Cultural Bloopers

26 Sep 2016

Here are some entertaining anecdotes and awkward faux pas from our well-travelled Pioneers Australia office team:

South Africa
Still battling with the language, I was pulled over by a policeman. As he came to the window he wasn’t all that happy, pointing back to where I had just driven over some painted lines, and speaking what I thought was Afrikaans.  I had previously been pulled over by the police and demanded some “drinks money” so I thought this is most likely another ploy for “drinks money”. Playing the tourist had got me out of trouble last time, so I thought I would play that card again. After a minute of the policeman sternly explaining my offense, I said, “I’m sorry but I can only speak English”.  This only proved to fire up his anger as he replied, “I am speaking English”.

Papua New Guinea
The language we were working hard to learn was tonal.  If we used the wrong tone, we could end up innocently saying a very different word.  I remember trying very hard to get the correct tone on the word meaning ‘go’.  However, on a different tone this word means ‘urine’.  The word for ‘faeces’ using a different tone is the same word as ‘they’.  In the early days my mispronunciation of words led to much laughter from the people I lived amongst.

South East Asia
In our first year we found a reliable taxi driver who would park close by our home, and so we frequently called him to drive us. Early on I noticed his name on his taxi driver registration card on the dashboard – An Tuan. I connected his name with a variation of Anthony in my mind to help me remember it. For months I would addresss him as An Toan, in person and on phone calls, and he would politely converse with me in my limited language. Then one day in my language lesson I learnt the word for safety. It was an toàn. I was so embarrassed when encountering my taxi driver after that.

Papua New Guinea
In our new culture it was incorrect for a woman (female of any age) to be physically higher than a man (or boy).  When I was teaching school, if a girl asked to go outside the classroom and stood up, all the boys would also stand up.  Initially I thought it was because of respect however it was quite the opposite.  In church, if a woman wanted to go outside, she bent right over as she walked out if there were men seated in the church as well.

South Asia
We were living in a city that does not have formal addresses.  Our house was off a certain main road, past the shop, turn right at the green house, then third house on the left – that kind of thing.  When I lost my credit card and called the international office for a replacement, they said they would get a new one to me within a few weeks.  I wondered how on earth they would find me.  About one week later I saw three men walking down the road towards our house.  They knocked on the door, hand delivered my new card, and with happy smiles walked off again.  I was amazed at how things simply “worked”, but was a bit sheepish a few weeks later when I found the original card I thought I’d lost!

Papua New Guinea
The habit of knocking on a door is not the way people in this culture will announce their arrival.  They will cough when they arrive, not knock.  So the Bible verse ‘Behold I stand at the door and knock’ literally became ‘Behold I stand at the door and cough’.

Moving to a new culture takes a huge dose of humility, and we must choose to remain teachable, even when we are frustrated and embarrassed.  As we begin to understand cultural differences we are able to connect with real people who, just like us, are hungry to know the truth about life that is only found in Jesus.

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