What do sushi, craft beer, Christmas, body piercing, and Bollywood dancing all have in common. They are cultural integrations. Any time two cultures come together, whether for trade, war, or accident, there will be some form of conflict.This is good for the story line. However, there will also be some form of integration, whether it’s food, entertainment, religion, clothing, naming, or art. This can enhance the depth of the setting. Let’s use sushi as an example.
Sushi has been around, in Japan, since the early 1800′s. In 1966, a gentleman by the name of Noritoshi Kanai along with a Jewish business partner, Harry Wolff, opened Kawafuku Restaurant in Los Angeles. Initially successful with Japanese businessmen, they then introduced it to their American colleagues to the ‘new’ cuisine. Soon after, sushi bars began to pop up in both New York and Chicago. Now, you can find sushi bars throughout the U.S.
Another example is the way the ancient Romans aligned religious holy days with pagan festivals in an effort to pacify and convert the conquered Peoples to Roman beliefs.
Keep in mind that the most frequently integrated pieces of a culture were ideas/beliefs, things that could be easily carried, or things created from raw materials common to both cultures. So, the genres of Fantasy and Sci-fi are the perfect vehicles to play and experiment with this type of cultural integration. First of all, the author already has strange cultures to develop. Why not add a few cultural integrations and connect these strange cultures in a real way.
Food and drink are the easiest by far. Just add a race or place-name and your there. E.g. Fae wine, Romulan rum, French fries, hot springs water. Clothing is a bit more subtle in that the fabric can be placed from somewhere else or perhaps the cut of the clothing. E.g. Italian cut suit, Chinese silk, or Western wear blue jeans. Some things will take some explanation as to the origin and for the integration, like sushi or chocolate. This can be tricky as the author needs to balance need for information against the dreaded info dump.
The bottom line is this. Cultural integration happens wherever two or more cultures bump into each other. The exchange of ideas and information enriches the affected cultures, though not always equally. Fantasy and Sci-fi authors who fail to incorporate these cultural integrations, short-change their world, the story, and ultimately the reader.
So, as I sit back in my Adirondack chair, wearing polar fleece, western denim jeans and Navajo boot moccasins, drinking Russian vodka and Sprite soda, nibbling on Klingon krinkles and Wisconsin cheddar cheese, I will contemplate how best to incorporate a group of intoxicated faeries into a Plains Indian Eagle Dance.