Preparing for Slippery Cross-Cultural Experiences

How do you peel a banana?

The answer is easy: Just start from the top. However, things get a little more complex when you start talking about which end really is the top. Here in the U.S., the top is the end with the stem. That is how bananas are displayed in grocery stores. That is how bananas are hung from fancy banana holders. So naturally, that is the end from which a banana should be peeled.

029371-Papua-2009Q1D-GYet in the parts of the world where bananas actually grow, that is not how bananas are peeled. In these places, they start at the “bottom.” Beginning at this end not only makes peeling easier, it naturally removes the mushy seed, gives you a good grip to hang onto, and more closely mirrors the direction bananas grow on trees.

Who knew bananas could be so complicated?

People from different cultures approach various tasks—even those as simple as peeling a banana—in vastly different ways. We can easily laugh off the intricacies of cross-cultural banana peeling, yet other cultural issues can be much more stressful.

MAF missionary families serve in foreign countries where they work on teams staffed by people from all over the world. MAF bases often include a mixture of Americans, Brits, South Africans, Congolese, Indonesians, Germans, and Australians, to name a few! These eclectic teams must work together to repair airplanes, make emergency flights, serve our partner organizations, minister to the local people, and more. Each person brings his or her own cultural perspective to the team—leading to vastly different approaches to various situations. This can often create tension and stress. Imagine what would happen if you threw a banana into the mix!

000639-EDRC(Congo)-S-NAT1That is why MAF prepares its missionaries to engage different cultures with grace and love. Embracing cultural differences can ease tensions and provide opportunities to learn something new. There might be a better way of going about a certain task—like peeling a banana—than the one with which we are most familiar.

So whether you peel a banana from the “top” or the “bottom,” remember the words of Augustine:

In all things essential, unity; in all things not essential, liberty; but in all things, love.”

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