Cultural letter #2 Pros and cons
Well, this letter has been
"brewing" for a long time.
As I mentioned in my last
cultural letter some time ago, there are pros and cons of each people
group/country. If I seem to dwell on the
pros or cons, I don't mean to. If I talk about us Americans in a negative
light, it isn't that I am looking at all of us in a negative light, either us as Americans or the people here in this Slavic culture.
So, here are some "tidbits" from my viewpoint. It is possible that others here wouldn't
agree with me but you will have to ask them.
Maybe it would be helpful if
you knew a little of my background. I
was born in FL but we lived in very rural America (Montana)
when I was quite young, for a year, then 8 years in WA state
in Tacoma, WA, and then we moved back to FL, when I was going into
9th grade. My parents always seemed to
have sufficient money but we grew up in a different era than is now in the
states. We went out to eat far less than the average family does now. As I
remember, we ate out once or twice a year unless we were on vacation, and then
we ate at McDonalds. I'd say we were quite conservative in just about every
area--my mom's maiden name was Gruetzmacher, which is
German, and my dad is Swedish. So, basically, my "roots" are from
very close to Poland. :) I never remember a time growing up without a telephone, color
photographs or a car. My dad pastored small churches,
and I have no Roman Catholicism in my background. Both of my parents came out
of mainline denominations into ind. Baptist
background through the influence of their schooling at BJU in Greenville, SC. My dad has
always emphasized to us that it is more important that we be "biblicists" than anything else, no matter what any
person/any organization says or does.
So, now you know a little bit more of my background.
I'm sure that these things do
influence my thinking.
1. Poland is very, very "tradition-minded." Sometimes it is difficult to watch people who
seem, almost as if by a chain, bound to traditions. It is sometimes reflected in the non-Catholic
church, though, of course, certainly not to the extent that it is among
dedicated Catholics. One area that it is
reflected in is the area of weddings. At
weddings here, tradition has it, that after the long
ceremony, there is to be a feast--all at the expense of the young couple. This particular tradition has been very
difficult for most of the Americans to understand. Most of these couples are
struggling to just have a place to live and set up housekeeping. To put on a
dinner/feast that costs about $20 per person in attendance seems so very
impractical to our practical, "willing-to-break-with tradition"
minds. From what I have observed, it is
possible that many of the couples themselves would be willing to forego that
expensive dinner, but the relatives/guests expect it and there is much pressure
put on them to do this. So, while among
the church right here in Anin, there have been a
couple of weddings that have defied that tradition, the pressure is
intense. I am so thankful that in America, we were allowed the freedom to serve brownies, cake,
nuts and m&m's.
Of course, the fact that they have receptions several hours long does
not help. To our minds, the idea that
the very poor couple has to come up with this much money just to feed the
guests smacks of "selfishness" (of the guests/relatives who expect
it). To them, I think, it is just "tradition."
(Side note: It could be that in years past under
communism, when food wasn't as expensive, that this "feast" didn't
cause the hardship that it does now. From what I have been told, food has
become proportionately "very expensive" for the people in relation to
their wages. So, under communism, while
food was hard to find, my guess is that the proportion of money that people had
to spend for food was less than now, where prices are rising to a more
realistic/free economy level.)
2. The Polish people and other Slavic peoples
put us Americans to shame for our wastefulness/lack of ingenuity. (This is a broad generalization, I
realize.) Some of the ideas that I read
in the "Tightwad Gazette," a newsletter geared to encourage
thriftiness and to promote ideas and good attitudes in America, have long been in place here. Many, many people here have gardens, even
those in the city, many put up food in season, share tools with
friends/relatives so that they don't all buy one, and that kind of thing. Not too long ago I was talking with a couple
of "early 20's" about the American idea if someone borrows something
over and over and over again, it is likely that the loaner will just give it to
that person, figuring that they need it worse than he does. The 2 (brother and
sister) laughed at this, saying that here people will borrow again and again,
but the owner would not say, "Just keep it."
