This is the first of several blog posts regarding the part that culture plays in the missionary experience.
I thought I knew cultures. Born in Scotland, raised in Rhodesia (now called Zimbabwe), lived and worked in South Africa, travelled extensively … I had seen and experienced many ways of life. But I was unprepared for the culture shock of moving to the U.S.
The first eye-opener occurred at the petrol station. Tanya and I were visiting MAF headquarters—located in Redlands, California, at the time—and needed to put fuel in the rental car. I pulled into the station and waited for the worker to pump the fuel. And I waited. And waited!
When no one came to assist me, I gave up and drove down the road to another filling station. This time I watched before pulling up to the pump. I realized that the drivers were pumping the fuel themselves, unlike South Africa where employees come to the vehicle and fill it. So I drove up to the pump, prepared to fill the car myself.
That’s when I experienced another embarrassment. I couldn’t find the fuel tank to fill the car! After walking around the vehicle several times, I went to the window and consulted the attendant.
“Can you help me?” I asked. “I can’t find the fuel cap on this vehicle. I even looked in the bonnet and the boot!”
Bonnet? Boot? He stared at me strangely. Perhaps he was wondering about my mental state. The gentleman then suggested I look under the license plate, where I found the cap.
When missionaries arrive in a new culture, even common daily tasks can be challenging. Driving, visiting the bank, buying food … each country has its own way of doing things, and until a person learns how things work, daily living can be a big puzzle.
In addition to technical training, MAF provides its missionaries with extensive language and cultural training. I’ll write more about that later this year. Even so, culture shock is a given, whether you are moving from a technologically advanced area to a more primitive one, or just the opposite.
And in case you were wondering … the bonnet is the hood of the car. The boot is the trunk.