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