Lately I’ve been seeing a meme floating around social media, mostly from millennials or people like me, already past their late 30’s lol. It says something along the lines of “in my days there was so much toilet paper and eggs we used them to decorate houses”. I laughed. I know the current egg shortage and skyrocketing prices in the US are a big problem, but I chuckled. Mexicans are good at that, finding humor in serious situations to help cope with what’s in front of them. But I digress. One day as I came across the meme yet again it occurred to me that cross-cultural living is a bit like that meme. Kids today don’t have those same memories or associations. They’ve been growing up in a different world lately, watching their parents worry about finding toilet paper, eggs, medicine, formula, etc. Only time will tell of the impact that will have on their childhood nostalgic memories just as each generation has had their own difficulties. But it made me realize how often I have had similar thoughts while living cross-culturally.
“In my day (Where I come from)” …
We often put up a kiddie pool to swim in as kids. We walked around barefoot or in socks inside or outside. We had almost 3-month long summer breaks. In my day, we sang Christmas carols in church all December, teenagers learned to drive at 16 or before. In my day you needed to close the car door with some force, or it wouldn’t shut right. For some these things may seem normal and for others you have no idea what I’m talking about. (Slamming a car door in Mexico is seen as very rude). There are many cultures within the US, I know, and I know my learning curve in moving to Mexico wasn’t nearly as steep as many missionaries’ encounter, but there’s still a few that made me nostalgic, like the meme of the toilet paper and eggs is doing for many today. Other things took me awhile to even realize the cultural difference.
One hit home during this last year. We live in northern Mexico. It’s hot. We can hit 90 degrees in February and still see those temperatures in December. Every May I joke with my husband that I want to move to Alaska because for me May is the worst month as daily highs of 100 degrees become normal. Thankfully by July we’re usually used to it and too busy with summer groups to think about it. But often sometime in March I’ll fill up a little kiddie pool for the girls to cool off, splash, spray each other till their hearts content. When they were younger, around 2 or 3 years old, they’d often “help” me wash dishes. Which usually meant we’d have a mini pool on the floor of the kitchen by the time we were done, but I don’t regret those moments. (They still help sometimes but thankfully the pool is less.) However, this last year the normally dry, desert area we live in suffered from even less rain fall than normal. There was serious drought in the whole region. The government restricted or completely turned off water for hours every day or for days at a time in some areas. We all had to think about water usage and conservation more than ever before. Not that I didn’t consider that important before, but I grew up on a farm, with a well, in an area with decent rainfall. In the summer if it didn’t rain for a few days the farmers would start irrigating the crops. It was vital, but we didn’t often worry about having water for the house. I remember some dry summers as a child but there was always water. By the time they were restricting water here last year it probably hadn’t rained for weeks or months. Suddenly what I considered a rite of childhood passage for my girls, a fun afternoon activity of playing in the kiddie pool or even giving their dolls a bath in the sink became something we needed to restrict.
I hate wearing shoes inside and I used to walk around barefoot outside also. And we have a rule at the TIME Center that says you need to wear shoes outside for safety, but our girls and I were often guilty of breaking it when we lived there. But in Mexico, you wear shoes. All the time. At the end of our wedding reception in Monterrey I was tired, and my feet hurt from wearing heels all day, so I took them off while we cleaned up. More than one of my now Tia’s (aunts) scolded me that I was going to get sick because I took my shoes off. One year we went to the southern state of Veracruz for Christmas. We left 40-degree weather and arrived to 70-degree weather. It was beautiful. Our 3-year-old was thrilled to be barefoot in her favorite sleeveless rainbow dress that it had been too cold to wear for weeks, and I put a onesie on our 10-month-old and let her crawl all over. Then their 2 and ½ year old cousin came over dressed in a long sleeve dress, fleece tights, shoes, and maybe even a hat because 70 degrees with a breeze is cold there.
She asks, “Why doesn’t the baby have shoes on?”
“She doesn’t walk yet.” I answer her.
In walks our 3-year-old, also barefoot and their cousin asks, “Why doesn’t she have shoes on?”
I had no answer.
At the next big family gathering I’m pretty sure I bargained with our three-year-old to put her shoes on just so I won’t be asked about it anymore.
This is a story I tell often about cultural differences. I still don’t mind my girls walking around barefoot, I don’t believe it will make them sick. But through different conversations with my husband, I did realize a few major differences. I grew up walking barefoot or in our socks all over our carpeted house. You could be in your socks all day and they’d still be white at the end of the day. But now we live in a desert area. There is no carpet, and it doesn’t take long for the girls’ socks to be filthy on the bottom even inside and even though we clean. My girls walk barefoot at the farm with their cousins when we visit, walking barefoot in grass is an experience I’m glad they can have but in Pennsylvania they don’t have to worry about getting stung by a scorpion or centipede. So here, we put the boots on.
Maybe these are silly things or obvious things but sometimes there are things they don’t necessarily teach you in a cultural adaptation class, like not to slam the car door. There are things that feel harmless to me that I want to pass on to my girls, because the “in my day” … nostalgic feeling creeps into my brain. And I am thankful for the many things I have been able to share and experience with them from my home culture. But life, particularly the life of a Christ follower, cross cultural or not, requires learning and adapting. It might mean letting go of nostalgia and the “in my days” or “where I come from” thoughts. Just like the realization that if you have extra toilet paper or eggs today you should be sharing it and not by decorating your neighbor’s house. In the Bible Paul addresses this idea in his first letter to the Corinthians. “For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. … To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.” 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 ESV
Perhaps I got very philosophical over a simple meme. But there is a lot we can learn from changes and differences happening around us. Sometimes it’s up to us to learn and adapt so more people know God and advance missions.