Learn to categorize…
Yes, we’ve all done it. In real life, in workbooks, with our own kids: what things are more alike than others? Is the Tupperware container more like the box or more like a large bowl? My family agreed that the Tupperware container is more like a box, because it has a lid and it’s for storing things. Simple, right?
But then we thought of a large rounded container and thought it was really about halfway in between a box and a bowl, because probably you would store food in it and you may have even mixed the food in it. Maybe not so simple. But our shared experience helped us to agree on a consensus.
Every culture classifies things in a different way. How do we learn those classifications? Most of us aren’t sure. But it’s one of the things that we are learning in our basic level language and culture study these days.
Take, for example, these baskets made by our friends:
Now look at this one:
Which of the top baskets is most like the one on the bottom? Why?
(We’d love to hear your answers in the comments below or in the Contact portion of our blog, to see if our family was reflecting North American culture when we answered! Did you answer the same as we did?)
We all said that the baskets with handles are the most alike, because they had handles.
But our language helpers said that the basket with only one handle is ajaka, and you can carry things in it. The one with no handles and the one with two smaller handles are both ajakape, because they are for storing things.
I don’t know about you, but I guess I didn’t really think about baskets as much more than decorative; that’s what they are in my culture. Their main thought was the functions of the different baskets the way they are used in their culture.
Now probably baskets are no big deal. But when it comes right down to it, the why of the decisions we make every day are guided to a great extent by our culture – beliefs, values and a way of seeing the world that we share in common as a people group or nationality. Culture isn’t necessarily right or wrong (although in certain areas, it can be). But if you don’t know how to share some of those things in common among another group, you might be misunderstood completely and end up not getting very far!
Is it polite when making a phone call to a friend to talk with them for 5 or 10 minutes about what they are doing, how their family is, etc. before you say the reason you are calling (to set up a get-together, ask a favor)?
Before living in Paraguay, I would have said “Probably not, because I don’t want to waste their time. They would wonder why I was calling.”
But sweet Paraguayan lady nicely told me years ago that my manner of making phone calls was brusque – because “You always say right away the reason why you’re calling! Here we would probably only do that if we were really put out with the person. Otherwise we want to show our friend that the friendship is more important than whatever we are calling about, so we’ll talk to them for a while first.” I tried to say that I wouldn’t want to inconvenience her when I called, and I think that was hard for her to understand. “If someone is your friend, why wouldn’t they want to talk to you? Of course we have time for that.” Her advice was much appreciated and did make a difference in my relationships here!
There are even deeper “whys”, too. Is it good to be independent?
Well, yes, if you’re an American. It’s how you show initiative and work hard to reach goals and be successful, right? Most people will respect you and even help you get ahead if they can.
Maybe not if you’re in a communally oriented society. Here, if you’re not in a constant cycle of giving/asking/receiving, you show you do not value the people around you, and since good relationships with others are the way to earn respect and lots of help is the way to get ahead, independence isn’t viewed in such a favorable light.
Going deeper, what things are in the “good” category? The “bad” category? Of the good things, which are better, and of the bad things, which are worse? That’s often just as fixed in culture.
One thing doesn’t change, however, the world over: God’s Word speaks to every person and into every culture. Learning to classify baskets may not seem important in the overall scheme of things, but little steps like that are the first ones we need to take toward learning how God’s Truth will speak to a specific people group and context. And while we are learning, the Lord can use the long hours to speak His patience to us as we draw closer to Him and trust Him for bigger things!