7 Stops on the Cross-Cultural Clash Continuum (The Grove: Culture Clash)

If you haven’t picked up by now, my mind goes in about 37 different directions at once. I thought I knew the direction this post was going to take and then I wondered, but what about this type of culture clash? Or this one? Or that one? As we’ve seen this week in the posts, not all culture clashes are created equal. If you’re reading The Poisonwood Bible with the book club, thank God! Oh my, if all of our experiences were like the Prices, I don’t even know how to finish that sentence.

In that vein, I’ve created the ever-so-fun-to-say Cross-Cultural Clash Continuum. To get us started, I’ve listed seven potential areas of clashing from light and humorous to serious and heart wrenching. I hope you’ll add to it. Let’s create a resource together, okay?

Seven Stops on the Cross-Cultural Clash Continuum

1. Bending Towards Each Other — Emily Thomas provided a great example of her students leaving abruptly because they noticed the time and were being sensitive to what they thought was polite behavior as a guest; Emily and her husband wondered all weekend what they had done “wrong.” I worked for years in a cross-cultural office where half of the staff were Chinese and half were expats. Some of our funniest clashes came when we’d all realize the Chinese were doing it in the “Western way” and the expats were doing it in the “Chinese way.” Though we were still missing each other, what a kind reason.

2. Clashes That Expand You — Now when I say this end of the continuum is “light” I do not mean to downplay how hard the encounters can be. The very word “clash” expresses there will be jolting, disorientation, and pain. But as Danielle Krouch showed us this week, when you are able to assimilate another culture’s way of doing something, it doesn’t diminish you, it expands you.

3. We’re just never going to agree, but it’s not a big deal — I’m sorry, to this day I just don’t buy that weather changes cause mass illnesses. I think far more illness is caused by viruses and bacteria. But I know a significant portion of the planet disagree with me. And that’s okay. Here we might get into a gray area of “is it lying?” when I say that I stopped telling local friends I slept with the air conditioning on. It just wasn’t worth them thinking I was basically sleeping with a loaded gun. WHAT are you thinking, Amy?! I’m thinking that I want to sleep. And I want you to sleep too, so if you need to do that in a bed of sweat, go for it. I love you and I don’t get this part of you, but it’s not a big deal.

4. You need to lay down “your” way — Beth Everett powerfully highlighted this aspect of cultural clashes with her carpet story. There will be times (more and more as we understand the culture) when, out of love, we will be asked to lay down our ways and choose a “more excellent way.”

5. You are so annoying to me! — Clashing with your host culture is expected, what might catch you of guard is the depth of clashes you might have with your teammates or other expats. How can someone from your home culture or a nearby one be. so. darn. annoying? What about the times when they say or do things you strongly disagree with and want to go around after them doing “clean-up” with local friends. “You know we don’t all think that way about … ” could be taxes, healthcare, the role of women, discipline, the environment, a sport. Your fellow expats keep pushing your buttons and you know one day you might not be able to take it any longer.

6. The Bible Clearly Says — Don’t get me wrong, having good, solid theology is important. Knowing God’s word and what he says about a whole host of theological issues is valuable. But what happens when a staunch Calvinist is teamed with an equally staunch Armenian? In the best cases, all are mature believers and find ways to minister together. In the worst cases, team bible studies can turn into heated Bible Bee Showdowns where verses are slung at each other; not to connect, but to prove “I’m right and you are 157,000% WRONG.” Which, by the way, it a lot more than 100%. This clash can occur with expats and locals.

7. Clashes With Sin — As an outsider, you might have a unique perspective on an aspect of the culture that is flat out sinful and not a mere difference. Corruption. Illegal behavior. Prejudice. Human Trafficking. Educational Practices. Bribes. Treatment of animals. Wife beating. But we all know how much we love outsiders–be they to our marriages, parenting, how we spend our free time–commenting. This morning I was reading in Daniel where Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego said, “The God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” There will be times when we are called to speak out on sin and other times we are called to simply not participate in (to varying costs).


Genesis 6 might be the pinnacle of a culture clash. It got so bad God was ready to destroy the earth. I love the description of Noah: Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked faithfully with God. 

This is my hope and prayer for you. You will be a person of righteousness, blameless, and walk faithfully with God regardless of where your interactions this day, week, month or year may find you on the cross-cultural clash continuum. May the Lord bless you and keep you.


What have I missed? What would you add? Thoughts on this continuum?

