Monday, March 4, 2013

Six Months In and Cultural Differences

Six months ago today, we jumped on a plane (on our two year anniversary) and began the crazy journey of moving to Scotland to be a part of what God is doing here. It’s been thrilling, joyful, confusing and trying. All good things are. :) Our marriage has experienced refining like never before, our purpose in life is being shaped and revealed daily, and our pride is being brought very low. What an adventure! More than all of this though, we are getting to experience a life oriented around being on mission with God in our everyday lives. I am so excited about what God will have us be a part of here in Scotland in the years to come! I am so humbled that He has invited broken, messy people like us to be a part of His glorious work.

Since arriving I have been collecting a list of cultural differences I have noticed thus far. It’s all so interesting, and the differences are both fun and frustrating! I should say first that these are major generalities and cannot be said for all of Scotland, just like they cannot be said for all of America. They are all comprised of my experiences being in this culture so far, therefore should in no way be considered a definitive list of the actual cultural differences between Scotland and America. So please, do take this with a grain of salt. :) I hope you enjoy learning about the Scottish culture (and the American culture) below:
  • Friendliness – People here seem less friendly on the surface or in the initial getting to know you phase of a friendship. I think it’s because Americans have a tendency to be superficially friendly (I am realising that Americans smile A LOT), which is not a bad thing, as it does produce a feeling in the other person of being liked. And who doesn't like that right?! On the other hand, I have found that the Scots that are genuinely interested in you will seek to know you with all sincerity.
  • Entitlement – We Americans have such a sense of entitlement, which, I am realising I strongly possess. We often think “I deserve _____”, fill in the blank! We believe we deserve good service, getting something on time, and receiving something when we have paid for it. The Scots, however, don’t have this same sense of entitlement, or at least, not in the same way. Or if they believe they deserve something, they often wouldn’t fight for it in the same way Americans would. They don’t like to make a big deal out of things and have much more of a “what can you do about it?” attitude. Though, they are more than happy to have a wee grumble about it to other people!
  • Indirect communication – I went to the doctor the other day and was so surprised at the contrast in the medical guidance approach between Scotland and America. Generally, my doctors in the states will quickly collect the facts and then give directives saying, “okay, we are going to do this and this” without giving you time to give an opinion. Whereas here, the doctor was saying, “what do you think should be done here?” They seem to want to involve you in the process a wee bit more and have more of a patient-centred approach.
  • Don’t mention it – Again, while at the doctors, when I was leaving I proceeded to lavish the doctor with appreciation for his help and service (partly because I haven’t seen a doctor for my diabetes since August). He responded with “right, the exit is just down this way” completely unresponsive to my blatant praise! It was pretty funny. There seems to be a real “don’t mention it” attitude in this country, but it’s more like, no really…don’t mention it. Generally, Americans love flattery and praise and are totally comfortable with it, whereas people here seem to be less comfortable with it.
  • Emotional Expression – This is a huge one! And it seems to affect everything. In fact most of the other points I have written are tied to this cultural aspect in some way. People in Scotland are much more reserved with their emotions. In fact, because there are generations of people who don’t express their emotions, it would seem that the Scots aren't taught how to recognise what they feel, so probably wouldn't know how to respond when asked. Because of the emotional suppression, there is a great deal of fear and shame when emotions are expressed. Americans, in contrast, are characterised by showing their emotions all over their face, keeping little about what they think to themselves, and being slightly overly dramatic. :) Now, although the Scots are very reserved, I am convinced these emotions still do come out in other ways, however unhealthy. My theory is that these emotions are being expressed in other aspects of the Scottish culture. For example, there is a huge drinking culture here. People here drink all the time, they drink a lot and they do so from a very early age. It’s such a huge problem that the government are coming up with initiatives to deal with it. Also, I think others express their emotions passive aggressively through sarcasm, “ripping into each other”, and gossip. Others still, to an extreme degree, are just blatantly aggressive, stabbing, raping, and killing. Sure there are aspects of all of these things in the American society and all over our broken world, but it all seems very prevalent over here.
  • Come bearing gifts – This is a great one! When you invite Scots over for dinner, they ignore you when you say “you don’t need to bring anything, we've got it taken care of”.  Regardless, people would come with flowers, snacks or something! :) So now, we have to ensure that whenever we are hosted we come bearing gifts. It’s as if they couldn't possibly come empty-handed. It’s quite cute.
  • Always get a “fresh” cup – This one drives the practical side of me really crazy! Everyone here insists on getting a new cup for every different thing. A new cup for a new cup of tea (and they drink about eight cups of tea a day so this means eight new cups!), a new plate for a new snack, etc. Because we have no dishwasher, it obviously kills me even more. When I have asked them about it, while also (in my very American way) explaining that it is neither rational nor practical, they say that “it’s just what we do”. So, I better start learning how to make better use of my time while I wash dishes, because it seems I will be spending A LOT of time there. :)

So, those are some fun things. They are very interesting and it’s even more interesting talking to the Scots about these differences and asking them what they think about their culture. Now, not all of these things need to be evaluated but it does beg the question:  How do we navigate through these cultural messages? I have had to ask myself this question a lot during my time here as I struggle to evaluate what I have always deemed “normal” or “right”. And the only conclusion I can come to is to go to the gospel. I have to ask myself often, “How does the gospel apply specifically to the things this culture is communicating?”

