Recognizing Cultural Differences

How simple it can be to assume our own understanding of the world is the only understanding. Or the only right understanding.  Understanding Your Host Culture is a good introduction. I think we would be wise to recognize that cultural differences arise in more than short-term mission trip experiences.

Time. What does time represent to you?  For many in middle class America, time equals money and time is a scarce commodity.  We think in hourly billing rates; how much can we produce; how much can we make; how many activities and assignment can we shove into our too short days? The article calls this perception of time “clock time”. Another perception of time is “event time”.  For someone immersed in middle class America, this can be a difficult and frustrating concept. The closest I can come is the lazy days of summers of childhood. F. David Peat references event time in his understanding of Native American cultures; events begin when it’s time (but not determined by a clock). There seems to be a thread of this in the way the director of a gospel choir reads the feeling of the room to know whether to wrap up the song or continue. A Geography of Time by Robert Levine describes some critical research in understanding of how the understanding of time relates to poverty.

Respect. For many in middle class America, being “on time” is a sign of respect, while being late is disrespectful.  In other areas, time is much more fluid.

Context. How much info do you need from context to fit in, to understand the processes? Do only insiders “get it”? Is it “because we’ve always done it that way?” I recall my first forays into a local congregation.  I was determined to find out “how things worked”.  The written documents were rarely the reality of life.

Individuality. Which has higher value: the needs of an individual or the needs of the group?  How are decisions made? By vote, majority rules?  Or by consensus?

Status levels. How revered are those in positions of power?

Risk taking/avoidance.

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