Saturday, August 25, 2007

Day at the Zoo

This is a quick rabbit trail from the topic of culture shock. We'll continue that next week. Last Saturday Ginger and the kids went with some friends to the Warsaw Zoo. The major difference that we could distinguish was how much freedom you have to handle different animals here. The snake was the boys' idea--they were pretty proud. When they got to the monkeys a sign read "be aware they will throw poo" At first the monkeys appeared to be pretty docile but something set them off (possibly they saw their resemblance in my boys) and they started hurling stuff at Ginger, the kids and our friends. Everyone ran thinking it was poo but then realized they were only throwing apples from their lunch--man they can chuck it a long way. Well the boys thought this was hysterical (mom didn't think it was quite as funny)---the monkey's were screaming and clapping at the sight of eight people running for cover. One of their friends got hit by some of the flying food, don't worry it didn't hurt him because he immediately rolled over in laughter. As cool as holding the snake was for them, all they talked about on the way home was the monkeys and their great accuracy. You can't even make up stuff like this. They are currently hatching a plan to get their grandparents near the monkeys when they visit.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Culture Shock Pt. 2

Two weeks ago we went up to the Baltic Sea, which even in August is "ice cold." My boys loved it and they swam for 45 minutes. Ginger and I were sitting there watching them swim and an old Polish grandma came out of nowhere and began to chew us out. I don't know everything she said but the gist was "how could you let them swim in this weather (75 degrees), what kind of parents are you?" Let’s be honest, in the states those are fighting words (incidentally I did have to hold Ginger back from going “Thai style” on granny)--who is she to tell us anything---she should mind her own business. Had we reacted that way towards her--we would have been the ones out of line. There is a deep respect for the elderly here, one that involves listening to their advice, even though strangers, even though it may seem harsh, and even though you don't speak the language : ) But, we have been confronted by strangers our own age too. If someone walking down the street feels that your child does not have enough layers of clothes on (even if it’s 65 degrees) they will gladly stop and let you know. What a contrast to what we are used to in the States, if it’s not your child it’s not your business (until they trip and scrape their knee on the playground after which follows a $10 million lawsuit where everyone is at fault but the parents---that’s another story). For Ginger and I our comfort zone is with the American mindset—it’s hard not to respond angrily to people we deem “nosy.” Let me illustrate further.

We live in what is called a “block,” it’s a six story apartment building with three other high rise apartment buildings on all size. In the middle of these buildings is a little playground, no grass, rusted equipment, but none the less a playground. Our apartment is on the second floor and our kitchen window overlooks the playground. Because of this, Ginger and I allow our boys to go down to the playground, on their own, and they love the freedom. In the states when someone else’s child is out of line at the playground, and the parent’s aren’t directly in the vicinity, the tendency is just to look the other way or maybe move your children to another area of the playground. In Poland however, have no fear, one of the mothers will deal with the child no matter who’s child it is. Perhaps this could be called a “village mindset”---without the government ramifications that Hillary has advocated in the past. Along with this then comes a responsibility shared by all the moms to see that the children are protected and have their needs met. Awhile back it was a hot summer day by Polish standards and we hadn’t seen the boys for about five minutes. We could hear them but not see them. Rather quickly we realized that they were in the apartment right below us. They had knocked on the door to ask if their friend could come out. Before the mom would allow her daughter to come out she made them come in and get a drink. Not her kids, really not her problem, but a responsibility that was second nature to her. So which cultural practice is better? On one hand it’s nice not to have complete strangers challenge the way you are raising your family or offer disciplinary advice but one can also see the value of adults correcting errant behavior regardless if the child is theirs and actively showing concern for all the children of the neighborhood. Each of these ideas have their own set of pros and cons. For Ginger and I, our prayer is that we love these people and their culture like Christ. Our plan is to adjust to these interesting differences by being “swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath:” James 1:19

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Culture Shock

Forgive me for slacking off this week with the blog, I am without excuse. "Culture shock" is a concern for any new missionary on the field. It carries the idea of struggling with one's immersion into a new culture. Basically, after being neck deep in a new culture for a few months you begin to struggle with the way they do things, the way they say things, the way they act, maybe even the way they don't wear deodorant. Our adjustment to this new culture in Poland has been easier than expected up to this point and we attribute this to your prayers. Over the next few weeks I hope to share with you our observations on differences between Polish and American culture. A major symptom of culture shock is an overly critical spirit toward anything done different than the way its done in your home country. You see when learning a new culture one must come with an open mind and learn to enjoy it for what it is. Hopefully this topic can be theraputic for us as we battle this critical spirit from time to time. I'll begin by sharing one of my favorite characteristics of Polish culture. The Poles are "world renowned" for their "bluntness." This is quite a contrast to the way we Americans operate. We like to think we "tell it like it is" when in reality this is only the case when it suits our interests. Case and point, your wife comes home with a new haircut that looks like it was done with lawnmower on steroids and she says "do you like it?" We all know what the answer is--there's just no way around it. Why hurt her feelings? Maybe I'll learn to like it. If I glance at it, its not that bad.This is a trademark of American culture. We strive to be polite at the expense of truth where peoples' feelings are concerned and ESPECIALLY when it comes to strangers. In fact, we are more accomodating when it comes to strangers than even with our own family. Most of the time we avoid contention if at all possible. Not so for the Polish and this really threw us for a loop when we got here.

Another way that this bluntness manifests itself is in the answer to the question "how are you doing?" Poles think Americans are phonies for always saying "fine" or they think we are melodramatic for saying "awesome." Ask a Pole how they are doing and you will soon learn ---this is really bad when they are sick because phlegm color is too much information for me. We are renting our apartment from a husband and wife who previously lived in it for 30 years. They are great landlords and we have no complaints, but we had one "run in" by American standards. When we moved in, I changed the locks, though I completely trust them, who is to say who has a copy of the apartment key from the past thirty years. It just so happened that he came right while we were in the process of changing the locks. He of course bluntly asked for a copy of a key and (through a translator because he speaks no English) I told him that we would deal with it later (this is the classic American approach--avoid confrontation--maybe it will go away). Well he came again, and again--the final straw was when I got a knock on my apartment at 6:30am one morning. I opened the door and he comes right into my personal space (a whole nother topic) saying "klucze" "klucze" (pronounced klooo-ch) this means key. By American standards he was being boligerant but by Polish standards he was just being normal. It was then and there I decided to adopt the culture I was now immersed in. About three inches from my face he said "klucze" again and I responded with one of the two words I knew at the time "nie!" (this means no). He said "nie?" And again I said "nie!" (I think the onion breath from the previous nights pizza added emphasis). This little exchange would have totally strained a relationship in the states, but here in Poland its a different story. I have found him to be much more respectful and cordial since the little key incident. And that's just it, they appreciate the truth and they respect you for it when you speak it.