Culture Stress, when There’s No Hook to Hang It On

April 22, 2016 § Leave a comment

Head over to A Life Overseas to read my complete post.

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When most people open up their closets in the morning, they usually ignore the out-of-style shirts on the edge, the wrong-color sweaters, the too-tight pants. Instead, as much as they can, they grab something that looks right, something that fits right, something that feels right.

When you transition between countries, your cultural closets get switched. Your choices become limited, and you often have to put on things you’d rather not wear. You’ve given up comfort for other purposes. Some of this discomfort is just an annoyance, like a scratchy tag inside the collar of your shirt. But some can seem unworkable, like that same shirt two sizes too small.

It’s the Water and the Dirt

When I and my family moved overseas, we weren’t surprised by culture stress. We may not have been fully prepared, but we weren’t surprised. What did surprise us, though, was that we couldn’t always identify the causes of our irritation and pain.

For many stressors, you know just what hook to hang them on. Singing at church feels a little off? It’s because everybody’s clapping on a different beat than you are. Can’t sleep? That’s because of the all-night traffic outside your window. Nagging cough? Pollution.

Being able to name a problem helps us sort things out. It gives us vocabulary for talking about it with others. It helps us better understand our new home and ourselves. It helps us find solutions. It helps us cope.

But sometimes, there is no hook, at least not an obvious one.

A few months after we landed in Taipei, my wife developed a “cold,” a cold that lasted on and off for over a year. Our doctor couldn’t find a solution and none of his remedies helped (one medicine caused her heart to race). Finally, he diagnosed her with shui tu bu fu, which can be translated as “not acclimated to the water and soil.” That’s odd, because we didn’t drink the water, and with all the concrete, and we rarely saw the soil. . . .

Continue reading . . .

[photo: “038,” by glassghost, used under a Creative Commons license]

When in Rome, Quote Those Church Fathers . . . and Then Do That Roman Thing

January 15, 2016 § 1 Comment

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It could be the mantra of cultural chameleons:

When in Rome, do as the Romans do.

It’s so well known that all you have to do is say, “When in Rome . . .” and we fill in the rest. But where did the phrase come from? Why Rome? And what is it that we should do when we’re there? To find that out, we have to go all the way back to the fourth century—and delve into the practices of the early church.

When Casulanus wrote a letter to Augustine asking “whether it is lawful to fast on the seventh day of the week,” the early church father replied with his “Letter 36,” written in 396 AD. The passage below is Chapter 14 of that letter:

Since, therefore (as I have said above), we do not find in the Gospels or in the apostolical writings, belonging properly to the revelation of the New Testament, that any law was laid down as to fasts to be observed on particular days; and since this is consequently one of many things, difficult to enumerate, which make up a variety in the robe of the King’s daughter, that is to say, of the Church,—I will tell you the answer given to my questions on this subject by the venerable Ambrose Bishop of Milan, by whom I was baptized. When my mother was with me in that city, I, as being only a catechumen, felt no concern about these questions; but it was to her a question causing anxiety, whether she ought, after the custom of our own town, to fast on the Saturday, or, after the custom of the Church of Milan, not to fast. To deliver her from perplexity, I put the question to the man of God whom I have just named. He answered, “What else can I recommend to others than what I do myself?” When I thought that by this he intended simply to prescribe to us that we should take food on Saturdays—for I knew this to be his own practice—he, following me, added these words: “When I am here I do not fast on Saturday; but when I am at Rome I do: whatever church you may come to, conform to its custom, if you would avoid either receiving or giving offence.” This reply I reported to my mother, and it satisfied her, so that she scrupled not to comply with it; and I have myself followed the same rule. Since, however, it happens, especially in Africa, that one church, or the churches within the same district, may have some members who fast and others who do not fast on the seventh day, it seems to me best to adopt in each congregation the custom of those to whom authority in its government has been committed. Wherefore, if you are quite willing to follow my advice, especially because in regard to this matter I have spoken at greater length than was necessary, do not in this resist your own bishop, but follow his practice without scruple or debate.

