I spent the commencement of the new decade with my family and friends on the beaches of the Dominican Republic. We had a terrific time. Not only because it was 85 degrees instead of 25, as it was back home, but because of the surprising variety of interesting people who stayed at the place we stayed. Roughly, 50% of the guests were Russian, 30% were Latin American and the rest were a mixture of Europeans, Canadians and Americans. While not profound, there were clear cultural differences to observe and it was fun and interesting (impressive, actually) watching the Russians communicating with the Spanish-speaking natives in English. Once again reminding me how Americans are among the least internationally oriented people on the planet – a rant for another post.
At no time were the cultural differences and similarities more visible than at the New Year’s eve celebration on the beach. When we got to the beach, people were standing around, talking in small groups and drinking, of course. A local band was playing but, otherwise, it was all pretty mellow and independent. That was, until the Village People’s YMCA was played by a DJ. The beach came alive – people danced with strangers, old Cold War enemies were high-fiving and people who otherwise had no clue how to ask each other the time of day were playing air guitar in their spontaneously formed bands. Everyone, regardless of where they came from or what their native tongue was knew every word of every verse and, of course, could all spell YMCA with their arms over their heads.
It was great to see and a total blast. The fun and communication continued when the DJ moved on to Michael Jackson’s Dirty Diana but faltered immediately when they shifted back to some very upbeat, but unknown local tunes. It wasn’t the music, after all, that brought the disparate group together, it was shared experience. Songs from the Village People and Michael Jackson broke through international barriers long ago and became part of the culture of billions of people worldwide. Meaningful songs, no, meaningful channels, absolutely – a true international language. Besides, like most things, the more fun they are, the faster they’re adopted. Watching the reach and the commonality of those songs was totally fun. Hearing “It’s fun to stay at the Y-M-C-A” with a heavy Russian accent made the whole trip for me.