One of my favorite ministry opportunities is attending a Practice English Group on Tuesday afternoons. For two hours anyone interested in working on their conversational English can come and have a chat with us about anything they want.
I love this group because it allows me to learn more about the people who visit and their own Country. For instance yesterday three women from Sri Lanka shared how everyone from the community would come to each others houses and share a meal during the holiday season, we also learned in the Philippines Christmas is celebrated from October through December, while a friend from Italy told the story of his entire family (about thirty people) going to his grandmothers on Christmas day.
Listening to these people tell stories and share what they miss about their homeland breaks my heart almost every week. But it also helps me get a better understanding of the culture they come from which is vitally important since media only gives us part of the picture.
One of the women from Sri Lanka yesterday expressed her frustration that people in Australia (and other Countries) had the idea that almost everyone in her Country was poor and starving from lack of food. But those who visited where shocked to find there weren’t any poor beggars on the street dying from starvation. This led to a twenty-minute discussion about the misconceptions people have about our Countries, and how that can lead to frustration.
How do these ideas get started? Most of the time it comes from a television program such as news that shares only a small part of the Countries actual story. There may be one small part of Sri Lanka that has people struggling with poverty, but if that’s the only part people see, then they will believe the entire land is like that.
As an American I can testify to the fact that comedy programs also help create the wrong perception of a culture. About six years ago a program from Australia went to the States and began asking people ridiculously easy questions (such as when 9/11 happened) and showed some of the answers on their show.
As you can imagine they chose the few people out of hundreds that forgot 9/11 took place in September and the Australian people laughed hysterically. I know this happened because they have shown me the youtube video a hundred times…in fact I can quote it. And forced to explain Americans aren’t like that every time
Being a Missionary from Australia I actually get to correct misconceptions Americans have about Aussies as well. One question in particular made me laugh and symbolizes the danger of allowing media to frame our understanding of a culture. A woman walked up to me before a service and after looking at my display said, “Australia, they eat bat there don’t they?” Stifling a laugh I assured this women Aussies don’t eat bat and we had a great conversation about the need in Melbourne.
It’s easy to blame this woman for her bat question but I can guarantee you she saw a program from the bush (Australia’s Northern area which is basically desert) that had people eating bat. That’s why whenever possible its better to get our perception of the culture from its people and by listening to their story instead of popular media.
Now if you will excuse me, I need to take my bat out of the oven