Augustine, “Letter 36,” to Casulanus, Chapter 14, 396 AD, in Philip Schaff, ed., Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers Series I, Volume I, J.G. Cunningham, translator, Christian Literature Company, 1892

Thus, the ultimate source of “When in Rome” is Ambrose, quoted by Augustine, speaking on whether or not to fast on Saturday.

A few years later Augustine returned to the story of his mother and Ambrose in his reply to Januarius, who had posed these questions concerning taking communion (“the sacrifice”) during Lent:

What ought to be done on the Thursday of the last week of Lent? Ought we to offer the sacrifice in the morning, and again after supper, on account of the words in the Gospel, “Likewise also . . . after supper”?

Augustine replied that some practices in the church are authorized by Scripture, and some are set by traditions followed by the global church. But in a third category, there is room for freedom:

There are other things, however, which are different in different places and countries: e.g., some fast on Saturday, others do not; some partake daily of the body and blood of Christ, others receive it on stated days: in some places no day passes without the sacrifice being offered; in others it is only on Saturday and the Lord’s day, or it may be only on the Lord’s day. In regard to these and all other variable observances which may be met anywhere, one is at liberty to comply with them or not as he chooses; and there is no better rule for the wise and serious Christian in this matter, than to conform to the practice which he finds prevailing in the Church to which it may be his lot to come. For such a custom, if it is clearly not contrary to the faith nor to sound morality, is to be held as a thing indifferent, and ought to be observed for the sake of fellowship with those among whom we live.

I think you may have heard me relate before, what I will nevertheless now mention. When my mother followed me to Milan, she found the Church there not fasting on Saturday. She began to be troubled, and to hesitate as to what she should do; upon which I, though not taking a personal interest then in such things, applied on her behalf to Ambrose, of most blessed memory, for his advice. He answered that he could not teach me anything but what he himself practised, because if he knew any better rule, he would observe it himself. When I supposed that he intended, on the ground of his authority alone, and without supporting it by any argument, to recommend us to give up fasting on Saturday, he followed me, and said: “When I visit Rome, I fast on Saturday; when I am here, I do not fast. On the same principle, do you observe the custom prevailing in whatever Church you come to, if you desire neither to give offence by your conduct, nor to find cause of offence in another’s.” When I reported this to my mother, she accepted it gladly; and for myself, after frequently reconsidering his decision, I have always esteemed it as if I had received it by an oracle from heaven. For often have I perceived, with extreme sorrow, many disquietudes caused to weak brethren by the contentious pertinacity or superstitious vacillation of some who, in matters of this kind, which do not admit of final decision by the authority of Holy Scripture, or by the tradition of the universal Church or by their manifest good influence on manners raise questions, it may be, from some crotchet of their own, or from attachment to the custom followed in one’s own country, or from preference for that which one has seen abroad, supposing that wisdom is increased in proportion to the distance to which men travel from home, and agitate these questions with such keenness, that they think all is wrong except what they do themselves.

The above section is Chapter 2 of Augustine’s “Letter 54,” written in 400 AD. In the letter’s Chapter 4, he furthers his argument, not only saying it is inappropriate to take one’s customs into a new setting, but he also cautions against returning home with customs learned abroad and, acting the part of the enlightened traveler, promoting them as superior:

Suppose some foreigner visit a place in which during Lent it is customary to abstain from the use of the bath, and to continue fasting on Thursday. “I will not fast today,” he says. The reason being asked, he says, “Such is not the custom in my own country.” Is not he, by such conduct, attempting to assert the superiority of his custom over theirs? For he cannot quote a decisive passage on the subject from the Book of God; nor can he prove his opinion to be right by the unanimous voice of the universal Church, wherever spread abroad; nor can he demonstrate that they act contrary to the faith, and he according to it, or that they are doing what is prejudicial to sound morality, and he is defending its interests. Those men injure their own tranquillity and peace by quarrelling on an unnecessary question. I would rather recommend that, in matters of this kind, each man should, when sojourning in a country in which he finds a custom different from his own consent to do as others do. If, on the other hand, a Christian, when travelling abroad in some region where the people of God are more numerous, and more easily assembled together, and more zealous in religion, has seen, e.g., the sacrifice twice offered, both morning and evening, on the Thursday of the last week in Lent, and therefore, on his coming back to his own country, where it is offered only at the close of the day, protests against this as wrong and unlawful, because he has himself seen another custom in another land, this would show a childish weakness of judgment against which we should guard ourselves, and which we must bear with in others, but correct in all who are under our influence.

