Friday, June 5, 2009

Cultural Analysis and Ethnocentrism

Our topics in class yesterday were Cultural Analysis and Ethnocentrism. Studies have shown that all cultures are ethnocentric; that is, each culture believes its own ways are right and best. By extension, we can then assume that other cultrues are wrong, when in reality, they are simply different. Our homework for last night was to write a paper reflecting on our topics from the day. Here is what I wrote:

A friend of mine who had just returned from Italy was telling me all about her trip when she shared a cultural interaction that I have never forgotten. My friend’s tour was lead by an Italian woman, who, after spending a few days observing the attitudes and hearing the comments of her all American tour group, gently noted, “Believe it or not, not everyone wishes that they were an American.”

After today’s teaching on cultural styles and ethnology, I wish I could’ve been a fly on the wall observing all of the behaviors that prompted that tour guide’s statement. I’d like to think that if I had been in the group, the guide would not have needed to make such an obvious declaration. And yet, even though I wasn’t there, in some strange way, I feel a little offended by it. I mean, I do not really think that everybody should want to be an American. Or do I?

Apparently, I am as ethnocentric as the next person. Perhaps we should start a support group:

“Hello, my name is Jenn, and I am ethnocentric.”

(Group response in unison)“Hi Jenn.”

“It’s been 8 months since my last cross-cultural experience. Unless you count my trip to the Asian grocery last week….”

I do not want to be ethnocentric; and yet, I do not want to pretend to be something or someone that I am not. Where, I wonder, is the balance between being, as the French say, l'aise dans sa propre peau (comfortable in my own skin) and being, as Paul says, “all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.” Is there such a balance? Is it wrong to seek such a balance?

On the one hand, cross-cultural living may be an opportunity to once again die to myself, and thereby become more like Jesus. On the other hand, when Jesus came to the earth, He didn’t deny his heavenly culture. He became that 200% person that Lingenfelter wrote about—100% human AND 100% divine. Lingenfelter suggests that following Jesus’ example, we can become a 150% person, which for me would mean that I can become 75% American and 75% French. I grasp this conceptually, but wonder what must be done to actually achieve it.

I really do LOVE other cultures. Actually that is not entirely true—many cultures have challenged me to the point of utter frustration. How about this: in every culture I have visited, I have felt a genuine love for the people, even if their cultural norms rubbed me the wrong way. Even when their ways were very different from my own, I found a joy in hearing their stories, a hope in hearing their dreams, and sadness in hearing their pain. That is why the cross-cultural version of I Corinthians 13 blessed me so deeply. I do believe that the love of God is the ultimate bridge to any person from any culture. I may not know the nuances of socially accepted behaviors (though I will work to learn them) but I do know the God who created and loves us all—perfectly. I will put my trust in Him. He is the ultimate tour guide, and while it is certainly true that not everyone wishes they were an American, everyone is born with a desire for God—and with it a wish for a heavenly home. This world is not our home, we’re just a passin’ through. How I long to find myself in the midst of fellow sojourners—from many nations—looking to the day when together we make that ultimate cross-cultural move—to our home in Glory!

Well that's it...unless you want to meet Surfer Dude Gumby:


  1. I miss you and have been wondering how everything was going in North Carolina. Silly as it seems, for some reason I feel like you aren't just a phone call away right now. I love what you are learning and want to hear MORE! Thanks for sharing your letter for class--it was truly thought provoking.

  2. Je l'aime Tante Jen! And pleased to meet S.D. Gumby! :p