The seventh principle we use over here is a concept that sounds easy but is a real challenge – we require a cross-cultural partnership. So what’s the catch? Well, it’s just darned hard to do!
It sounds easy – taking the best of both cultures and stitching them together for something greater.
The hard part is actually not doing it. The hard part is preparing both cultures for it as the clashes, and emotional traumas and conflicts and tensions are worked out. Cultural niceties are not easy things to budge. They are ingrained. They are ubiquitous. They FEEL like a deep challenge and we get defensive when they are threatening our identity. They are also largely invisible to the holder, unless of course we have been challenged cross-culturally before.
Teaching and sharing a cultural sensitivity to both parties in a cross-cultural exchange is hard. VERY hard. But there’s a secret, and it comes right from the bible.
[Pic: Smiling Samoan teenager with baby. One of my favourite shots. Samoans carry their babies ALL the time, passing them around and often cradle them even when they are sleeping. Palagi stick ’em in a bed! Many times I will walk down the street and see a mother (or father) with a baby or child asleep on their shoulders. I think, one of the nice things about the Samoan culture!]
I remember an experience that I think I read on a blog somewhere where a visitor to South Africa found that the supposedly poor people living in their natural African shacks, serviced their visiting tour-bus passengers with knick-nacks, shows and tours, then actually waited until all their rich tourists had been and gone, hopped on up and into their cars (hidden up the hill somewhere) and then drove home to their nice homes elsewhere.
This cross-cultural tourism “business” was a fraud, but it did service a market. To be perfectly honest, I, like most of us here in Paradise scratching around for a buck or two, would quite like to make a mint too from rich visiting Americans on a cruise ship too – if I could. But the real cross-cultural engagement I am talking about is not like that. It is much deeper and gets “messy” as imperfect people rub themselves against each other and tension develops.
An example of this cross-cultural tension can be as simple as trying to eat my Keke-pua, a bun with meat inside. They call it a PORK CAKE (keke = a cake; pua=pig). So it’s actually not pork and it’s not a cake. It’s a lamb bun but so what? That’s Samoa – where near enough is close enough! We’d just bought our keke-pua and I was walking along the street and about to much into a beautifully nice hot tasty bun when my mate shouted at me “No! You can’t!”
“But why not for goodness sake? Are they bad or something?”
“No, no! It’s rude to eat at the same time as you are walking!” came the explanation. “We have to sit down to eat”.
“OMG,” I thought, “You guys are pretty much standing still when you are walking anyway. What’s the big deal about ambling along the waterfront munching on a bun for goodness sake?”
But this was a serious matter to my Samoan mate. Rules rules rules. It’s the culture.
Same thing about standing while talking. You can’t stand while you talk to someone, ESPECIALLY if they are sitting down. It’s rude if you do, and they’ll tell you are being rude too. Walk into an office and they’ll force you to take a seat, not invite you to take a seat.
Right, so which Palagi wants to learn and obey 4,359 Samoan rules and make sure they comply with them all, so as not to cause offence? You can’t. I’ve watched a few young ones try to learn it all and bend over backwards to “Do as Romans do”, but the reality is that to engage with a culture, to understand a culture, does not require that we submit to it.
It works the same in reverse. If a Palagi expects a Samoan to sit in a table and chair in a Palagi house when there is an open fale out the back, they’re being unreasonable. Let the Samoan go and sit on the floor and sleep on a mat on the concrete.
The balancing act; the partnership; the cross-cultural partnership requires us first to accept who we are and then to embrace some aspects of the other culture. It does not require us to BECOME the other culture.
This is a really hard thing to do because many in the West do not know that we have a culture, and are unable to define it. This leads to the temptation to become like our South Pacific partners in order to establish our own identity, rather than understanding and embracing our own culture THEN engaging with another. It took me a good few months or so to understand who I was culturally when I came to Samoa before I could protect my identity from the pressure to conform to a foreign culture that, to be honest again, some parts of it I just do not like!
I’ve enjoyed reading a recent Peace Corp arrival’s blog in which author Nancy Magsig shows the benefit of age. She knows who she is, and can engage more equally with the challenging environment around her. This contrasts with the younger Peace Corp volunteers who struggle to deal with cultural challenges, often because they have no idea of the impact on them of their own culture.
I like to think that we take the best of both worlds and mix them together to achieve a healthy mix. Taro tastes great to the Palagi palate, but only as long as it is chopped up into thin slices and smothered in coconut cream. Actually ANYthing tastes nice when smothered in coconut cream! Sometimes it is not a problem in the wide world to sleep in the open with the gentle breeze wafting into our “bedrooms” BUT we need a mosquito net without holes and one that works to keep the little fellas OUT, not to CATCH them!
So now to the secret. I’ve found that the simple rule to dealing with cultural conflict, and getting agreement is to exercise humilty. The Samoan’s call it “coming down”, getting off your high horse, sort of thing. If it is not the end of the world, then just let it go and get on with life.
Some of the rules that we established for our Village Stay hosts are that they must have a flushing toilet and private shower with piped water overhead. While a Samoan may be happy to bathe in the open in a lavalava, with a bowl scooping water from a bucket of water, sorry, a Palagi is generally not! But unless there’s a physical reason why not, there’s no real issue for a Palagi to sit on a mat and eat with their fingers for say one or two meals.
We require that there be no man-made rubbish lying around in sight. Many Samoan families will spend hours keeping the grass cut short and pick off the grass clippings and leaves, yet throw out cans or plastic bags from their back doorstep. A Palagi eye can spot a bottle-top at a hundred paces if they expect to be coming to a pristine Paradise. Throwing rubbish out of a car or bus window is culturally insensitive to a Palagi. Respecting this is a little way that a Samoan host can engage meaningfully with another culture.
It’s not easy when you get into values and the deeper things in life, but the principle remains – enter into a partnership, neither contributor to the partnership “ruling” the other, but humbling ourselves we work together for the combined good of all.
- Barter – exchange – collaborative commerce – whatever you want to call it, the principle we are working with is that of exchanging and sharing the assets of two parties, for the benefit of both.
- It’s not about money. It’s about people; sharing a vision and building relationships.
- Use what we have in our hands (exercising faith), as instructed to do (obedience).
- We wish to use only the best available to us.
- Our Take Nothing Home policy means that we eliminate excessive personal gain.
- It is more blessed to give than to receive
- We encourage a Cross-Cultural Partnership, blending the best of two cultures
The Fourteen Principles:
- 1. What’s yours is mine
- 2. Vision > relationships > money
- 3. Use what you have
- 4. Use only the Best
- 5. Take Nothing Home
- 6. Giver’s Gain
- 7. Cross Cultural Partnership
- 8. Financial Equivalence
- 9. Everyone loves a winner
- 10. A biblical value-base
- 11. Work Smarter, Not Harder
- 12. We should empower others
- 13. Do The Right Thing
- 14. Walk the land