Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Cultural Schizophrenia

I used to be anti-American.  A lot of Third-Culture Kids are.  In my twelve-year-old mind, everything about America was shallow, boring, and brutish, while everything about Liberia was beautiful, interesting, and perfect.

Such are the black-and-white perspectives of youth.

I have grown up since then, and now I have spent half my life in America and the other half in Africa.  I am not anti-American anymore.

I know it might seem that way sometimes.  When I wrote the post about the lack of people willing to jump my car, I know it might have seemed that I was idealizing Tanzania.

I was frustrated that day.  And though every single thing I wrote was the truth, I did know, in the back of my mind, that it wasn't everything that could have been said.

Because the truth is, that even though I would much rather have my car break down in Tanzania, I would never
never
never
want to be in a serious accident in Tanzania.  It is, in fact, one of my biggest worries about living there.

I helped with New Teacher Orientation at HOPAC.  Many times, I have told new, idealistic, bright-eyed teachers that if they ever hit a person with their car, even if it was 100% the fault of the pedestrian, to go against their strongest instinct and
never
never
never
stop and help the person.  Instead, they should drive directly to the nearest police station and report it.

Because stopping to help automatically insinuates guilt.
And in situations like this, mob justice takes over more often than not.  Drivers are beat up.  Or killed.  We have seen it happen.

The truth is, that even though Tanzanians are always happy to help with a dead battery or flat tire, if there is a serious accident, they are more likely to rob me than help me.

So which culture do I like better?  Which culture is better?  Is it even a valid question?


Tanzanians are some of the most generous people I have ever met.  Once, we were at a pastor's house after church.  He bought sodas for Gil and I while his children looked on.  We found out the next day that he had no money to feed his children.  Instead, he had bought sodas for people who already had a whole case of them in their kitchen.

In America, charitable giving makes up only 2% of the GDP.

However, Americans are incredibly ambitious and optimistic.  They have a great spirit of entrepreneurship and innovation.

Africans often have a fatalistic attitude.  We are poor; we will always be poor.  That, plus the expectation of extreme generosity within their communities, means that they have a very difficult time getting out of poverty. (If someone ever has money, he is expected to share it with anyone who needs it, which means that no one ever gets ahead.)

Africans are extremely resourceful with what they do have.  For example, I have never seen so many things created out of old tires.



Americans produce a quarter of the world's trash (while only making up 5% of the world's population).

Americans value integrity, accountability, and honesty.  Africans do not.  Corruption is rampant; I cannot tell you how many times we have been asked for bribes--by policemen, by customs officials, by whoever.  [I have never knowingly paid a bribe, not even when I had to spend a whole day driving to three police stations so that I could pay a traffic ticket legally....and the policemen laughed at me for trying so hard.]

Tanzanians prioritize people over schedules, which means they have strong relationships but are often late to events.

Americans prioritize schedules over people, which means they are usually more productive.

Tanzanians value politeness and respect for the elderly.  Americans value efficiency and customer service.



Tanzanians are community-oriented.  Americans are isolated.

In Tanzania, we worry about being robbed by a gang invasion.  In America, we worry about our children being shot at school.

Americans value comfort and convenience and will fight hard to get it.  Tanzanians value peace and will put up with a lot of discomfort to maintain it.

I could go on.

Neither is better.  Neither is worse.  Both have something to learn from each other.

But it makes sense, doesn't it?

Since all mankind is created in the image of God, then we reflect His image when our cultures reflect great good and great beauty.  Just in different ways.

But we are also all desperately fallen, which is why all cultures also contain great evil.  Just in different ways.

Which is why we all need Jesus.



 P.S.  Please keep in mind that I am most certainly speaking in generalities.  Not everyone in either culture fits these descriptions.


Post a Comment