Friday, April 29, 2011

Criticizing our Hosts? Or Learning from Them?


When you live overseas, it’s easy to fall into the habit of criticizing everything you find different or challenging in your host culture.  In Turkey, foreigners complain about bureaucracy, disorganized traffic, lack of planning, people arriving late, people arriving early, or people not showing up at all.  It’s easy to see the negative side of everything.  I should know.  I just spent one and a half hours waiting in two lines in order to apply for a new cell phone account.  It was my third trip to the cell phone shop in one week.

Cultivating Wonder and Thankfulness

Instead of grumbling about my host country, I want to cultivate a sense of wonder and thankfulness for God’s allowing me to be here.  Recently I wrote about life changing lessons I've learned from Turks.  Last month I had several “Where else but Turkey?” experiences that reminded me again to appreciate the kindness and generosity of Turks.

  • At the bakery one day I was caught with no wallet and needed to buy a box of cookies.  The counter person said, “Don’t worry.  Take the cookies and just bring the money the next time you come.”
  • In front of our neighborhood police station, I asked the officer on duty if he knew where there was a photocopier.  He said, “Oh, I can make these for you right here. How many do you need?” And he gave me free copies on the police station!

Recognizing Kindness

Last month I sat in the crowded waiting room of our neighborhood public health clinic, just 40 minutes before closing time.  I had a hacking cough. Would the doctor even see me?  It seemed like a long shot.   I didn’t have a health card, and there were about 6 patients before me. Would this doctor be willing to wait on a foreigner who wasn’t even registered with the health system?  I waited until the door opened and peeked in.  I saw a pretty blonde doctor in a white coat.

“I don’t have a health card,” I said, “but I live in this neighborhood. Can you see me?”

“I have too many patients,” she answered.  “Come back tomorrow morning.”

“But tomorrow is Saturday,” I protested. “The clinic is closed.”

“Well, wait outside, and I’ll see if I have time.”

The minutes crept by.  Patient after patient went in and out. Finally the doctor called me in.

“Can I have your Turkish id number?” she asked.

“I don’t have one,” I answered. “I’m not a Turkish citizen. I have a residence permit, but our numbers are different.”

The Doctor spent 10 minutes trying to type my information into her computer, but my residence permit number didn’t fit into the system.  She called another doctor. For a minute I thought that even after the hour wait, all was lost since I didn’t fit into the computer system. 

She finally gave up and said, “What is it you need?”

“I’ve been coughing for two weeks, and I just want to see if I need an antibiotic.”

So she examined me, wrote a prescription and handed it to me with a smile.
As I left, I thought about how I could either be frustrated over the hour wait and the confusion generated by my residence permit number, or I could be grateful for this doctor who was willing to go the extra mile at closing time to serve a total stranger.  She was someone I could learn from.

If you have travelled or live overseas what have you grumbled about? What have you learned?


Anonymous said...

Very convicting post. I often find myself grumbling about the disorganized culture. I am administrative by nature. Organized, always. But slowly I have learned that the Arab culture is slowly teaching me that relationships matter moreso than being on time. Conversations are meaningful.

So much to learn. Loved your example from the doctor, I had a similar experience.

Thanks for the post.

Jamie Jo said...

Thanks. I, too, have grumbled about many of the same things, particularly regarding bureaucracy. What helped me was to face an almost identical situation in the U.S. where we didn't fit in the system. Our foreign born children had trouble getting social security numbers because ... well, long story. Anyway, we made numerous trips running around, waiting in line, praying, sighing, and being overall very frustrated. This somehow encouraged me that it isn't just in Mexico, but everywhere that these things happen. We shouldn't expect otherwise. That's just life. If we lived someplace else we would trade one set of irritations for another.

OliveTree said...

Thanks for your comments. Yes, we do have a lot to learn, and I have also been through the social security number bureaucracy in America. It was a good eye opening experience for me, too.

Actually I'm struggling a bit to keep from grumbling because I was robbed today! I never expect that here, where stealing is not near as common as in El Salvador, my dear husband's home.

Wendy said...

This truly effects all of us - where ever we are. We are given so many blessings every day of our life that we don't acknowledge them. You reminded me that I need to slow down to acknowledge all my blessings and provide blessings for others.

I'm sorry to hear you were robbed today. This action robs us all of trust for each other and of those blessings we give to each other. Hopefully the person who robbed you will find it in their heart to one day return it to you or someone else in need.

Jamie Jo said...

Hope you don't mind, but I put a link to this post in my IRL blog today. Rereading it I thought of something to add to my list. When I got my license in Mexico, they let me preview the photo of myself and offered to retake it if I didn't like it. Think they'd take time to do that in the U.S.? Not likely....

Stephanie said...

There are so many things about living in Turkey that I loved... I can still just "hear" the outside summer play of the kids on the streets and around our apartment complex. I loved your story of the bakery... such a beautiful lesson in trust, isn't it!? I remember the first time a Turk closed his shop down to walk me a block a way to "show" me the directions I was asking... not just tell me.
Now, not that I loved all of Turkey... I had many complaining days, too.
But, so appreciated your post. Seeing grace. Seeing kindness. Looking for the beautiful. Love it.
Thanks for stopping by my blog, too. Bless you as you live and love Turkey--- it will always and forever have a special place in my heart.

OliveTree said...

There are so many things that I love about it too. It's good to keep those things at the forefront of my mind on days when living outside of my home country gets frustrating.

Ilona said...

Olive Tree - Thanks for a good, practical post! Grumbling comes naturally to cross-cultural living. It's like putting on a sweater with a scratchy tag still inside - it keeps rubbing and we're annoyed; those around us hear our cries of discomfort. I criticized many things at first also. In fact, I still do from time to time. Your advice to cultivate wonder and thankfulness, and to recognize kindness is an excellent reminder to the rest of us. Blessings to you as you serve Christ in Turkey!

Creative Contentment said...

I wanted to say thank you for dropping by my blog and commenting. I have enjoyed the moments on your blog and appreciate you heart to share your life for others to learn from here. Keep posting you have great bits of wisdom to share. I will be keeping up..following along now.