The company you keep can put the culture around you in a new light, let you see it as you haven’t before.
That’s true when I travel to different countries and discover that readers in Germany have a particular take on my Palestinian crime novels which differs from the way they look to Americans, for example.
I got to thinking about this when I was wandering the Nablus casbah this week with two German friends. An enthusiastic Palestinian fellow asked me to explain to them how much he appreciated Hitler, and as an afterthought he noted that all his people’s problems are caused by me and my compatriots from the British Isles.
I had just climbed up the old Turkish clocktower in Manara Square at the heart of the casbah with one of the Germans. I’d never seen the door at the bottom open before, but there was a policeman inside on this occasion and he generously allowed us to go up the ladder. On the first balcony, I stepped through more pigeon feces than I’d have thought could possibly gather in one place. It was crusty for an inch or two, then a little slushy beneath. I had a grin all over my face of the kind that tends to appear there when I discover a new corner in a place I’ve often been – and loved being there – before.