Great Global Gaff

By September 26th, 2013

Family & Friends,

“Culture shock” is hard to navigate. I’m reading about culture to prepare for a new one. I just read an excellent book by Sarah Lanier called “Foreign to Familiar”. I have an example to add to her book.

I spoke at a large Filipino church back in 1989. One of the pastors invited his Roman Catholic mother to come hear the American speaker. She entered the door of an evangelical church for the first time. They had me over for dinner. I loved the meal and probably ate too much. After cleaning my plate a second time, she asked if I wanted more. I said, “It was delicious, but no thanks, I’m full.” Her face dropped. The room went silent. My pastor friend whispered, “This is a very tense moment, don’t say anything.” I had made a great global gaff, but couldn’t guess what. We survived the dinner and I learned later my mistake. In the Philippines if you are full, you always leave some food on your plate. It says, “I enjoyed the meal, but I’m too full to eat more.” If you clean your plate, but don’t ask for more, it means, “I’m still hungry, but the food is so bad that I don’t want any more.”

My perfect mother was wrong! She always made us clean our plates. She would chide us saying, “There are millions of kids starving in China (Philippines, etc.), and you are wasting food! Be thankful and clean your plate.” If I had only known this piece of culture, I could have answered my mother, “There are millions of mothers in the Philippines who would be offended if I cleaned my plate.”

G

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