I am a flatlander, a native of Saskatchewan. The nickname refers to the flatness of our landscape, but there are other aspects of our character where the term applies too. I like people to just say what they have to say, with no long descriptive or flowery preambles. Sir or Ma’am sound artificial and phony to me. If anyone tries to tell me something in a round about way, only hinting at the message they want to get across, I’m not going to get the message. I don’t have the code book, it’s not part of my genetic or cultural heritage. Most likely, I won’t even catch on that they are hinting at something.
Now, our landscape is not completely flat and barren. I grew up, and now live once again, in the part of Saskatchewan that is called short grass prairie. The grass never grows very high, neither do the trees. But there is a lot going on that doesn’t meet the eye of someone speeding through on the freeway. An abundance of wildflowers grow on the seemingly barren prairies, though mostly close to the ground. There is abundant wildlife too, and I don’t just mean the mosquitoes.
In like manner, we may not appear to have very polished manners, but we are considerate and try to take care of one other. Like the the time I was riding a city bus in Moose Jaw and the driver saw in his mirror that someone had come to the bus stop just after he had passed it. He stopped the bus, backed up and let the man on. They then traded friendly insults and the man sat down and began to visit with the driver. You see, it just wouldn’t do to make a man feel that you had gone out of your way to help him, even though that is exactly what you did.
How does it work then when a flatlander moves to a place where the culture is altogether different? Well, we can adjust, but there are so many little things that are so different that it may take a long time. The first step is learning that other people’s minds are not wired like mine. What seems normal to them and what seems normal to me, are so different that it takes quite a while to even catch on that I’m giving people an altogether different impression than what I thought.
While in Scott’s Parable Christian Store on Tuesday I found a book that I wish I could have read more than twenty years ago, before we moved to Québec. Unfortunately, it wasn’t even written then.
The book is Foreign to Familiar by Sarah A Lanier and it is a primer in understanding the differences between cultures. It does not give an in-depth look at all the different cultures, just enough information that one will know that there are differences and be alert to the possibility that one is not picking up, or sending, the right signals. It would be good to have that much understanding in advance, so that one does not blunder on, assuming that the other person is the problem.
Ms. Lanier differentiates between cold-climate cultures and hot-climate cultures. Evidently I belong to a cold-climate culture. She also speaks of high-context and low-context cultures. High context cultures are those with an abundance of unspoken rules governing behaviour. I don’t think that’s me. I would highly recommend this book for anyone planning a mission term, also for those thinking of any kind of outreach to immigrants in our local communities.
Once again, the book is Foreign to Familiar, the author is Sarah A. Lanier, and it is published bu McDougal Publishing of Hagerstown, Maryland. The ISBN is 1-58158-022-3. It’s not a big book, not very expensive, a quick read. But it will probably need to be read more than once. It could be life-changing.