Augustine, “Letter 54,” to Januarius, 400 AD, in Philip Schaff, ed., Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers Series I, Volume I, J.G. Cunningham, translator, Christian Literature Company, 1892

This English translation of Chapter 4 includes a summary of Ambrose’s advice that gets closer to the wording of our present-day “When in Rome”:

[E]ach man should, when sojourning in a country in which he finds a custom different from his own consent to do as others do.

Many years later, in 1599, the English playwright Henry Porter wrote The Pleasant History of the Two Angry Women of Abington. In it, one of the charactersNicholas Proverbs, says,

Nay, I hope, as I have temperance to forbeare drinke, so have I patience to endure drinke: Ile do as company doth; for when a man doth to Rome come, he must do as there is done.

Henry Porter, The Pleasant History of the Two Angry Women of Abington, 1599, in Charles Mills Gayley and Alwin Thaler, Representative English Comedies: From the Beginnings to ShakespeareMacmillan, 1903

And finally, in 1754, Pope Clement XIV wrote “Letter 44” to Dom Galliard, concerning the monks under his authority. The English translation that followed in 1777 gives us a form of “When in Rome” that brings us nearly to what we have today. This time the topic is the suitability of taking a nap during the day:

The siesto, or afternoon’s nap of Italy, my most dear and reverend Father, would not have alarmed you so much, if you had recollected, that when we are at Rome, we should do as the Romans do.—Cum Romano Romanus eris.

Is it either sin or shame, then, for a poor Monk, in a country where one is oppressed with excessive heat, to indulge in half an hour’s repose, that he may afterwards pursue his exercises with the more activity? Consider, that silence is best kept when one is asleep. You who reckon among the capital sins, the pronouncing of a single word when your rules forbid the use of speech,—take the example of Christ when he found his Apostles asleep: Alas, says he to them, with the greatest mildness, could you not watch with me one hour?

Clement, “Letter 44,” Interesting Letters of Pope Clement XIV (Ganganelli): To Which Are Prefixed, Anecdotes of His Life, Volume I, translated from the French, London, 1777.

Now that I’ve come to the end of my post, I’ve got to give credit where credit is due. Thanks to The Phrase Finder for identifying most of the sources above. And the photo, titled “Rome,” is by Luca Sartoni (used under a Creative Commons license). There’s some pretty nice architecture in the picture, behind the tourists. I’m thinking it took more than a day to build a place like that. By the way, that area is called Campo Marzio. If you’d like to see it in person, it should be pretty easy to find. I’m guessing that once you’re in the city, all streets lead there. And when you arrive, you’ll know what to do.

To Eat or Not to Eat, That Is the Question

December 18, 2015 § Leave a comment

If it looks back, don't eat it!

Here’s my December post for A Life Overseas.

I need your help to crowd source this post. Let me explain.

In every culture, there are some foods that those on the outside don’t understand. In fact, many on the inside don’t understand them either. Maybe they were first eaten during a time of shortage, and then, after that time had passed, they were passed down from generation to generation, not because the need was still there, but because they had become a part of the people’s identity.

Maybe they are terrible-tasting things that we eat because they’re supposed to be good for us. (Maybe we think they’re good for us because they taste terrible?) And then there are those things that years ago, before refrigeration, were fermented—or prepared in some other way—to keep them from spoiling. And now, even after electricity, we still have them. Maybe it’s because over time our tastes just develop in different directions. Or maybe it’s because of extravagance: we’re wealthy enough to eat something odd and rare, just because we can.

Regardless of what put it on the menu, what food in your home-away-from-home gives your palate pause? Or, on the other hand, what have you tried that now has become part of who you are?

Go to A Life Overseas to read the rest of the post, enjoy a photo of fruitcake, leave your feedback, and see what others are eating saying. We want to hear from you!

