Joanne and I were talking the other night about the things we consider weird about other cultures. Now, I am the first to admit, that the most of the world think Australia, Australians and our wildlife are weird. Take our Platypus for an example. It’s a mammal that lays eggs, has a tail like a beaver, (An animal we don’t have in Australia) it swims and lives in the water like a fish, and has a beak like a ducks. We have a strange language where we say strange things like “G’day!” We use the term “mate” to describe our friendships and when approaching each other we often say, “G’day mate!”
Anyways I digress. It was way back in 2000 when I was studying a Diploma of Ministry, where the class went out for an excursion for lunch and a walk through Sydney, where I first truly encountered cross cultural differences in a deeply personal way. One of the students came from Africa. I have forgotten just where now. But, after lunch, as we were walking through an alternative life style area of Sydney, he tightly grabs my hand, and walks with me down the road, hand in hand. I felt the Lord tell me strongly not to let go. And so, deeply embarrassed we continued to walk around Sydney. Within his culture, boys and men, walk while holding hands – its a deep sign of friendship. There were no sexual overtones with him doing so – and later on, I come to appreciate the deep honor he showed me in doing so.
Our discussion turned to America. Don’t get me wrong. We were not having a go at Americans or America. I have many good friends who live in America. We were laughing about the differences in culture which you wouldn’t find here in Australia. For instance, in Australia, no one, will call their sons “Wendy,Shirley, or Joyce .” ‘Thongs’ are items of clothing that we wear on our feet. We use the term “Bum Pack” or “Waist Belt” and not the American terminology which here in Australia is a derogatory term for part of a females anatomy. On a more series note, we kinda find it extremely ironic, how Americans can be so anti abortion and prob the death penalty. Or the reverse is pro abortion, and anti death penalty. One of the things that makes my mind boggle is the sheer population of America. New York City for example, has a bigger population than we have in all of Australia. The gun culture in America is totally different to ours in Australia. And one of my goals is to go ‘anvil shooting’ in the south. and perhaps fire a canon. Things that we just can’t do in Australia. Another puzzling aspect of the American culture is the national pride in the theme “In God we trust;” but, you don’t allow prayer in schools. Here in Oz, we just don’t get it.
I recently did a week long intensive on Islam. The class was an eye opener on the differences of culture and world views. Muslims think most Christians pay lip service to God, because they rarely speak of him. Whereas, a lot of their conversation is steeped in God talk. Australian Christians freely mark our Bibles. We like to highlight verses and passages. We will write on the margins, which to a Muslim is showing disrespect towards a holy book.
Another huge difference is understanding the world view of honor and shame culture- verses our western direct approach. We think its ok to just say, I don’t know! Whereas other cultures find that terribly rude. And so if we miss the social clues, they will tell us what they believe we want to hear, and not necessarily the truth. For instance, I heard the story where a westerner insisted on asking a local for directions in Indonesia. The guy eventually pointed in a direction, and walked off, and the driver ultimately got bogged in a rice paddy. The driver missed the culture clues that the man didn’t wan’t to answer the question. But, because when he was pressed, it was rude for him not to say yes, he did so.
What interesting cross cultural stories, thoughts and experiences can you share with me.