BootsnAll Travel Network

Other Countries, Other Customs–Obama and TUCC

When I was studying German in high school, I learned a proverb that has passed the test of experience: “Andere Laender, Andere Sitten”–Other Countries, Other Customs.  My version wouldn’t be so much “When in Rome, do as the Romans do” as “When in Rome, don’t be surprised that the Romans aren’t Germans”.  As I’ve traveled around, I’ve found this proverb to provide useful perspective.

For example, when I was in the Peace Corps in Malaysia, I found that it was considered to “abrupt” to answer a question just “Yes” or “No”.  Appropriate answers were more like “Not Yet” or “Already”.  So, to the question “Are you married?” or “Have you converted to Islam?” the polite answer is “Not yet.”  [And both of these are considered quite appropriate questions for casual conversation–as is “How much do you make?” and others about how life in the U.S. compares with television that don’t bear repeating.]

When I’m in a different country, it’s easy for me to remember that I need to “translate” the customs in order to understand what’s going on.  The more difficult task is when I’m here in San Francisco, and realize that I’m having an interaction across a culture barrier.  Even little things like “Next Saturday“.

In thinking about the whole “controversy” regarding Barack Obama, Reverend Wright, and Trinity Church, I realized that I’ve been recognized that his experience of his church is not the same as my understanding of the various churches that I’ve attended over my life.  As part of that understanding, I’ve recognized that a soundbite isn’t going to provide the amount of context that I need to “translate” the experience for me.

On top of this, there is perhaps a lot more to the experience.  There is a really great post–in a Wall Street Journal blog of all places–by Steven Waldman talking about Barack Obama’s White Family and Black Church.   It put a much expanded context together for me.

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