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Doing magic in a foreign language

I’ve written a lot about my trip around the world, but I didn’t write very much about something I did all the time–perform magic:

I performed magic (always casually, usually at a hostel or bar) roughly every other day for four months for people from more than twenty countries. If you’re curious, those people were, in alphabetical order; American, Argentinian, Australian, Austrian, Brazilian, British, Canadian, Colombian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, French, German, Icelandic, Indian, Irish, Israeli, Kiwi, Nepalese, Russian, Swedish, Swiss, South African, and Welsh.

But I didn’t perform for the locals enough. And by the time I got to Nepal, I was really curious what the Nepalese reaction to magic would be. So I did a trick for some of the guides on my Everest Base Camp trek. And…there was nothing out of the ordinary. They reacted just like an American or German or Australian would. That’s when I realized I had it all wrong.

Because, despite the fact that the British were a bit rowdier than your typical backpacker (you can see a video here, it’s the 4th one in the carousel), most people reacted to magic in exactly the same way.

Of course, there was still the standard deviation of responses: Some people were very analytical. Some people let the trick wash over them. But that variation existed within cultures, not just across them. Why, then, does magic seem to affect people so similarly?

It’s because, despite what we might be led to believe in the news, we all inhabit a shared reality, and when that reality is broken, we experience that together too. I’m not talking about a political reality, I’m talking about the laws of physics and probability that affect us equally.

When you think about it, it makes perfect sense that we react similarly to magic. It’s just like any art–we all watch movies, read books, and listen to music. And even if the content we’re consuming is different across languages or cultures, watching Netflix in France or Uganda generally goes exactly the same way–you sit in front of the TV, and you watch it.

However, magic unites people in a special way that more passive forms of entertainment like TV don’t: when I perform, I get to see people at their best. More specifically, magicians very intentionally try to elicit awe and wonder, which are humanizing emotions that connect us to one another and the world.

Just Google photos of people reacting to magic and you’ll see people smiling and laughing. Sure, some people are pushy and analytical, but that honestly just adds to the fun. I know from experience that because you are human, regardless of your race, gender, or yes, even your political orientation, you will react to magic the same way.

So, I’m not saying we should send a bunch of magicians to congress. But I am saying that if Ted Cruz and AOC saw a magic trick together, they’d be more similar than you think. And I’d really want to see that video.


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