[photo: “Have a Look,” by Malte Vahlenkamp, used under a Creative Commons license]

Paddington: A Fish out of . . . um . . . A Bear out of the Jungle

November 4, 2015 § Leave a comment

15810316086_62a83999d1_zPaddington is one of my favorite movies that I saw last year. Much more than just a kids’ movie, it was nominated for best film at the UK’s 2015 Empire Awards, and won for best comedy. It also carries a 98% rating at Rotten Tomatoes.

The story in a nutshell is this: When Paddington comes to London, it’s not quite what he’s heard it would be. And as if it weren’t enough of a culture clash for an orphan bear to arrive in the big city, this cub comes from “Darkest Peru.”

If you haven’t seen the movie yet, you should. It’s a great family film for Christmas time. And if you have seen it, here are some clips to refresh your memory.

First Contact: Meeting the Brown Family

BSL: Bear as a Second Language

Bathroom Etiquette: Those Aren’t Ear Brushes.

Sign Language: Why Do I Need a Dog for the Escalator?

[photo: “Paddington Bear Trail, Special Delivery By Ben Whishaw,” by Martin Pettitt, used under a Creative Commons license]

“As Soon as I Fell”: Tumbling off the Missionary Pedestal

August 7, 2015 § 2 Comments

41FnzYpGVPLI have two new friends I’d like to introduce you to. Their names are Andy and Kay Bruner.

I first met up with Andy not long ago through email when he helped me with some of the technical details of writing for A Life Overseas. Then, a few weeks later, I got to know his wife, Kay—and got to know Andy better—by reading her memoir As Soon as I Fell.

I’m not usually a fast reader, but I started her book in the afternoon after work, kept going until I fell asleep that night, and grabbed it off my nightstand and finished it when I woke up in the morning.

It’s a fun read, as Kay tells how her family of four (in time, growing to six) moved to Papua New Guinea to learn about village life. Then they relocated to the Solomon Islands, where she and Andy worked to translate the Bible.

On their first trip to their new home in the Solomon Islands, Andy went ahead on a cargo ship, while Kay and their young daughter and son made their way on the torpedo-shaped Ocean Express, a boat that rolled violently in rough seas. After someone gave the children hard-boiled eggs to eat, and the waves grew larger in open water, Kay writes that she made her “first ship-travel resolution.”

Never, ever let anyone eat boiled eggs on a ship.  I’ve heard that there are two stages of seasickness. First, you are afraid you will die. Then you are afraid you won’t. When you are on the receiving end of egg vomit from two small children, both stages pretty much hit simultaneously.

This was not the only stomach-churning adventure that they had. In fact, throwing up is something of a common theme in Kay’s writing. As I read through the book, I thought of playing a drinking game, taking a swig (of Maalox, of course) every time someone lost her lunch. The nausea seemed to reach its apex when Kay was pregnant with their third child. While describing the intricacies of prenatal care in an island town, she says that she “was sick as [she] never knew it was possible to be sick.” “The smell of the kitchen cabinets made me throw up,” she writes. “For the next four months, I threw up. Throwing up was my life.”

As Soon as I Fell is also a challenging read. Kay writes candidly about the times when the difficulties were no longer humorous, when reaching a breaking point was not a concern but a reality. She tells how her upbringing had led her to strive for perfection, and when that wasn’t possible, to “perform at any cost.” This was part of what led her to mission work, but it was also what led her to a place where she couldn’t continue any more.

In the middle section of the book, she shares journal entries, giving more day-to-day details of their lives as Bible translators.

Then, returning to a more reflective style of writing, she introduces the book’s third section with

How do you write about something so horrible, so disgusting, that it makes you feel like you’ve been vomited on? Something that makes you feel like a bag of garbage, thrown on the side of the road?

This time, the nausea was worse than seasickness. Kay had already written about the strains on her marriage with Andy, fueled by the unhealthy ways each dealt with stress. Now she had discovered that her husband was addicted to pornography.

My heart breaks for what the two of them went through.

There were the struggles that caused them to leave the field. There was the leaving itself. And there was the difficult task of returning to the leadership of their mission organization and life in the States.

