Disclaimer: This blog is not sugar-coated. Read at your own risk.
I read an article today about not hating America after a missions trip. It got me thinking about all the short-term teams we host from the States. Sometimes it’s hard not to get upset with them. We try not to say things that would be taken offensively since we know a lot of what they do is out of ignorance, not on purpose. But, if I could sit down and talk with them, I think here are a few things I would like to address:
- “What is that?! I don’t eat that.” — as opposed to, “Thank you for making us a meal! I know it took you all morning to prepare and it’s one of Peru’s famous dishes. We have never tried it before, so we appreciate you going into all this effort and we look forward to trying it.”
- “That is so weird! You would never see that back home.” — as opposed to, “Wow – different! We do it differently back in the States, but that’s okay! That’s what makes America, America and Peru, Peru!”
- “Ugh, everything is so dirty.” — as opposed to, “Well, you live in a desert! I understand now why it’s so hard to keep your house clean.”
- “There are bugs everywhere! I could never live here.” as opposed to, “Is it difficult for you to live with all the insects? I know it would be hard for me.”
- Being uber-loud in public. Peruvians are generally a quiet people in public. You can sit in a restaurant filled with people and still talk in a normal tone of voice here, no need to be loud. We bring visitors into restaurants and we realize then that the saying, “Americans are loud,” is very, very true. The volume goes way, way up, we get stared at even more, and it becomes very embarrassing.
- Flashing money, or talking about money, or making comments about money. “Everything is so cheap here! I love it.” — as opposed to — being cautious about money (flashing it, talking about it, makes you an easy target for pick-pocketers) and being courteous around natives who, to them, S/.12 (about $4) for a meal is quite honestly, very expensive.
- Being wasteful: throwing away most of your meal you’ve been given; leaving behind basically brand new clothes, shoes, etc, because they got dirty and aren’t good enough for you now, so you’ll leave them behind with a student; giving away loads of (our currency) before you leave because you exchanged too much when you got here and can’t use it when you get back home, so you’ll just leave it behind. — as opposed to — Making sure you eat as much as possible out of what’s been given to you since it’s very offensive not to. It’s okay if you leave stuff behind, but do it graciously – clean your sneakers, wash your clothes, make them presentable, before giving them away. And don’t make a big deal out of it being dirty therefore you’re not going to keep them. The people receiving this stuff may not ever be able to afford such nice things and it makes them think all Americans are rich and snobby if they’re given something just because it’s too dirty to take back home. Exchange money wisely; don’t exchange exorbitant amounts and then leave it behind like it’s nothing. The stereotype of Americans is that we’re all rich and every time you do that, it makes everyone think that we who live here are the same with our money – and we don’t have extra like that, trust me.
- “We’re running on Peruvian time now! We can be late if we want; everyone else is, too, so it’s no big deal, right?” — as opposed to – Please realize it’s not that we’re purposefully late or that the entire country runs late. Latin cultures view time differently. The Latin culture views time as more relaxed, more relational. This does not mean that we don’t value being on time (especially here on our Bible school campus where we’re teaching our students the importance of being on time for things). We are late to things, yes, but when everyone’s late, it’s not really late. If the pastor isn’t there at 10 to begin church, then we’ll just start church when he shows up and it’s not considered late. But, just because we’re more relaxed with time does not give you the liberty to be purposefully late when we’re taking you somewhere. We do make schedules and we do need to be places relatively close to on time and if you are purposefully late and view it flippantly, that is exceptionally rude. Be flexible, not rude, please, and understand that it’s all in how you view the concept of time, not in the time itself.
- “I’ll just buy for everyone. You want something, too? I’ll buy for you, too.” — as opposed to — We are missionaries, not street urchins. Maybe we can’t afford everything you can, but that doesn’t mean you need to buy everything for us. We’re doing fine; we’re happy with how we’re living. Please don’t feel the need to purchase everything for us and make us feel even more poor than we are! As for buying everything for the natives, realize there’s a sense of pride in being able to provide for yourself and your family in front of wealthy foreigners. You just automatically paying for everything takes away that pride and can come across as arrogant, not helpful. There is a time and a place to pay for everything; please pick wisely.
- “I’ve been dying for ______! Can we eat there tonight instead of at the house?” — as opposed to — Okay, couple of things here. #1: Keep in mind that meals are figured out for you weeks ahead of time, planned and paid for in advance. Keep in mind that meals here take hours to prepare, not just minutes, so if you decide last minute to eat somewhere else, you are inconveniencing a whole chain of people while satisfying yourself. #2: You’ve been here for how long? Two weeks? And you just can’t wait to have a taste of “home”, right? Don’t forget you’re around missionaries who haven’t had a “taste of home” in possibly months because it’s too expensive. We miss it, too, but we have learned to live without it. You can, too, if you really try! #3: Our currency may be cheap to you, but we live on it. Even though it’s a special occasion – visitors! – that doesn’t mean we can afford to go with you. But, if we wait outside, that will make you feel bad. And if you don’t offer to pay, we have to pay for ourselves, which in some cases is most of our week’s paycheck for one meal out. So, if you want to eat there and you’re accompanied by those of us who live here, offer to pay or don’t ask to go, please. [see? time and place to offer to pay!]
And last of all…
Making promises you’re not going to keep. Such as –
- Promising to keep in touch.
- Promising to come back and visit.
- Promising to send care packages.
- Promising to pray.
Yup, huge pet peeve: those who promise to pray and never actually do. To pray, you must keep in touch with us so you know what to pray for! Therefore, if you’re not keeping in touch, I highly doubt you’re praying. And that, above everything else, hurts the most.
So, there you have it. Thoughts?