They (yes, the eponymous they) always say you should write what you know. It's one of those pieces of advice that makes sense and yet, when you think about it, sounds unremittingly dull. I mean, I know things, but what do I know-know? What do I know well enough to write about?
Sometimes I think it's a shame that I don't know very much about my cultural heritage because if I did, I could use it. I can tell people I'm Irish and Czech but aside from a few amusing-yet-useless words, I know nothing about being Czech, or Czech culture (slivovitz, anyone?). Anything I know about Irishness comes from movies or books, not from family history.
I guess this is because the Irish side of my family has been American so long that, yes, we're just American now. The Czech side (or quarter) is only a few generations removed from the motherland so that's why a couple words are still passed down from my mom (from her dad; from his mom). Not that they have any use whatsoever. Also, I'd give you an example but I'd spell it wrong.
So yeah, I wish I knew anything about these cultures but they've been forgotten as generations have become culturally assimilated as American. It happens. And, unfortunately, American culture isn't one with a lot of solid traditions.
So my interest in different cultures comes from the fact that American isn't much of a culture in the traditional sense, and I can't claim to know anything about other cultures except what I've read in books and studied in anthropology. Is it fair to say you know something if you got it out of a book? Is it fair to write about a culture or group of people other than your own?
Well, maybe a better question is, is it fair to me if every story I read is from the same cultural perspective? If I wouldn't want to read it why would I want to write it?
According to them, I'm not qualified to write outside of my own cultural experience--which would make a painfully narrow window if I bought into that. As it is, I feel there are some things you have to write even if you don't know them. Because how do you get to know if you don't?