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.


Kelly Glupker said...

Hey Jason,
I really enjoy reading your blog - as always, you make me laugh. But I am curious about one thing - how come you don't want your landlord to have a copy of the key? Isn't that sort of typical that the owner gets a copy?
Kelly (Rademacher) Glupker

The Stover Family said...

Hey Kelly,

In Poland Landlords are notorious for just walking in--anytime of day, whenever they want, for whatever reason they want. A few missionaries here have had serious problems with this. I think this ultimately caused at least one couple to leave because the wife just couldn't feel comfortable in her own home. These landlords would not treat Polish people in that same manner. So I cut the problem off at the head. He lives about 30 minutes from here now and whenever he needs to see us we told him to call and we'll be waiting. He is completely fine with this arrangement now.

Kelly Glupker said...

Got it. Yeah, that would be a problem.

Auntie96 said...

Thanks for another wonderful story!
I wanted to ask if it would be ok to put a link to your blog from mine. I know many of my Christian friends/family would love to read your blog as well!


The Stover Family said...


We don't mind at all if you link to our blog. We had Olah, her five sisters and her mom over for pizza tonight, it was a full house but Agnieszka (the mom) does a good jobe with the girls. They will start school September 3.