Culture Absorption

So this is the process of adopting a culture not your own. So my culture is German-American. We went to a church that had services in German, and I learned a lot of Christmas songs in German as a child. We bake these terrible little cookies that taste like licorice because that is tradition. My family cooks traditionally German dishes fairly often. My mom speaks German. I have German features. In fact, to my amusement, several people have guessed that I am German not American until they hear me speak. I think it’s my soft mannerisms and German features, or I don’t know, but it amuses me since both sides of my family are German. I also have a small town American culture. I have mid-western manners. I love watching my dad coach high school football games. I grew up around sports, and trucks and the idea that good ole hard work pays off. You know all the things you pick up from rural Indiana. And then I have adopted a few things from different cultures I’ve been around.


I picked up a few words from Haitan Creole, Spanish, Patios, Creolese and Burmese. I have headbands and clothes from different places. I have an all-straw outfit made for me in Guyana, a traditional Indian outfit from my host family in Guyana and a Karen shirt from my friends at Exodus. You get little pieces from the people you’re around and that’s a good thing. I’ve learned from people who grew up differently than I did. Understanding even small pieces of different countries starts to build understanding and multi-cultural friendships. And this goes beyond travelling abroad. I’ve traveled the states a bit and the more people you run into the more you know. I have never lived in a city of more than 10,000 for more than 3 months—so I learn a lot from people who grew up in cities. I learn a lot from people with different culture than me. I am very happy to have had the privilege to acquire pieces of other cultures.


And while there is immeasurable value to cross-cultural experience, there exist many pitfalls. For example when you are learning to speak Spanish and you go to a busy Mexican restaurant and try to order in your 7th grade Spanish and the waiter clearly speak English, it’s a little offensive—okay maybe a lot offensive or at the very least it’s pretty annoying. On the other hand if you have a Spanish speaking friend and you practice your Spanish with that person, even if it’s terrible at first, that’s admirable. The same thing with Jamaican Patois—at school when people speak English to me, it would be nearly mocking to speak Patios back, but then telling stories and jokes with my neighbors and friends we all laugh and laugh. Miss Bobs told me and Lindy that it’s cute when we speak Patois. It’s very difficult to be funny in formal English in countries where Creolese or Patois are spoken. Learning even if the accent never comes shows that you want to be local, and are actively seeking a way to blend in. And in some cases small children do not communicate well in formal English, so by speaking the local dialect you are able to communicate. So the point is that there is a time and place to go local and a time and place to use your own language and stick to your upbringing.


The same thing with dress and appearance—you can wear cultural items in a respectful way. For example I have that outfit made for me for Arawak heritage celebration in Santa Mission. I wore it on heritage celebration day. I won’t wear it in any other Arawak village. I won’t wear it as a costume to a Halloween party. I will only wear it in the capacity for which it was made for me. Otherwise you take something inclusive and special and make spectacle out of it. Likewise I had friends in Afro-Guyanese places who had African wear like head scarves and bandana dresses (as they are called in Jamaica). They wore them to cultural events at school to show that you can show Guyanese culture no matter your skin color. That being Guyanese means you get all 6 people groups of culture. But to wear those clothes out of context could lead to cultural misappropriations. In Jamaica you will get mixed feelings about white dreadlocks. Some people wear locks for style, and some for religious/spiritual reasons. For me, even though I think locks are freaking sweet, I wouldn’t get them because at times it sends the wrong message: as a white person, we get to take on and off different cultures to suite our mood, but we lock out people of color from enjoying the same transience. And unlike clothing, language and so on, you can’ take on and off dreads. Once you have them, you have them for a long while.

So all of this is to say: Enjoy the cross-cultural interactions. Soak up all that there is to learn. Celebrate each other’s cultural contributions and differences. Ask your questions, dance the dances, eat the foods, drink the drinks, pray the prayers, seek out all that is good, but be mindful about the context in which you emulate all you have learned.


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