Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Culture Shock Pt. 3

It has been a while since we discussed small differences between Polish and American culture. I have to say at the outset that it seems like the worst of "culture shock" has passed for Ginger and I, although we still have our days. Here are a couple of interesting differences.

1.) Awkward Silence
-If you take a moment to think about it, we Americans hate those brief pauses in a conversation. Dead time is nerve racking, so much so that we will run ideas over in our mind before the conversation begins to avoid risking silence. Think about the last time you were at some type of dinner party sitting around a table with people you know and people you don't. When the food comes often the talking stops and what phrase always manages to get the conversation going again? Usually it's something to the tune of "boy it sure got quiet in here," or "the food must be good, because nobody's talking." For some of us, the fear of awkwars silence is so paralyzing that we'd rather stay home with a t.v. dinner than venture out to social events. Polish people are so not that way. On at least two occasions my landlord has come when I was the only one home. At this point in the language I only know how to put together brief sentences--so both times he walked in, I asked him how he was doing and then paid him the rent. After that he stood about 10 inches away from me and we just looked at eachother for a good thirty seconds and I mean a full thirty seconds. Take thirty seconds right now so you realize what a grueling eternity that was for me. For him and for most Polish people as well, it was no big deal. We see the same thing on Sundays when our church has open prayer times, sometimes as much as 30-45 seconds will pass before the next person prays. We just can't handle this in the states. On the one hand its nice to avoid awkward silence, but on the other hand one can easily see how this fear of silence could be viewed as insecurity by our Polish counterparts.

2.) Don't ask unless you really want to know
How are you doing? Fine, thanks--------this is how we greet acquaintances in the U.S. In fact, we spit that answer out like its second nature. Anyone who does otherwise comes off as a little odd to us. Its a pursposefully distant question--simply a courtesy. We don't want an honest answer, we don't have the time for it. In Poland however, if you ask the question be ready for the answer. Let me tell you, you can find out a lot about a person by asking that question in Poland, including whether or not they coughed up phlegm that morning, but that's a story for another day, or maybe not. I appreciate the fact that a simple greeting is not wasted in Poland, so when someone asks "how are you doing?"---they really want to know, at least in Poland.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Monday Night---UNO Night

Probably our biggest concern, as we moved into our apartment building, was the neighbors we would have. Who doesn't worry about potential neighbors? Sometimes Polish people live in apartment building like ours all of their lives. They were raised in this building and are now raising their children here. We know of a few apartments here that have housed three generations through the years. All that to say, sometimes outsiders (especially foreigners) are not welcome. This has not been our experience at all--we have found the people to be quite friendly, sympathetic towards our language deficiency, and extremely helpful. Ginger has done an excellent job at breaking down barriers. Almost immediately she went down to the park outside our kitchen window and began to talk with the different teenagers who watch their younger siblings. She began to help them with their English homework and invite them over to our apartment for American games and Starbucks coffee.
By now, the word has certainly been passed around that we are American missionaries working in a baptist church here in Siedlce and probably the biggest hurdle to reaching teenagers with the Gospel in Poland is the parents. They are extremely hesitant to allow their teens to attend any religious function unless sponsored by the Catholic church. In July our church was having a teen activity so with great skepticism we invited the teenagers from our building. To our suprise and God's glory three of them came. Since that activity they have come to three more activities and have clearly heard the Gospel multiple times. Their parents know what we believe and where we stand yet God has used those friendships we have formed. Every Monday night Ginger invites the girls over to play Uno and have coffee or hot chocolate and we are excited to see what God will do in their lives in the days and weeks to come. They have been a big encouragement to us as well by the way they have embraced Caleb, Bradey, and Aubrie. The teens constantly offer to take them to the park and play as well as work with them on their Polish. Ginger and I can not think of a better place to begin our life in Poland, thank you for praying specifically for this request. Finally, as you think of it pray specifically for Carolina, Ewa, Nicola, and Magda that they might soon come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007


Caleb, Bradey, and Aubrie have finished their first month of Polish school and have lived in Poland for just over five months now. I thought it would be a good time to update you on their progress in the language though Ginger and I have found it difficult to gage from week to week. It's hard to tell how well children are picking up a language, the main reason being a totally different learning model from adults. While Ginger and I are slaving away in the dungeon of language school, our children are soaking up the language intuitively. In contrast to the vocab, grammar and syntax that haunts their parents they learn by associating speech with pictures or events. Slowly, but also sometimes rapidly they begin to comprehend words and phrases, not through an English explanation or chart, but simply by the context in which the words are used. Maybe this is old news to you or maybe not but this is the way we all learned our first language. Mom telling us "no" as we crawled towards the outlet or dad saying "ball," we associated words with specific events and those words were engrained into our head.

From time to time we have sat the kids down and said "tell us some Polish" which usually yields little if any results. More and more though, Ginger and I observe them using their Polish. Today as I was walking out of school with Bradey he said goodbye in Polish to his teacher and he didn't appear to think twice about it. The other day before we ate Caleb used a word that is similar to "dig in" that he apparently picked up from lunch at school. Aubrie by far is the most vocal with her Polish, but judging a child's language learning solely on their speech can be misleading. For every word or phrase they speak they comprehend a ton more. I attached a video to illustrate this point. We enrolled the boys in a karate class as another way for them to interact with Polish kids as well as immerse them in the language. The video is the first day of class so the commands you are seeing them follow are new to them but yet they seem to comprehend. FYI the boys are the last two on the left of the group. Three weeks have passed since the video was taken and today after the 45 minute class the teacher came to Ginger and said that they are excellent at following directions. Compliments are rare for Polish people so there was substance to what the teacher said. Ginger and I just took the opportunity to thank the Lord for a little hint that the kids are beginning to adjust.