Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Cross-Cultural Connections: Stepping Out and Fitting In Around the World (Book Review)

Cross-Cultural Connections: Stepping Out and Fitting In Around the World
by Duane Elmer

Excellent book on relating cross-culturally, applicable to international and cross-cultural missions and travel and also all relationships that attempt to bridge two groups who are very different. My favorite quotes and concepts from the book follow.

Consider this: maybe everyone is partially right given a particular moment in history. And maybe everyone needs to adjust, given ongoing conversation around the Scriptures, which respectfully include the perspectives of generations, ethnicities, cultures and genders. I am not sure any one person or group knows the mind of God well enough to be able to draw right-wrong-difference lines in an absolute way for all time. But if we come together and learn from each other, I think we can get closer to the mind of God in how we ought to order our lives. P26

When we think we are normal, we make a rather fatal slip into believe that we also are the norm by which everything and everyone else can be judged. We do this without thinking. But every time we make a negative attribution we risk saying rather loudly to those around us, “That’s not like me, therefore it is inferior, wrong and unacceptable.” Most of us do not wish to communicate this message, yet it happens with disturbing frequency. Identifying our expectations and comparing them with reality as best we can before actually entering the new culture gives us an advantage. We will be less likely to assume that we are the norm, and it will help us realize that there are many legitimate norms. So if I assume that certain behaviors are normal for you, even though they are not part of my patterns, I can more easily adjust my expectations to the reality I am in. Instead of saying, “That is not like me, it must be inferior or wrong,” I can say, “That is not like me and I do not understand it…yet. But that is you, and I can accept you and your ways.” P59-60

At the point I think people must be like me, I have crossed the line from believing that I am normal to also believing that am the norm. If I believe I am the norm and you are different from me, then I am free to judge you. p60

Americans may see suspending judgement as a sign of weakness—being too hesitant or indecisive. Culture has trained them to size up a situation quickly, make a decision and then make it work. Though being and decisive may be an American value, it can work against you when entering and living another culture. P62

Trust, or lack thereof, defines all relationships. Let’s not be na├»ve. We cannot just barge into someone’s life and have instant credibility. If we try, we will be giving snow tires instead of a clear message of love. Or, as the apostle Paul said, our witness will sound more like a “clanging symbol” than genuine love (1 Corinthians 13:1). P101-102

Building trust is not hard, but it does take a little thought…it takes time to built trust. If trust has been violated it may take more time to build it, but usually you will find people ready to respond. Be patient. Keep checking to make sure that your attempts to build trust are not based on your own frame of reference but on that of the other person…trust is built in slow progressive steps. P104

That which builds trust in your culture may not build trust in another culture. In fact, it may break trust. It would take several books to talk about how each culture builds trust. In most cases, we do it so intuitively in our culture that we do not even know it. If someone asks how we build trust, we shrug our shoulders and say something like, “I don’t know; it is something you just do.” The same is true of other cultures. P109

Humor rarely translates well across cultures. Usually one must be an insider to appreciate humor. If you are in a group of people of your own culture and people from the local culture are with you, they may not understand your jokes and remarks. It would be good to explain why a given story or remark causes you laughter. This accomplishes two things: the local people realize that their culture is not the object of the humor and they begin to understand the humor of your culture. P112

What do you do with all the time you save? –Comment frequently heard in various part of the world regarding westerners/Americans p117

…Our time orientation serves us well for things like gross national product, national emergencies and progress in science. It has, however, often taken its toll on relationships. Thus, a time orientation is good news and bad news. Minimize the bad and everyone benefits. P119

…Most of the world values the relationship more than getting a job done. Knowing that, I can adjust. P127

Some people spend much of their lives achieving goals and getting the job done. They feel good when the job is over. Their identity as people tends to be built around their ability to perform. Their best friends are those who share the same pursuit of goals. These people may even sacrifice their physical and, at times, even mental health for the sake of the goal achievement. P128

In terms of missionary history, many a host-country person has commented, “The missionaries really got a lot done, but we wish they would have spent more time with us.” P129

…The majority of the world puts a higher premium on nurturing relationships—talking, relating, interacting, discussing and just being together. Goals and schedules are attended to after a good conversation. Socializing lays the foundation for achieving goals together. The goal is not forgotten, it just does not dictate priorities. P129

In reality, most task-oriented people can be relational, and the more highly relational person can get the job done. Realize, however, that in a relational culture, the job rarely moves along smoothly until a trusting relationship is established. Without trust little effort is made to achieve deadlines, stay within budget or even cooperate. P129-130

Westerners tend to approach a decision in a categorical way, while Two-Thirds World people are more holistic. Knowing the difference will save us from confusion, while understanding ourselves and others will reduce judgmentalism. P142

…the spirit of holism: we stand as one if we have a common enemy. P144

Effective interaction means giving of yourself—trying to see the world of others and respect their life ways. It means not forcing your ways on them. Yet, at the same time, it means being true to yourself and your ways. To be really effective, interaction must be a two-way street or, of course, it is not interaction at all. That is, all interacting individuals should be doing so from a basis of awareness, understanding, and knowledge. –Clarence C. Chafee as quoted on p171

We do not need to correct everything; we are building relationships not giving a test. P177

It seems strange to think that re-entering your home culture would cause culture shock, but it does. And, sometimes it is worse than the culture shock you experience when you enter that new culture. The reason? When you leave your home culture for a new one, you expect things to be different. When you leave the foreign culture to return to your home culture, you expect things to be the same. In one case you are expecting the shock of differences but in the other situation you are expecting that everything will be just as you left it. P194