I just read this article over at The Culture Blend,
People who live cross-culturally, for any significant portion of their lives, are often duped.
When we first choose to live as foreigners we are prime for the suckering. We are wide eyed and overflowing with enthusiasm. We soak up everything that Lonely Planet, Rosetta Stone and Wikipedia have to offer about our soon to be new home. In our zeal we are prone to misgauging our own proficiency.
We are pumped . . . and ready . . . and oh so naive.
Set for swindling.
There are seven great deceptions and most of us fall for at least five. I have personally tested them all. You know . . . for research. I lay them out now NOT for the sake of those who are packing up their lives and getting ready to go. That would be like telling newlyweds that marriage is hard.
They just tilt their head and grin at you as if you’re the cute one . . . “yeah, we know it’s hard for everyone else but we’re sooooo in love . . . and it will never, ever be hard for us. ”
You’re sweet and I would never steal this time from you. Proceed.
But for those of you coming down from the honeymoon (and possibly even some of you veterans) . . . here are seven deceptions which you may or may not have noticed just yet.
To read the rest of the article, The Seven Lies of Living Cross Culturally by Jerry Jones.
My personal thoughts on this post?
Right on the money!
Especially number five, which was The “Single Answer” Lie. That’s where when we get an answer and we believe we understand it. Soon we “know” everything and consider ourselves experts.
However, when we have answers we stop asking questions which can be a fatal flaw for expats, especially missionaries. There is always more to it than we realize.
I wince when I go back and read some of my “life-in-another-culture-as-a-missionary” blog posts from my first year here, where I explain how things work to those of you who have never come to Peru and probably will never set foot here, so how will you know I’m wrong? But I’m sure other expats or English speaking Peruvians groaned when they read those posts.
I like Jerry’s example,
Imagine describing the climate of North America as frigid because you spent Christmas day in Northern Canada. Check out Guatemala in July before you share your expertise.
Now when I see Facebook posts or blog articles of more recent visitors to Peru, whether short-termers or interns, I realize I must purge my archives of all my “let-me-tell-you-about-the-culture-of-Peru” posts from my first years here.
I cringe when I read some of what I wrote.
As a North American who comes from a time-oriented culture such as Canada, I could get annoyed and find it disrespectful that Peruvians, who are far more event-oriented than I’m used to (even after 6 years), don’t seem to value punctuality as much as I want them to.
But I err when I take it personal.
We joke in our ministry that if something is starting at 7pm, are we talking Peruvian time or Gringo time? But sometimes I get a little convicted making a joke like that.
In a culture that doesn’t necessarily value punctuality the same way I do, they may not even be showing up late due to a lack of respect or anything I’m inclined to interpret it as. It could just be a matter of “that’s the way it is.”
Now the question is, how am I going to handle it?
Let it eat my lunch?
Throw a fit and look down on them?
Much of how we process cross-culture living depends on expectations and perceptions. I’ve learned repeatedly that what I consider “integrity”, Peruvians view in me as pain in the butt.
What “Inviting” Means to a Peruvian
Back in 2008 when I came here on my six week scouting trip, the new Indiana Jones movie had just come out. The other Canadian missionary I was staying with, Dean Milley, and his Peruvian friend Rolando had indicated they wouldn’t mind seeing it with me, and so we invited people to come see it with us. Tickets back then were about 11 soles (or $3.50 US) and a bunch of us went.
When I say a bunch I mean like ten of us. Dean told me that I’d have to pay for the tickets for the youth who had come, because in this culture, inviting someone doesn’t just mean you ask them to come, and then discuss beforehand whether you’re footing the bill or splitting the costs. In Peru it always means you are paying for whatever you’re inviting someone to. It’s common for people to say “can you invite me to have some of your coffee” for example.
After the movie was over, we all headed back to someone’s apartment, and I happened to see Dean take some money out of his wallet and give it to the two youth who had seen the movie with us and come along with us to the apartment. When they left, Dean told me that it was my responsibility to pay for their way home if I was inviting them to something, such as the cinema, because like I was told, I had invited them. At this hour it was now too late and too dangerous for them to take a bus to where they lived, and they’d have to take a taxi, which not only was unaffordable for them, but was my responsibility as the inviter.
This didn’t break my bank, obviously, but I felt so silly for not having known that or been aware of it beforehand.
“Give me Back What I Gave You as a Gift, Pretty Please? I Need it Now”
In the last few years of married life, I’ve also encountered situations where people have decided they were entitled to possessions of ours that months or even years prior they had given us. Since naturally I process life out loud — to my wife or on the internet in my blog — I sometimes take to Facebook and “vent” about these situations when they come up.
This is not a reflection of Peruvian culture, please don’t read what I’m saying that way. But I had never really had these experiences happen to me with the frequency of which they started happening to me when I moved to Los Cedros at the end of 2011.
A number of weeks ago, we had a neighbor who was moving out of her apartment come and ask us for the second time to give her “her” couch back. The first time she said we misunderstood and it was never a gift but a loan, and she sold it (so she claimed). Lili stood her ground and reminded this neighbor of the conditions in which we accepted it, and that there never was any talk of needing to give it back down the road. Then this more recent occasion, this family were now moving somewhere and wanted the couch to be ready and on our front lawn the very next morning.
We politely told her she could find six movers to come and lower it out of our apartment herself, but otherwise, we had no intention of lifting a finger to help her. Maybe not even be here.
I know you would have handled it differently, helped lower the couch, and not only that, but open your wallet and give her a thousand dollars cash and tell her to buy another couch as well and offer to pray for any of her needs to be met. At least that’s what various pontificators on Facebook have told me I should do whenever I post these kinds of stories.
Anyway, we never saw her again.
The night this development unravelled for the final time, I posted on Facebook about it again, asking for prayer for my patience as I hate how it seems a lot of people to think the Bible verse about turning the other cheek means Christians are just supposed to be soft push overs and, and lay down and get walked over.
The Famous Pineapple Story
A friend named Mark posted a video to the famous “Pineapple Story” by Otto Koning, missionary to New Guinea. I watched the whole thing (and you should too, it’s worth your 55 minutes of time). Otto and his wife lived for years with fear of the enemy on the mission field. With such a funny sense of humor (“I would be a such a great missionary if it weren’t for you people.”) he shares how God showed them the victory in Christ:
These people kept stealing his pineapples.
For years and years.
Finally at one point someone explained to him that in that culture, anything you do with your own hands, such as planting an orchard or a vineyard, belongs to you, thereby entitling you to the fruit of your labors, so to speak.
So even though this pineapple farm was his property, the people who helped him plant it were entitled to it in their mind because they had worked on it. This revelation brought a lot of freedom to these missionaries in their understanding of what was going on.
He had assumed that for years and years, they were stealing from him (and from watching the rest of the video and hearing the rest of his experiences, they sound like they were).
Now, I don’t know what I would do differently if I were in their shoes. I know many keyboard theologians and hypothetical overseas missionaries would have handled it much better, of course, because I always get told so. But sometimes the only way to move forward in these situations is not to take a right or wrong approach to a situation, but just accept it is what it is and various cultures operate differently.