While you can read Kay’s perspective of their experiences in As Soon as I Fell, Andy is open to sharing about it as well. In his blog post “Want to See What a Porn-Addicted Missionary Looks Like?” he tells of the prevalence of pornography among Christians and discusses ways to confront the issue. One is to open up conversations about pornography so that those who need help will be willing to ask for it.

Of his addiction, I would have to paraphrase the English chaplain John Bradford: “But for the grace of God, there goes Craig Thompson.”

After returning to the States, the Bruners began attending a new church. Kay spoke to a pastor there whom she’d not met before. “I wanted to tell him a little of my story,” she writes, “but all I could say was, ‘I’m a missionary,’ before I started sobbing.” That brought tears to my eyes, too.

I am so glad that Kay was able to tell more of her story in As Soon as I Fell. I’m so glad for her honesty and that of her husband. I’m so glad I have two new friends.

Now I hope to meet them some day.

(Kay Bruner, As Soon as I Fell: A Memoir, CreateSpace, 2014)

4 Ads for Your 4th

July 3, 2015 § Leave a comment

Here are 4 new advertisements in honor of the 4th of July. The first one actually commemorates the 4th. The others actually don’t. But it’s not July 1, so I needed 4 of them.

4 de Julio
Who knew that Honey Maid makes documentaries? This one’s about American immigrants. “When you first come here to America, you’re kind of like invisible. You don’t seem to be noticed, but at the same time you see that they’re looking at you.”

Hello Pizza
Last year, Brazil’s CNA language centers put English learners in contact with senior citizens in the US. Now they’re having them answer phoned-in pizza orders from the States. By staying on the line, customers can get their pizzas free. It’s a win-win with double cheese.

Are We There Yet?
You can use this to each your kids how to be annoying in five languages. This one came out late last year, but it’s new to me, which leaves me wondering: Have you seen it yet? Have you seen it yet? Have you seen it yet?

Great Chinese Names for Great Britain
“This was the first time in history that a country had invited the citizens of another to come up with names for its major landmarks.” What say we pop over to the Street for the Tall, Rich, and Handsome?

By the way, just in case you’ve never heard it asked before: Do the British have the 4th of July?

Of course they do. What else would come after the 3rd?

A Modest List of Invented Expatisms, Inspired by the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows

June 13, 2015 § 2 Comments

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My son pointed me to The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, where John Koenig creates words to name before-unnamed emotions and ideas. Many of them are melancholy, such as amenuerosis, “the half-forlorn, half-escapist ache of a train whistle calling in the distance at night”; and chrysalism the amniotic tranquility of being indoors during a thunderstorm. . . .”

Others are more on the humorous side. For instance, a reverse shibboleth, is “the practice of answering a cellphone with a generic ‘Hello?’ as if you didn’t already know exactly who was calling . . .”; and lalalalia is “the realization while talking to yourself that someone else is within earshot, which leads you to crossfade into mumbled singing. . . .”

Expats have their own feelings and experiences that are yet to be named, and I think this needs to be remedied. So while I don’t have Koenig’s talent, here are a few of my offerings:

dyslistening
the condition by which your over preparation for answering an expected question in another language overwhelms your auditory senses and you answer the query you’ve anticipated, no matter what is actually said, as in responding to “How many would you like?” with “Yes, but no ice, please.”

welwelwel-ke-come
the glorious sound of the immigration agent thumbing through your passport looking for an empty page—and then adding the stamp that says you’re free to enter.

altivism
gazing out of an airplane window, seeing the new landscape below, and feeling joyfully overcome with the real and imagined possibilities.

visatrig
the act of trying to predict which agent in the office will be the most likely to give you your visa or other important document and then conducting complex calculations concerning the number of people in line in front of you to see if you will get the agent you hope for. A domestic version of this is sometimes encountered in the DMV.

unchewing
the physical and mental reaction that occurs when you realize that the chocolate-covered, cream-filled donut that you just took a bite of is in fact not a donut and that’s not chocolate and the filling might very well have gristle in it.

Finally, here’s one more from Koenig: onism

[photo: “The Dictionary,” by Bethany King, used under a Creative Commons license]

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