Here it is common for people
to turn out their lights every time you walk out the room (I know, we are
supposed to!), sometimes stores don't even turn on their lights in the summer
if it is a bright and sunny day. There have been times that we were in church
and at 2 minutes after 10 someone finally goes and flips the lights on. (Mike
said in the Ukraine drivers go around without their lights on even when
it is necessary as apparently they don't have a law like we do here in Poland that they have to use them during the day in the
winter.) Whereas we Americans tend to have a "look down our nose on
leftovers" idea, often the people here will eat the exact same thing that
they served for dinner, for the evening smaller meal, and even the next
morning, for breakfast.
3. As I look at the food groups chart on the
side of the box of cereal, I wonder what the truly poor think about it (of
course, the truly poor would be reading it on the store shelf, not on their
kitchen table.). It does look as if it were written and designed by a wealthy
people like the Americans. Some people
can't afford all those fruits and vegies and meat
that are listed. Sometimes people can
only buy bread and white cheese, like a drained cottage cheese, and maybe some
lard. For some people, fruit is a once-in-a-while luxury, not a daily
4. Another observation about
food...I was once in a conference where a lady speaker was talking about menu
planning. She said something about
making up 30 different menus for the month... The ladies, who were Russian,
just burst out in laughter, albeit kind of quietly, though. It was obvious that the idea of 30 different
main dishes was quite funny to them. To
myself, I said, "Well there's an Americanism coming out that I never
thought about before." The truth is, many of them eat the same 3 or 4 things as their basic
food--macaroni, potatoes, and barley. If
there is money, they will add some meat.
Here in Poland, they have a bit more money, on average, than people in Belarus and Ukraine, and as a result, their diet is more varied, but
their backgrounds are similar and they eat similarly (according to a Polish
friend of mine who now lives in Latvia, married to a Russian).
5. People here are slow to accept
change. The younger generation is of
course, happier to try new things.
Because of tv, radio
and now, the internet, the world is growing closer. America has more influence on the world, in a general way,
than I think any of the average American realizes. A new mall opened up a while back, with a
nice big supermarket and lots of other stores. (There is a Food Court with 4 American restaurant chains in it.) In America, it would have been mobbed with shoppers on the first
day, even if just to look. Here, it will take this mall a while to "be
accepted" and finally, shoppers will get used to going there (this is an
observation from a Pole) and it will be as crowded as all the other
malls/shopping centers. In the meantime,
we enjoy going there. Maybe by the time it is so crowded you can barely walk
through on a Friday or Saturday, there will be another mall built. In the most
successful malls here, the anchor stores are large supermarkets, not stores
like Penneys or Belks. It
is like a Walmart hypermarket or a huge Fred Meyer
(for those out west) or Meier (for those from IN).
6. Sometimes it is difficult to remember, that
even though everyone looks about the same as I do, they do not think the
same. There are plenty of people out in
the streets of Poland remembering the "good ole days" when things were cheap, even
if not available. You and I tend to
think that they are all rejoicing in their freedom. I don't believe that this is true. Many in
the older generation have little or no opportunities and no skills for the
current marketplace. The advertisments in the newspaper are sometimes openly
"discriminating" sometimes even saying that they want a "young,
attractive woman between the ages of 18 and 30" or something like that
(for a legitimate job.). Many, many time
the ads give the ages of someone that they want to hire. For an American reading it, we think,
"Discrimination!" However, for
the employers here, it is what they want.
7. Since the time that we have
been small, we have been taught to not discriminate/be prejudiced. Many of the Poles are very prejudiced,
especially against the Russians and against Jews. Due to their history, this is only natural;
however, for us Americans, it is difficult to hear it and think that noone is protesting.
However, what I must remember is, that I have come from a Protestant,
free economy culture with the idea that each of us is to be judged on his/her
own merits (at least that is the goal).
Here, a Russian has to just open his/her mouth and he/she is looked down
on (this is not true among the Christians.).
I know that we as missionaries are supposed to begin to think/act like
the nationals in the culture where we live, :) but so far, it has been
impossible for me to think of the Russians as "lower" than anyone
else. To me, the Russians (as a group) are a musically talented and a
remarkably resilient, "determined to survive" people. .
I think that's enough for this
time. I hope I've not worn you out. I've
shared a little bit more than simple observations by also giving you some
possible prayer requests/insights into us personally. Each of us has something to learn/something
to give. Continue to pray for us. I love your emails to me/us and we do
appreciate you all so much!