“You really don’t know your cousins’ birthdays, do you?!” It was the kind of cultural moment that made me mentally cringe like I would with, say, a loud potato chip eater in the airplane seat next to me.
That was an odd question or statement, I thought. What did he mean?
My Guatemalan friend said it with surprise, but this particular cultural moment was also thick with disappointment. It was obvious that he had expected better of me.
And yet from the way he said it, it was as if he had expected to be disappointed, too.
We were standing in a side street near the marketplace in Quetzaltenango. Roberto wasn’t from there. I knew him from a small town up in the mountains west of there where I’d been working with Guatemalan lay leaders in the churches.
See, from previous conversations in his town I had picked up that he and his friends knew not only their cousin’s birthdays but all about them and their families. I was sketchy on mine. Apparently, that meant that I did not care enough about my extended family to know all those details.
But here’s the kicker: If I didn’t care enough about that first, important level of relationships, maybe I didn’t really care about them either.
I should have asked some questions at that point, about knowing these cultural-moment kind of details.
If I had, he would have told me what it meant. And maybe I could’ve asked questions about family expectations of the different roles in the family. Any question would have helped. But they didn’t come up on my mind’s screen at that moment.
And in that lack of action, I lost a good opportunity to better understand how my brother saw the world.
So tell me: How will you make the most of your inevitable cross-cultural moment?
Global veteran David Armstrong has set foot in 15 countries, and confesses that Crepes and Waffles in Bogota, Colombia is one of his favorite restaurants. Catch his classic post here on 8 Ways to Help your Family Flourish Overseas.
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