This morning, I began with teaching my church planting course some rather Western perspectives and strategies on life management which I don’t practice and which I’m not sure totally transfer to this culture. But I hit my stride the next hour in my missions class, because we were talking about one of my favorite subjects–cultural diversity. I was just trying to broaden the students’ horizons to see a little more of how different we all really are. For comparison, I was using Gailyn Van Rheenen’s descriptions of the Kipsigis of Kenya, the students’ descriptions of Filipino culture and my descriptions of American life.
We talked first about nonverbal aspects like gestures. In Africa, it’s common for men to hold hands with men, and for women to hold hands with women. When I intimated that the same kind of thing takes place here, I got winces or looks of puzzlement. So, I amended my statement to say that women hold hands here and men walk around with their arms around each other. In the US, those kinds of actions are generally an indicator of homosexuality. When I shared this, the students seemed genuinely surprised.
In the same area, we talked about how to motion someone to come to you. Our textbook gave an example from Thailand, where an American student gestured a two-year-old to come to her by curling her index finger upwards. For this insulting gesture, she got a punch in the arm. That’s how you call an animal, not a person. I tried to explain the other day that this was the way Americans usually beckon someone but the students all seemed rather blase about it. Today, when I mentioned that it was offensive in Thai culture, the students volunteered that it is also offensive in Filipino culture. I had read this, but it was the first time someone here had actually verified that to me. I explained to them that their way of gesturing (palms down, bringing the fingers to touch the palms) would actually confuse an American. For example, traffic policemen here will often raise their hand in a symbol that looks to me like “Stop!” and then sweep it down to their side to tell me to proceed. This is repeated, appearing to me as, “Stop! Go! Stop! Go! Stop! . . . “