Monday, December 8, 2014

Culture Shock

I am a hugger, one of those annoying people who gushes and loves everyone and exuberantly shows it whether or not the recipient wants my affection or not. I don't do it on purpose, it's just an extension of my personality and happens spontaneously, often even embarrassing myself.

Since we've been in Africa, I've become even more aware of this propensity in myself, and the fact that not everyone appreciates my enthusiastic greetings. People in Swaziland and South Africa are typically far more reserved than most of us from American culture. This is, of course, a broad generalization, but still an overarching phenomenon we experience. I have had to really learn to curb my natural ardor, which is considered quite rude here. Even Americans less passionate than I are generally perceived as pushy and forward in this part of the world.

So imagine my shock during my recent brief sojourn back to the U.S. I found myself on the receiving end of typical American assertive and effusive greetings. I was profusely hugged by many strangers, asked very personal questions without much introduction at all, and generally had what I now consider my "personal space" violated over and over again by very wonderful and well-meaning people, who were just acting as they have learned growing up in the U.S.

It is I who have changed, through assimilation and acculturation in my new African home. I came to the painful realization that those were the very behaviors I all too often had inflicted on my African brothers and sisters. It was a priceless lesson to me about how very important it is for me to be even more careful and more respectful of cultural norms here, and to never assume that my ways are best!

Most of all, it was a poignant reminder again of my Lord Jesus Christ leaving His perfect Heavenly home to come to earth, with all it's shocking and obtrusive sights, sounds, smells, presumptuous behaviors, rude people, and every other discomfort in a fallen world. And He did it because He loves me! Humbled and grateful once again.

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