6 bloopers I’ve made in cross-cultural contexts

Bible chair

There are many pitfalls for the unwary in a cross-cultural context. Here are some bloopers I, or those with me, have made:

India: placing my Bible on the floor.

Mozambique: beckoning someone to come with my palm facing up, rather than down.

Muslim nation: offering (as a woman) to shake hands with a man when introduced.

India: a young woman making eye contact with a man.

Russia: wearing outdoor shoes inside the house.

Mongolia: not eating everything my plate (or offering it to someone else to finish).

These may just be superficial things, and thankfully I have always been in a context where, as far as I know, the local people have excused my blunders, but they speak volumes. It is so easy to unwittingly offend. Things that we take for granted in a Western context may be a sign of disrespect that is totally unacceptable in another country.

That's a small part of the reason that missionaries need cross-cultural training.

3 replies on “6 bloopers I’ve made in cross-cultural contexts”

Not really a blooper, but certainly a cross-cultural disconnect: While in Ukraine ministering for a couple of weeks during one of their winters, I was missing green vegetables. The ubiquitous Ukrainian diet of beets, cabbage, rice and potatoes was growing old, and my American taste buds were dearly missing lush, tasty greens. During one meal, the host asked if I wanted some salo. I thought they were trying to say salad, and so I enthusiastically said yes. While waiting to be served, I quietly thanked God for coming to my aid! Come to find out, salo is a thick slab of pork fat. I was shocked when the biggest serving of salo you can imagine was then placed in front of me – with great pride by the host as she was honoring me with what she considered a national delicacy! But I hid my disappointment (and revulsion), then ate it with grace and appreciation. When I finally returned to the U.S., within hours of getting off the plane I had the biggest salad ever! But I’ll never forget my experience with Ukrainian salo.

Felicity, thanks for spending some time on issues relating to reaching the nations, this is so refreshing.
When I am going to a country or region that I have not yet visited, I always try hard to study and talk to people who are experienced there, so that I may minimize the number of bloopers.
I do not want my bloopers to interfere with the work that I am doing, or have someone there remember my mistakes more than my message.

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