The process of becoming immersed in another culture and a new language certainly results in learning about the culture and language, as well as increased independence and  self confidence.  It is nearly impossible to travel intentionally, with its continual stretching of comfort zones, and not grow in some way.

For those open to it, there is something even more valuable: it will challenge unconscious assumptions about your own culture and personal values.

There are the instances in which locals assume that we have a Mitt Romney level trust fund, and therefore it isn’t a big deal to pay extra for taxis or food.  There are the people that believe I voted for George W. Bush, and even hang out on his ranch with our good buddy Dick Cheney, riding around in pick up trucks shooting big guns at stuff.

There are the cases of strangers being excessively friendly, asking us about ourselves and if we are enjoying our time in their country, causing me to wonder “What are they after or trying to sell me?”… only to eventually realize that they are really just excited to know that we are enjoying their country.

There are the moments of observing other Americans as they demonstrate the worst of American stereotypes, disrespectfully treating staff in bars and restaurants as slaves, arrogantly expecting a 3 star Michelin experience at a restaurant where entrees cost $5 (and being vocal about it), and otherwise demonstrating that they probably don’t know where Iraq or Afghanistan are on a map, despite a decade of altercations in those countries.  Or maybe they think they are in Arizona.  Perhaps this is why lots of Americans claim to be Canadian while traveling

With some of these experiences you can just laugh at yourself.  “Haha, I can’t believe I am so suspicious of people that just want to have a conversation.”  Or, “Maybe I’ll say I’m Canadian so I’m not associated with those arrogant a$$holes over there.”  Or, “I know this guy is trying to charge me extra, but its only $0.25 in my currency and will help his family.”

But sometimes an experience can strike you deeply and make you question your values, so much so that it feels like a collision of cultures.  This is the case with my encounter with bullfighting

Bullfighting needs a new name. It sounds like Man vs Bull, but it isn’t even a fight. The whole thing is rigged.

Upon entering the ring the bull is strong and fierce. It runs about the ring, charging at anything that moves with strength and intensity…

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…so the toreadors hide behind walls The bull looks confused, looking back and forth, unsure what is going on.

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As the bull tires, dashing from place to place, a picador rides out on a padded horse and stabs the bull in the neck with a lance.  A bull is strong, we watched one knock over one of these horses with seemingly little effort. Of course the horse was fine, its wearing some serious padding. The bull was less fine after having a lance tear apart muscle and tendon

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The damage to its neck causes it to weaken from the start of blood loss, and also makes it more difficult to hold its head upright

Notice that this isn’t a man against bull contest.  There are multiple men in the ring, ensuring the bull can’t focus on defending itself

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Now 3 banderillos attempt to jab a total of 6 banderillas, sharp barbed sticks, in the bulls neck.  This induces further blood loss

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There is definitely some skill involved, the bull could certainly hurt people in this situation. In this image, the banderillero is leaping in the air as the bull charges in order to insert the banderillas

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At this point, the bull is occasionally falling down due to blood loss. Now the cape comes out, as the torreadors attempt to induce the bull to charge, which they do with skill and grace.  Each pass of the bull could easily gore the bull fighter, although they make it look almost easy

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The bull is essentially dying at this point.  The bull in this picture fell down and wouldn’t even try to get back up.  6 men had to come out to pull it back to its feet to make it continue “fighting.”  The crowd booed

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Due to the weakness of the bull at this point, it felt a lot like watching Mike Tyson in his prime boxing against Mohammed Ali today.  It isn’t even a contest

After another few minutes of this, the toreador jammed a sword into the bulls heart.

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The bull lumbered around for a couple minutes, gushing large quantities of blood out its nose, before falling down. It’s eyes had a pleading look, “Why is this happening?”  Another guy came out with a knife and stabbed it in the head (violently) to finish it off.  The dead animal was hitched up to a horse team and drug off the ring.

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I couldn’t help but thinking sarcastically, “You beat up an elderly man with Parkinson’s, well done, sir. Well done”  It felt a lot like school yard bullies torturing a helpless animal, and we left before the end of the 3rd of 6 fights

In contrast to my reaction, the locals seemed to love it.  With this much disparity in response, clearly there isn’t an objective measure of yes/no, right/wrong, or good/bad.  After all, bullfighting has been a part of Hispanic culture for centuries, and perhaps previously a part of Roman culture.  Advocates of the sport view the interaction of man and bull as a sign of respect to the animal

Rather than reject the whole sport out right, I challenged myself to learn something from it.  Are there parts of my own culture that are similar?  How do I feel about them?  What are the core values that are the embodiment of those feelings?

Clearly there are plenty of examples of animal abuse in the US.  From the time of the Upton Sinclair novel, The Jungle, to the rise of modern farming, there has been a long history of animal abuse in the food industry of the United States.  It’s as if pigs, cows, and chickens are viewed as a raw ingredient in the manufacturing of pork, beef, and nuggets, with even the names changed to increase the level of abstraction, as opposed to living animals that have innate characteristics and natural environments in which they thrive.  In the US, all of this happens behind the scenes, but that doesn’t mean that animals aren’t abused or disrespected.

At least with bullfighting, it is out in the open, and therefore open for discussion.  As the human race evolves, adapts, and grows, indeed as it becomes more civilized, it appears that our collective lust for violence does diminish.  Attendance at bullfights is on the decline it’s popularity waning with each generation.  Efforts to make the food system more humane are under way, little by little.  And thanks to a culture collision, I have had the opportunity to question my assumptions and grow.  Hopefully sharing this will enable others to do so, without having first to provide funding to those that perpetuate the needless slaughter