They call it Home Ministries, but frankly we don’t get to spend a lot of time at home or with family for that matter.
Mostly we live out of our car. Excuse me, I mean . . . somebody else’s car.
Every new person we meet in the States confirms the notion that this is no longer the same culture that we once knew and loved. In fact the first time I popped off the plane in America for Home Ministries I was immediately and continually shocked by the culture and values that were suddenly so different to my own, different perhaps than the ones I left behind.
Everyone warned me that culture shock is harder in reverse. My discovery was simple. When I left the States I had a stack of books at my side and a professor to teach me why my host culture does the weird things they do. After awhile when you know WHY things are that way, you can appreciate their value.
On the contrary, when I step back into my native culture I feel lost. No one has ever explained to me why we have an entire room in the house called the pantry where we stock up enough food to last a year and yet we still go shopping once a week? All of the sudden things I used to take for granted become destabilizing. My Mom’s pantry is bigger than most Paris kitchens.
Why are refrigerators so BIG ? or cars ? or mailboxes ? Why is everything just bigger? And what is Transfat anyway? (All the Expats are laughing at that one, it’s a good joke among us!) You probably had lots of media preparation inundating you with the discovery transfat, gradually leading up to the day EVERY food packaging included it’s message. But I felt like an extraterrestrial trying to shop in the supermarket and not speaking the language. So is it good? or bad? I don’t know. And where are the normal Cheerios I remember as a kid?
Without explanations as to why new and old things exist, I start appreciating Paris. Because at least when I find them weird or inexplicable I know it’s because they’re foreign to me and that’s normal. I have resources in Paris – people to whom I ask questions when I’m stumped, and they give me good sociological answers. When I ask my family in America why we have traditions that we do, they’re dumbfounded. They’ve never asked the question before. Why would they? Why do Americans prefer large super-stores to small personal shops? Why do Americans insist on eating without knives? Why are Americans so uninformed about the genetically engineered food they are eating? We may never know, but we love them anyway.
So the moral of the story is … be gentle with your partners when they come to visit. It’s not easy to explain why I need a knife to eat a slice of pizza. So if you serve me pizza on a napkin on the living-room sofa don’t be surprised if I stare at it unsure of how to approach it or simply start rummaging through your cupboards myself. I’ve been known to do that too. People from Italy or South-East Asia, however, might flounder around with a plate of spaghetti wondering how a person could expect to keep the noodles on their fork without the aid of a nice big spoon.
Sure we already feel like foreigners in our own land, and we are used to approaching problems, like “Oh, my! How on earth am I going to eat this live oyster straight off of it’s shell!” (France) or “Oh, no! Not caterpillar stew again!” (Africa) So you’re probably thinking pizza on a napkin is a step up, right? But if you happen to think of it next time your partner is in town, they might just be craving a good old grasshopper stew after having just eaten pizza four days in a row. So be ready to learn about their needs and who knows …
… a little creativity could go long way to help your field worker feel at home.