When I think specifically about the minimisation of emotions and the mind-set that the Scot’s carry: that it’s not that bad, it’s not that big of a deal, don’t worry about me; it often brings me to the gospel. I think about the fact that God desires ALL of our heart, including all of our emotions (whether we deem them valid or not), because He wants real and deep intimacy with us. The greatest commandment is that we love God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength. How can we love God with all of our heart if we are closing parts of our heart to Him? Then there’s Jesus, who had a perfect relationship with the Father, always bringing His whole heart to him (garden of Gethsemane, on the cross, just to name a few). Because Jesus paid my debt before God, I (and all of my emotions) am completely acceptable before God. Moreover, through Jesus I am approved of, loved and delighted in. Does that mean that all of my emotions are free of sin? Unfortunately not. But God desires me to bring them to Him nonetheless. It’s there that I find healing and renewal in the gospel.

Updates and Prayers:

Praise:  For amazing healing! First, within a couple of weeks of my recent surgery I was pretty much fully recovered (they anticipated this would take closer to six weeks). This is incredible and I am certain came about through your prayers and the mighty hand of God. Thank you for praying! Also, my recent labs containing all my hormone levels (which were previously completely unbalanced) are now completely normal. In fact, all the potential syndromes assigned to me because of my symptoms and abnormal labs have now been completely discounted! The doctor said, “Based on these labs, I don’t see a case for any of those conditions at all”! Praise God. Also, we have been given a car…without cost! Who does that?! Jesus! :)

Mom:  My family is going through a really difficult time as my mom has been diagnosed with several potentially fatal illnesses. It's all quite serious and my mother will die unless there is a great move of God in power and deliverance. Please join me in praying for my mom, for her healing, for life and for deliverance.

Marriage:  There is SO much going on in our marriage, constantly. As I mentioned before, our marriage is being refined continuously and it’s just so good. We are challenged deeply as we see the perfect design God has for marriage and as we learn to deal with conflict in a gospel-centred way. Please pray for two things in regards to our marriage:
  • Roles (wife/helper suitable, husband/leader head) – Please pray that we would become even more aware of the ways in which our cultures have defined how we view our roles in marriage. Pray that we would reject the cultural views of marriage and that we would be able to see and experience God’s design for marriage. Our prayer is that our marriage and the marriages in the church would be a very real picture of Jesus’ relationship with the church to a broken culture.
  • Gospel-Centred conflict – We are realising more and more that we both have learned how to (and just naturally do) deal with conflict in weird and hurtful ways. Please pray that we would learn to communicate and deal with hurt in a godly way. We are praying that a new pattern would begin to take place in our marriage: that we would take our hurt first to Jesus, experience repentance and renewal through the gospel, and then go to each other with it. This pattern, when it’s done is so refreshing! Please pray that God would give us wisdom beyond our years in regards to marriage.

Neighbours/Co-Workers:  In December we went around to meet the neighbours in our flat and give them a little gift, yet only a few were in. Please pray for creative opportunities for more contact with our neighbours so that we can begin to build real relationships with them. Also, Ali has taken the month of February to go out for a drink every Thursday night with two guys from work. It’s been really great, as it has given him so much more opportunities to get to know them. We are now considering how to build the relationships further as we enter into March so please pray for wisdom and opportunities to go deeper with them.

Church:  We are delighted that we have begun to serve our church through the prayer ministry. This has been awesome. On Sunday mornings, after the sermon is preached, the congregation is given the opportunity to go up for prayer in response to what they've heard and that’s where we come in. We get to hear what’s going on in their hearts and pray for them. Pray for discernment and wisdom as we do this. Also, we have started our own little Bible reading group. We basically read through big chunks of the Bible midweek and then come together to share what we loved about it. We are really excited about all the people that are coming so please pray that God would give us insight and wisdom as we lead this group toward Jesus!

Again, thanks for keeping up with our lives, listening to all my ramblings and for praying for us. We really need it, so please keep praying! We love you! And, please drop us a line so that we can keep up with your lives too. Love to you all and glory to God.