I've noticed that the quickest way to pick up on a cultural difference between my home and rural Mexico is to watch carefully what gets under my skin or prickles the hairs on my neck. For example, who sets off the firecrackers at 2 AM? I just don't get why he thinks that's okay.
You know that by going to the mission field you're sure to confront differences between your home culture and the host country. However, it can still be surprising when you learn about a value you've absorbed from your culture without knowing it. I recently learned that I place a high value on consistency: the idea that people and businesses will deliver the same output day in and day out. Nowhere, perhaps, is this cultural clash more apparent for me than in restaurants. This list will help you realize the extent of this cultural gap.
1. Posted business hours are suggestions.
You can't confidently plan on eating out at a particular restaurant; so it's a good idea to have a backup plan when you head out. Exhibit A: There's a cafe on the main street I pass by every day. Painted on the front of the building, the hours read: 8 a 12 AM and 5 a 10 PM. It's accurate maybe 30% of the time. Essentially, you have no idea of knowing when it's actually open. So be sure to know where the other cafe is before planning your coffee date.
2. "We don't have that."
Another thing that can make one positively "hangry" is that after ordering the perfect, satiating meal, it's made known they don't have it today. Here's a tip: you're pretty safe if you have an ordered list of three things you'd like to eat. That way, when there are no baked potatoes, and they want to substitute deli ham for bacon on that BLT, you can still enjoy your #3 pick (if you don't mind baguette instead of ciabatta). You may even come to realize, after repeated failure, that some items on the menu just aren't ever available.
3. Was it like that last time?
My third and final hunger pain is not knowing how the food will be this time around. I can order the same things from a restaurant at lunch and then at dinner, and have two different meals. This is especially true when the cooks change mid-day or when the weekend cook is someone else. I've learned to take note of who's cooking, always. I think the best way of understanding this phenomenon is that the food here is people dependent, not system dependent.
Back home in the States, everything runs on systems. Even the small-town restaurant has systems in place to ensure consistency of food preparation, availability, and restaurant hours. I think it's because we expect and demand consistency, not only from others but from ourselves. It's something that we care about, so we make it happen.
Perhaps it's something that the people of this culture should care more about. Or perhaps they have other priorities that make my "hangerings" seem rather unimportant. All I know is that I've learned something about myself, and I'm learning to have grace for those who think differently from me.
Is there a significant cultural clash between where you're from and where you live now? How can you find ways to laugh about it and try to understand another set of values?
(Editor's Note: Follow this link for more information on serving as an intern in Mexico. During an internship you can gain valuable life experience on the mission field. This is a dynamic, practical way to determine if God is calling you to serve as a full-time missionary!)