Sometimes you just have to smile. Sometimes you have to eat very strange foods and pretend to love them. You may need to do normal tasks in very different ways than you are used to. You might even need to wear “weird” clothes just to fit in. The adjustments culturally are too many to count! This is not really a post on culture shock. It is a funny example of the crazy the unexpected ed things that no lesson on culture shock or adaptation could have ever prepared me for.
A few months after moving to North Africa I was invited to a friend’s birthday party. She had eaten brownies and some other sweets at our house. She asked me to bring some type of dessert to share with her 50 guests. I was happy to help. I made some pretty basic brownies and then spent hours making two picture perfect apple pies. It was the first time I had ever made an apple pie. I was 23 and I didn’t have much cooking experience. These pies had the criss-cross top and everything. Our family devoured one of the pies and I was pretty proud of myself. That feeling didn’t last long.
I arrived at my friend’s party to find I was one of the last ones to arrive. The room was packed out with women in beautiful kaftans. I had worn another type of traditional dress but definitely not the right outfit for a party. Oops. Oh well, at least I was close. My friend took the desserts from my hands and placed them in the middle of a huge table with all sorts of other cookies, cakes, tarts, and candies. I sat down quickly and tried to find a kind person who would be patient with my awful Arabic or maybe even someone who spoke English or Spanish. I was sitting trying to communicate with a teenage girl when they started serving the sweets. I noticed the lady serving was adding one of my brownies and a small piece of the pie to each plate. There was another lady beginning to pass out the full plates to all the ladies sitting around the perimeter of the room.
Suddenly a loud shriek came from one of the first ladies who received a plate. She jumped up and grabbed a cloth napkin and literally started wiping her tongue. She was making awful gagging noises. She started screaming, “It is too sweet!!, it’s too sweet!!” and “Surely there is alcohol in it!!” (Alcohol is common in desserts in Europe but here and in other Muslim countries alcohol is forbidden.) Of course there was NO alcohol and I hadn’t miscalculated the sugar.
A concerned lady from across the room yelled to ask her which dessert she was talking about. The expressive lady pointed straight at the apple pie. Then of course the next question, “Who brought it?” This question however, was not necessary. The apple pie and brownies where the only non traditional sweets on the table…and I was the only foreigner. The antagonistic lady pointed at me and confirmed the obvious. I was horrified. I wanted desperately to crawl under the table and pull the table cloth down low to shut out the whole situation.
Hiding was not going to work. Oh, to be 5 again! Instead I responded in racking my brain for the words in Arabic to assure the women there was NO alcohol and apologize for the “awful” pie. I tried to enjoy the rest of the night but it was impossible. Nobody touched the pie. A few sympathetic women came to talk to me or to ask if I made the brownies. I wanted to leave as soon as possible. At almost the end of the party a lady came over and told me that the lady who had made the scene had issues with foreigners. She didn’t like non-muslims being invited to special events. This is an idea that is extremely rare here.
I left that night knowing I was an outsider in so many ways. I was discouraged. I won’t lie about that. However, my apple pie experience prepared me for dealing with so many other awkward moments. The truth is you just have to laugh and know you will have a great story to tell later. It is all part of the adventure! If you are in or on your way to live in the midst of some “strange” culture you can read lots of books and ask lots of questions but in the end just living it, getting out there and experiencing it is the only real way to learn. It is impossible to learn a new language without messing up terribly a few times. Being laughed at gets old really quick!! But again it is all part of the adventure.
We have the awesome privilege of constantly learning new things and seeing the world from the eyes of people very different from ourselves. Don’t let yourself be fooled into thinking that it doesn’t matter. It does matter to show people you love them, to show them you are with them, to show them you are willing to endure all kinds of crazy, different, and often very uncomfortable things. All the discomfort and humiliation we will face while serving in distant lands here on earth is obviously nothing in comparison to what our Savior endured for us to have eternal life. Know that we all have or will have our “apple pie” stories, but by the grace of God we will also have stories of those who have become our brothers and sisters in Christ!