Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Lessons From Going North American...

I have only gone “North American” a few times since moving to Bolivia five years ago.  Going “North American” is synonymous with what we used to mean when we said, “Going Postal”.  I have to explain and this may be the ‘ouch’ part of this little article. 

North Americans have a stereotype based somewhat in reality, of being pushy, loud, demanding, and rude.  You may not believe that, but it is true.  In America, when you are displeased with customer service or think that you have a ‘right’ to some different type of treatment than you are receiving, you can forcefully explain your point of view and demand to go up the ladder telling higher up people what you think.  This is okay when both the giver and receiver share a culture that permits and expects this behavior.  However, when you are in a different culture, it is not socially acceptable.  We missionaries recognize it and try to overcome our demanding and slightly obnoxious cultural background.  However, it is still such a part of us that sometimes when something triggers it, we respond as if we were in America…and since we are not it is totally out of place.  Our missionary friends are the ones who gave it this moniker, going North American.  It is a derogatory description of bad behavior.

            I have honestly been pretty good.  Before Denise and I came, we read five, literally five, books on cross cultural living.  We learned to identify what is part of our culture, and what is not, and to not confuse our culture with the Bible.  I have been good….but the fact is that I am an American.  Denise has said that I have such a hurdle to overcome.  I am an independent American who feels free to express my opinion.  I am not only that, in a sub-category of it I am a Texan, who has to deal with that even more independent mindset of slight arrogance. Then, I am a fundamental, conservative evangelical Christian homeschooler….need I say more?  If there was ever anyone in the history of the world that knew the best way to do anything it would be me.  (dripping with sarcasm).  So, I have really tried to NOT BE ethno or cultural centric.  But…every once in while I have gone North American.

            Two of the times that I have done this have been over the same behavior of Bolivian culture.  It drives me BOINKERS.  Bolivian businesses do not plan in advance and therefore have change in their cash drawers.  They do not start the day with the ability to make change.  Then, because they are always short on change, they NEVER want to give any.  It is up to the customer to have the correct change.  Many times they will take your money and then tell you that they will bring the change to you when they get it (if you are at a restaurant).  In an ironic lesson, I am at the airport on the way home from a trip and just tried to purchase a cup of coffee.  It cost the equivalent of $2, and I just handed the cashier the equivalent of a $14 bill.  He would not give me change.  He said he did not have it.  I told him that I saw the open drawer when he put the money in it for the man in front of me and I saw that he had change.  He said that I had to give him the right change or I could not buy my coffee.  I came back to my computer with a good attitude.  I think.  Maybe.  Well, at least I kept my bad attitude hidden. :0)   Back to my little story.  The last time that I went North American, I actually YELLED, yes, I yelled at a 17 year old cashier.  I told him that I KNEW he had change and that he was just keeping it.  I told him that it was HIS JOB to give me change, not my job to give it to him.  I said that it was stupid to start a cashier’s day without money, and that he had the money.  Then I said, “Give me my change now!”  He opened the drawer and out of the massive amount of change that he had he gave me my change.  I went back to the table and my kids said, “Two things dad.  Never make someone angry who is working on your food, and did you invite him to church?”  (AAAGGGGHHHHH  Children are so mean!)

Before going any farther, I went back and asked him to forgive me.
Now, my point…there has to be one.  Oh, yeah.  There are several.  Let me just point out one because I don’t want to write a book. J

These people are so worried about running out of change that they behave as if they had no change.  They treat people like they have no change.  They ‘think’ like a ‘no-changer’ would think.  They make ‘no-change’ demands.  They are so stressed out about the possibility that they will run out of change, that it distorts their entire perspective.  Customers are change takers.  It is more important to keep change in the drawer than it is to sell coffee.  The goal of the day is not to move a product, it is to finish the day with change.  Purposes, priorities, and actions are all based upon the worry of no-change.

What do you worry about?  Have you ever been so concerned about something that ‘might happen’, about something that ‘could happen’ or about what ‘someone might do’, that you responded to this fictional event rather than reality?  Have you ever found yourself clutching to what you have instead of reaching out for what God wants you to receive?  Have you lost sight of the purpose?  Let me give a missionary example.  God blesses us in North America with many resources.  We have houses, cars, education, talent, possessions, and opportunities.  If we are not careful, these things ‘in our drawer’ become our purpose.  Instead of using the things that we have in order to advance the Kingdom of God, we stop the advancement of the Kingdom in order to keep the stuff in our drawer.  Do we evaluate ourselves based upon our accomplishment of HIS purposes, or upon how much we retain in our personal cash/value drawers?  Why are we here?  What are we doing?  Why are we doing it?  Is it to protect and keep what we have, or to risk what we have for the greater purpose of what is ahead?  Do we even risk? 

This is not just a ‘give money’ thing.  It is holistic.  I think that the same mentality that causes a coffee shop employee to say not to a customer over the fear of losing customers because of no change…that same mentality causes us to say “No” to the call of God upon our lives.  He wants us to do something, risk something, try something go somewhere…change….but we look at what we have and think that keeping the status quo is why we are here.  God has not called us to keep the status quo.  He has called us to change the status go….we are to help people change the status of where they are going…heaven or hell.  We are called to risk it all for His glory.  We are called to sacrifice, to give, to lose it for His sake…do we?  Do we think about what He is doing, or worry about what it may cost us to do it?

Until next time…


Diary of an Autodidact said...

Wow. Good post.

Lauren said...

from a fellow, North American, Texan, homeschooling evangelical -- I think if you've only lost it once a year in 5 years, you are doing OK :-)