I Should Be Dead!

I don’t know how I’ve survived for so long! By my estimations, I should have died (and taken some others with me!) a long time ago! One of the most frustrating things about entering a new culture is taking all the criticism about what you do wrong. Cultural adaptation is of course extremely important, but there are some things that would definitely fall into the category of “old wives’ fables.” Sometimes the Chinese will tell you, “This is how we do it.” Which makes a missionary put on his “cultural adaptation” hat and go through any kind of awkwardness or uncomfortableness. And then they tell you WHY they do it. This makes you want to choke. Here’s some of the admonishments we’ve received:

1. “Air conditioning is bad for your health.” – My language teacher told me this one. Well, if you take a shower and sit in front of it on its highest setting, there’s a good chance that you might take a turn for the worst. But as an alternative to opening the windows, AC wins hands down. They got them little filters, too, for cleaning the air.

2. “Bandages make a cut heal slower.” – I cut myself pretty badly the other day. My language teacher informed me that my bandage kept the “air” (that mystical healing force) from getting to my cut and healing it. How foolish I felt! So worried about tetanus and infection that I cut my finger off from its true source of wellness – air.

3. “Your cat can’t breathe in the room you put him in.” – We don’t want our cat running all over the house all the time (not this cat, trust me) so we put him in one room and close the door. Again, to the horror of our langauge teachers. It turns out there’s not enough air in there to preserve his life. We need to open the window.

4. “Coffee makes you gain weight.” – Fortunately, I’m not at risk. But my mug-a-morning wife was a little disturbed at this news. She drinks it black, but sometimes that cream and sugar can just add their calories right in there when you’re not watching.

5. “Washing kid’s clothes with adult’s clothes is bad for the child’s health.” Lot of baby superstitions. For instance, when a woman gives birth, she is supposed to stay indoors for a month. And there’s a big awful list of things she can’t do… like bathe.

I could go ON and ON and ON… so how do you react do this kind of nonsense? First of all, I try to remind myself not to take it all hook, line, and sinker. (not that that’s very hard for me – I don’t believe ANYTHING…American or Chinese, ever!) Cultural adaptation should never mean that we act superstitiously. Cultural adaptation is about exchange. Doing something the Chinese way instead of doing it the American way… when neither way is right or wrong! Culturally, the Chinese drink alchohol at dinner. And we manage to not adapt. But sometimes this line isn’t so obivious to find, and missionaries don’t know what or who to listen to.

Then, I try to remember that there’s a LOT of Chinese people, and just because my language tutor says something ignorant and uninformed does not mean that all of her countrymen think the same. It is the acme of foolishness to accept one person’s opinion as “Chinese culture” or “mindset.” And even if most people think like this, we’re here looking for a few leaders who are ready to think far outside the box. Those kind of people are waiting for a challenge, an opportunity to see something bigger.

Sometimes, it’s best to share a little thing I like to call “knowledge.” For instance, I’ve lived in air conditioning for a couple of years. I’m fairly healthy. The AC has a filter. Or, my cat stayed in that room for a week when I left the city. He did alright. Coffee, without cream or sugar, can actually accelerate weight loss. Again, some people resist information, but they’re probably not the leaders we really want to spend a ton of time with.

And usually, it’s best to just smile and nod. If something really is culture, or even just a habit in a person’s life, YOU probably won’t have that much luck changing it. There is a good chance, though, that you can get into an argument and cost a friendship. Or, you can swallow your pride, take some criticism, and focus on your real goal: not to change the minds of the Chinese, but to turn them to life in Christ. Easier said than done! I’ll let you guess how good I am at swallowing pride and criticism!

One Comment on “I Should Be Dead!”

  1. John Pearson August 11, 2007 at 4:06 pm #

    Coffee drinkers applaud the support. True or not, we seldom take advice. We gravitate toward those that make us feel good about what we already do. Great post.

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