Any overseas missionary is bound to have more than the average share of cross-cultural experiences. Languages. Values. Religion. Race. Music and art. Concept of time. Methods of transportation. Infrastructure. These are some of the cross-cultural intersections where I expect to find myself standing over the next few years. However, this week I witnessed a cross-cultural experience I never would have imagined.
Making my way from door to door of our small apartment complex here at MAF, I extended an invitation to each of the families to join Stephanie and I for a late-evening snack. A man from one of the families was playing soccer with two of his kids across the parking lot, so I decided to cross over and let him know. His Dutch-Canadian family had spent the last decade in Uganda with MAF-Europe, and an their next assignment will be as on-loan staff with the MAF-US program in Indonesia.
“We’re making chicken wings if you want to come over around 8:30,” I said. I was met with a somewhat quizzical look. At first I think they thought I was going to be making some type of feathered craft project. A couple seconds went by and then he realized I was talking about food. When I asked if his family liked hot or teriyaki better he said he didn’t know, because they’d never had them.
A little while later the family came over. I could see the looks on the faces of all three kids. Maybe it was disgust. Maybe confusion. Maybe shock. I don’t really know. What I could tell is that chicken wings truly were a foreign experience for these guests.
“We’ve never had them like that?” murmured one of the kids, as they stared at the two plates of sauce-covered wings Stephanie had just placed on the table. I just smiled and waited as two of the kids ventured to try the “food” we had set before them. Their expressions quickly changed, and I think they were surprised how much they liked them! Their younger brother wasn’t taking any chances though, and decided it wasn’t worth the risk.
The whole experience was really kind of entertaining, but it reminded me just how different cultures can be. Even when two people look alike their exposures and experiences in life can be very different. It’s my hope that some day when I’m presented with a similar situation–a strange Congolese dish, perhaps–that I will remember the experience of my young Dutch friends and give it a try. It might not be so bad after all!