Gasoline and Culture Shock

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.

gas-station-relands-californiaThe 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.

1 Comment

  • Thanks for this blog. Indeed, we find these shocks every time we reach out on a mission trip.. I think the biggest shock to me was a few years ago working in Botswana and, to my surprise, in the middle of the desert, bejng greeted by the local people in my own language (Afrikaans). Knowing you are in a foreign country and speaking English for the entire outreach, one are “left without words” in these situations and even battle with your own language .. 🙂

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