There it was again: the culture clash.
Yeah, I understand that you don’t like surprise changes in plans, I mentally retorted to my son.
I realize you may have been thinking of other activities for the afternoon that you hadn’t told me about. But, dude, you just kicked my cred in front of my peers!
That’s what was going through my head as my teenager expressed his frustration as we stood on the front steps of the church. I had just informed him that we were going to someone’s house for dinner as a result of a last minute invitation there in Bogota, where we were raising our kids.
It was a classic culture clash of expectations. Our friends’ view of how teenage boys should talk to their parent–and my son’s U.S. view of how teenage boys should talk to their parents–collided head-on. I could practically hear the crunch of metal.
We had decided that we wouldn’t expect our kids to immediately change and become Colombian. At the same time we discussed with them the different expectations of Americans vs. Colombians (generally speaking, of course).
Now we had a real, live, practical example.
It didn’t spill blood on the floor, but it did tarnish my “missionary” halo. You could see that in the eyes of our friends who witnessed the discussion.
Culture Clash: What Do You Do Next?
Well, you talk and stick together. This one–and there would be more–resulted in a discussion among the family as to how Colombians viewed teens who objected publicly, and vocally, to their parents about things they didn’t like.
And the second part after a culture clash? How we could handle it better the next time, so that they could communicate how they felt while not tarnishing my halo so badly.
And yes, my reputation did matter. It gave me credibility to speak and do my job within the church.
In our case, we voted for a statement like “Dad, could I talk with you privately for a moment?” to which I would respond by walking away from the group with him for a short visit, talking with our faces away from the group.
Yes, there were more opportunities to figure out how Colombian our kids would become (or not).
And more opportunities for me to practice my commitment to the well being of our family as we lived with our feet firmly planted in two different worlds.
Global veteran David Armstrong is a frequent contributor to Go. Serve. Love. He’s set foot in 15 countries, and confesses that Crepes and Waffles in Bogota, Colombia is one of his favorite restaurants. Catch his thoughts on helping your family thrive overseas.
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- Just Different? Right, Wrong, and Flexibility in Crossing Cultures
- The Cultural Iceberg: What You Need to Know about Cross-cultural Communication
- My Story: Culture Shock, Mayonnaise, and the Last Straw
- Crossing Cultures: Adding More Pieces to Your God-Puzzle