You are moving to a new country, and want to fit in. You want to learn the ropes and know how to live like a local.
How do you know if you’ve made it? What criteria do you set to really live like a local?
There is a grocery store in our neighborhood that is a distinctly local grocery store.
Locals shop there because they can find the best prices at this store. It is well known in this part of town.
However, it is not an easy shopping experience.
The aisles are narrow. The men are always stocking the shelves while you try to shop. The carts don’t move well and barely fit in some areas. There is always a crowd at the deli counter.
Shopping at this grocery store was my criteria for my ability to live like a local.
Not There Yet
I didn’t want to stand out like a rich American who didn’t want anything Egyptian. It felt important to push myself to live in a way that showed I was really living here, not trying to be a stuck-up expat.
I would go early in the morning before the crowds. I would get what I absolutely needed because I had to carry it home in my two hands. My preschooler tagged along most of the time.
I did not enjoy shopping there, but I could do it because I was really and truly living here.
One day I told one of my friends about shopping at this store. She is an Egyptian and grew up here, then moved to America for several years for graduate work.
She looked at me a bit bewildered that I would shop there.
I confessed that I was stressed shopping there but I was able to do it. She said that shopping there stressed everyone out.
“Oh, really?” I was amazed. I figured it was just me because I wasn’t Egyptian enough yet.
“Yes, really,” she assured me. “And I don’t think you need to shop there. Your sanity is worth whatever small increase in price it is to shop at a better store.”
When My “Live Like a Local” Criteria are Off
My criteria were off, I realized.
I didn’t need to love shopping at this local place to prove that I had adjusted well to living in Cairo. I was free to shop there or not shop there.
Sometimes with good intentions, we can set these expectations for ourselves that we think will make us live like a local. We think this way of living will earn us more respect or make us seem better adjusted.
There are important shifts we need to make when we enter a new culture and a new location. But we need to focus on the main cultural taboos, not the side details.
We need to focus on the things that would create barriers to sharing truth and a message of hope. We need to focus on the things that would cause others to misunderstand our intentions.
For example, how I dress and how I speak to and about my husband in public are more important issues than where I buy my groceries.
There is grace for buying my chicken at the grocery store rather than the local butcher. There will be barriers if I seem like a woman who disrespects her husband.
When we enter a new culture, we learn a new way to walk. Our compass needs to be what will help us love our neighbors well and share good news well.
The criteria does not need to be what will make us look like we have “arrived” as an expat who became local.
Recognizing that Egyptians also felt stressed at that grocery store freed me up to use my energy elsewhere. I’m not maladjusted because I don’t shop there.
I’m doing the work of loving my neighbors, learning to live intentionally however I can. I do it in freedom out of love for the Savior who set me free and offers freedom to a lost and hurting world.
Love your neighbors. Don’t worry about the groceries.