Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

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Foreign to Familiar

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The Delta flight was leaving on time. Three of us were strapped in, one next to the other, each finding it easy to make small talk. As the plane lifted off, so did our burdens of office work. We were off to Glorietta, New Mexico, for a week-long conference, and our minds were filled with thoughts of mountains and crisp air and a break from the Atlanta downtown routine.

“So, Sarah,” my aisle-seat colleague said in that chatty manner of a tourist on vacation, “tell me what it was like growing up in Israel.”

Of all conversation openers, this was my least favourite. I’d been hearing it ever since moving to the States to begin my university studies. But, being in the middle seat, I couldn’t escape.

My desire was to respond, “No, you first. Tell me what it was like growing up in a ranch-style house in suburbia.” What was there to say? And who cares anyway?

But I did answer . . . well, sort of. “It was great,” was the extent of my glib answer.

“No, I mean it, really,” she insisted. “What is the culture like over there?”

By the window sat Aida from Lebanon. She’d been in the States eight years and was much more of an expert on Middle Eastern culture than I was. But at the moment Aida seemed to be fascinated by the window. So I took up the challenge.

“Well, I grew up in a variety of cultures. The Jewish and Arab cultures are vastly different.”

“How so?” she asked.

“In the Jewish culture you say what you think. It’s direct, and you know where you stand with people.”

I glanced at her to see if she was still with me. She was, so I continued.

“The Arab culture, on the other hand, is much more indirect. It’s all about friendliness and politeness. If offered a cup of coffee, I say ‘No, thank you.’

“The host offers it again, and I decline again, with something like: ‘No, no, don’t bother yourself.’ He might offer a third time, and I’d reply, ‘No, I really don’t want any coffee, believe me.’

“Then my host serves the coffee, and I drink it.”

“You’ve got to be kidding,” she said, incredulously.

“No, really,” I assured her. “You’re supposed to refuse the first few times. It’s the polite thing to do.”

“Then what if you really don’t want the coffee?” she asked.

“Well, there are idioms that you can use to say that you wouldn’t for any reason refuse their kind hospitality, and at some point in the future you’ll gladly join them in coffee, but at the moment you really can’t drink it.”

Now Aida got into the conversation. “Incredible! I didn’t know that!” she said, as our heads turned her way.

“Aida,” I replied, “what do you mean that you didn’t know that? You’re Lebanese, for heaven’s sake.”

“Yes,” she said, “but I mean that I didn’t know this was not normal. I’ve been in the United States eight years already, and did not know it was done differently here. That explains so much.

“I’ve been lonely since moving here, and now I know why. When people in the office would ask me if I wanted to go to lunch, I would say ‘no’ to be polite, fully expecting them to ask me again. When they didn’t and left without me, I thought they didn’t want me along and had asked only out of politeness. In my culture, it would have been too forward to say ‘yes’ the first time.

“For this reason, I’ve had few American friends. After all these years, now I know why.”

I sat there stunned. Pondering the sadness of her story, I said to myself, “No one should have to suffer like that simply because they don’t understand the culture of another.”

For the Aidas around the world, I have written this book.

Sarah A Lanier


This is the preface to Foreign to Familiar, which I referred to in a previous post. © 2000 by Sarah A Lanier. Used with permission.

The English book is published by McDougal Publishing of Hagerstown, Maryland. ISBN 1-58158-022-3

Editions in Arabic, French, German, Korean, Norwegian, Russian and Spanish are available from the writer at the following address:

Sarah A Lanier
P.O. Box 874Clarkesville GA  30523
USA

A tale of two nations

How Children Have Taken Power is the title of a book recently published by Swedish psychiatrist David Eberhard. I am going by a story in a French language newspaper so the title is my English translation of the French translation of the Swedish title of the book.  An English edition will be out later this year.

Sweden is the supposed earthly paradise for families: parents get lengthy maternity & paternity leaves, day care is available for all children, social benefits are such that Sweden has one of the highest bithrates in Europe. But they have extended their social democratic principles to the point of thinking of the family as a democracy, with children having equal rights with the parents. In effect, this gives them greater rights than the parents. Punishment is unheard of. One father sent his son to his room for twenty minutes – he was taken to court.

The result is a nation of rude, demanding and insolent children. The children decide what the family will eat for supper, where they will go on vacation, when they will go to bed, what they will wear.

Meanwhile, Pamela Druckerman reports that in France the children are respectful, well-behaved and eat whatever is set before them. Pamela Druckerman is an American, living in Paris with her English husband and their three children. Her latest book, Bébé Day by Day*, summarizes in 100 short notes the basic rules of the French parenting method. The French believe the best way to give children the resilience to cope with life is to teach them from the very first to acknowledge the existence of others and the needs of others.

French parents talk to their babies right from the first and explain things to them. When guests come into the home, they will greet the children, even the very young, and those who are old enough to talk are expected to say “bonjour” to the guests. When the guests leave, the children say “au revoir.” While the parents are visiting the children are expected to play by themselves and not interrupt, but both guests and children need to acknowledge each others existence whaen arriving and when leaving.

French mothers have complete control of the menu, the children are exposed to a wide variety of foods and are expected to taste everything on their plates. There is no pressure to clean off their plates. French mothers know a cild may need to try a new food a dozen or more times until they learn to enjoy it. So this new food will turn up on their plates every so often and they will eventually eat it all. Snack time is in mid-afternoon. No sweets are eaten at any other time. This is the French way and children do not beg and whine, because they know it will do no good.

French parents have no intention of raising an “enfant roi,” a child king. Children are cherished and respected, and they are taught to respect others. French parents say emphatically “c’est moi qui décide,” I am the one who decides. It is expected in France that parents will often have to say no to their children. Life is like that.

In Sweden, 54.9% of marriages end in divorce, the highest rate in the world. In France 38.3% of marriges end in divorce. Do you suppose it is easier for parents to live in harmony when theyare living in harmony with their children? Pamela Druckerman notes that French presidents have developed a reputation for cheating on their wives, but there is not much of this among ordinary french people.

Pamela Druckerman’s book is a book for adults, there is no off-colour langage or graphic details but she does speak frankly about the relationship between husband and wife. It is a small book; good parenting is not complicated. I think North American parents knew a lot more about parenting a few generations back, but we have lost it in all the conflicting psychological advice. This book might help some parents find their way out of the fog.

*Bébé Day by Day, © Pamela Druckerman, 2013. Published by The Penguin Press.

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