tells a joke so badly, that is so unfunny you cannot help but laugh out loud).

CultureGrams has long been in the business of translating the untranslatable—of teasing out and explaining what makes each place unique so that our readers can relate to people in distant lands. One of the ways we do this is by getting into the specifics of  lives and experiences, whether it be through a slideshow showing portraits of people in Mauritius or a video that captures the life of Kyrgyz shepherds. There are also interviews with people from all over the world, like 17-year-old Kingsley of Ghana or 33-year old Inbal of Israel, in which they tell their own stories.

The standard sections of each report do this too. Because learning about what people believe (Religion), how they socialize (Visiting), what they do for fun (Recreation), what they eat (Diet), where they live (Housing), how they celebrate (Holidays), and other details of daily life and culture allows you to imagine lives that are both shockingly different and surprisingly similar to your own.

One of the main reasons we’re able to bridge this gap between the foreign and the familiar is because over the course of dozens of years we’ve cultivated a network of native reviewers who help us ensure that CultureGrams represents as closely as possible lived realities around the world. And these lived realities are something we find ourselves encountering often in our interactions with these reviewers themselves, when work is affected by an outbreak of malaria, a hurricane, the swell of a protest, or the grief of a recently lost child. And then there are students struggling to finish their theses, young professionals in the midst of buying a first house, mothers who have just given birth, and freelance reporters recently back from the thick of the jungle. Just to name a few.

Our inboxes are filled weekly with foreign encounters, which we work to translate into a product that does a small part in building a global community based on cultural familiarity. Our hope is that if you’re ever abroad and feeling what the French call dépaysement (the feeling that comes from not being in one’s home country), perhaps, with some cultural knowledge under your belt, you will soon find yourself in a sobremsa (what Spaniards call the time after a meal, filled with conversation) with some new friends.

Rachel Ligairi

Rachel Ligairi

Rachel Ligairi

I'm a CultureGrams editor who covers the Americas and Sub-Saharan Africa.
Rachel Ligairi

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