Imagine yourself in a cultural experience that is completely foreign to you. Maybe something you have heard of before, but never truly experienced or never understood. I took an anthropology class in college, and I have to admit, the study of culture intrigues me, but experiencing differing cultures is much more exciting.
I grew up in a neighborhood that would be considered multicultural so I was familiar with people who looked “different” from many Americans, and even being a red-head I was used to being the one who was “different.” But it was still my culture. The children I went to school with all lived like I did, so honestly, it was not a different cultural experience.
My first shocking multicultural feeling was in the Los Angeles airport. After I was near our terminal, I looked around and saw almost no one but Asians! I had a few Asian friends in school, but I was not used to being in a place so foreign.
Granted, I was flying to Hong Kong and should have expected it. Nevertheless, I was not used to being in a place where EVERYONE else spoke the same language as each other, and I was completely unfamiliar. Had it been Spanish or Creole, I would have felt at home and understood the general topic of conversation, but not Cantonese or Mandarin!
That brief moment passed and I arrived (after a long flight) to Hong Kong. The sights, sounds, smells and faces were all very different from home. I tried, at first, to be polite and smile at people much like people do in the South. Did not work! Apparently the feel is a little more like NYC, so I decided it would be more polite to mind my own business :)
Our trip to Hong Kong was to college age students to teach them English and be their American friends. But after my initial impression of Hong Kong, I was terrified. I mean, if all the people do is avoid eye contact and ignore smiles, what was it going to be like to teach?! But I was super wrong to be nervous!
Teaching in Hong Kong was SUCH a BLESSING! I was able to teach some practical things, humiliate myself with games :), and share my testimony before dozens of students. They smiled, interacted and were quite huggable once you got to know them.
That night, we had dinner at a restaurant with our Chinese students, and I got my next dose of Culture Shock…CHOPSTICKS! We NEVER ate Chinese food growing up. I’m not sure why, but we didn’t. I must not have thought my trip out, because I had never even tried to use chopsticks in my life! My graceful new friends, showed me how to use chopsticks, but that was not the end of the experience.
When they first sat down to the meal, the native Hong Kong residents started washing the bowls in a large container of water in the middle of the table. They proceeded to pass the bowls back out, and when dinner was served, everyone grabbed food out of the serving dishes with their own chopsticks. After we finished all the food served to us, the waiter brought us more! The problem? I already ate my fill thinking it was all we were getting! How was I supposed to know? And my generous friends kept insisting I try everything! What a night!
Everything about that dinner was different than usual. I don’t usually wash my bowl right before using it (although, this is merely a custom now, I was told they wash the dishes before serving them now:), there was absolutely nothing on the table I recognized, I was clumsy with the chopsticks (someone really should have recorded me trying to eat rice), and, where I’m from, we have special service utensils. That is not even all the differences, but my point is, it was an amazing experience! You can sit in class and learn about different cultures, but you could never understand just HOW different they are without joining them.
To be honest, I have experienced culture shock in the States to some extent. The humor in New Jersey is unfamilar to me, and that fact that many people in Pennsylvania do not even offer you sugar with coffee baffles me. But different cultures are not inherently wrong, different cultures are to be respected and enjoyed.
1Corinthians 14:10 – There are, it may be, so many kinds of voices in the world, and none of them [is] without signification.
11 – Therefore if I know not the meaning of the voice, I shall be unto him that speaketh a barbarian, and he that speaketh [shall be] a barbarian unto me.
As a missionary, this concept is very important to me. I will be living in a place where the people with think and behave differently from me. I am not moving to Namibia to teach people how to be Americans. When I move, my first goal will to be ADAPTATION. I will be learning to speak Afrikaans, and moving into one of their homes, shopping in their markets and eating their food. Pointing they way they do (probably with their lips?), waving like they do, conversing like they do and this list goes on and on. (seriously, if you have never traveled to another continent, you would be ASTOUNDED at just how many things can be different)
The point of my post? I am sure you are faced with different cultures all the time, see what you can learn. Learning a little about a friend’s culture can bring you closer to them, it will help you understand them better (you know, now that I think of it, men have their own culture and this thinking can benefit a marriage :). Learning more about different cultures will also help you adapt to people, shape you into a more well-rounded individual, and maybe, just maybe, make you a more patient person.
What was your most most interesting or difficult cultural experience?anth
SVG map of Hong Kong’s administrative districts. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)