This is what we call The Grove.  It’s where we all gather to share our thoughts, our words, and our art on our weekly prompt.  So join us in the comments.  Show us your art work by adding an image. And link up your own blog posts on this week’s prompt.  Click here for details and instructions

Come share your story, your art or your thoughts on the prompt “Culture Clash.”



  1. brooke July 17, 2015

    I’m impressed that you could narrow down your 37 directions to 7! Thanks for summarizing it all. I find myself resonating on several points, even yesterday I had one of those painful clashes where I just had to lay down my “way” and allow myself to be offended. I had to make a phone call this morning to ask for forgiveness for my blunt and shocked response at the request/order given me late last night. In the end their way wasn’t right but it was for the best in the bigger picture.
    I also appreciated #5! How frustrating it is to pick up the mess of other expats as they offend this host culture of ours. It is one of the most delicate balances to find as you work with 2 communities that intertwine and yet don’t. I think many times we, as women, offend more often than the guys…

    1. Amy Young July 17, 2015

      Brooke! Oh some interactions are so hard, aren’t they? When asked to choose the student with the best English … but she had to be at least so tall, beautiful, and have long hair … it pushed so many buttons. It still does :). I hope I’m growing in how to handle these situations. I notice some days it’s easier than others. Here’s to the days it’s easier and here’s to turning towards God and holding my tongue on the days it isn’t!

  2. Annalisa July 17, 2015

    I think I have blogged about this before, but sometimes cultures have a different way of doing things which aren’t sinful, just different.  I like to describe Guatemala-US gender interactions like a ladder.  In the US are the rungs of the ladder.  In Guatemala are the sides.  (See my lovely illustration made with Paint.)  In the US, we tend to associate with people at the same place in life as ourselves regardless of gender.  (We could add more rungs to that…including one labeled “overseas workers!”)  In Guatemala, we tend to associate with people the same gender as ourselves, regardless of where one is in life.  The exceptions in both cultures is in the case of family.  Unfortunately, I caught onto this cultural difference a little slowly and most of the males who I thought were my friends (because they were unmarried young adults, the same as myself at that point) vanished as soon as they found out I was planning on getting married.  It wasn’t because I was going to be changing my stage in life; it was because they were apparently interested in me romantically!  Eek!

    Anyway, I don’t feel this fits into any of your 7.  It’s not agreeing to disagree…it’s an oversight that really just hurts when you finally figure it out.

    1. Amy Young July 17, 2015

      What a helpful illustration! Ah, the hurt of some of the lessons we learn — thanks for point that one out too 🙂

  3. Michele Womble July 18, 2015

    This is GREAT!  I love it, the Cross Cultural Clash Continuum. 🙂  All your points resonated with me.

    I wanted to say about point 3, that while I also still believe that “more illness is caused by viruses and bacteria”, I have found myself also believing that I can get a cold from a draft, a sore throat from ice cream,  and that weather changes cause mass illness.  Things I didn’t believe before (if you think an intervention is necessary, let me know. 😉 )  I still sleep with a fan at night.  Even when it’s minus 40 (shh, don’t tell anyone)


    I love that you mentioned Genesis 6.  Wow, never really thought about Noah’s relationship to the culture around him as his own culture clash.

    This week’s theme had me thinking not so much of the clash between my “home” culture and my “host” culture (in part because identifying my “home” culture is complicated), but more about my own culture clash with God.  My poem’s in the linkup (the mushroom).

    Thank you, Amy, for a wonderful post.

    1. Michele Womble July 18, 2015

      or actually….maybe that IS the clash between my “home” culture (or what should be) and my “host” culture.

      Thank you for the prompting to do some thinking on this topic!

    2. Amy Young July 18, 2015

      Michele, your comment on weather makes me smile because while I still don’t really buy it, I have become a firm believer in the meridians in the body 🙂 … and think that reflexology really CAN tell us things about our organs. I have a good friend who just rolls her eyes when I talk this way. She says, “no, it hurts because someone is PUSHING on you, talk to a doctor if you want to know about your kidneys.” Ha! About a decade ago I took a two day training on Thought Field Therapy (I’m sorry it has such a hoaky name!!!). If you’re familiar with EMDR, they are related, but for EMDR you need (understandably!) a lot of training and to be under the guidance of a supervisor. Anyway, my biggest take away from TFT training was that through tapping on certain points you can help with jet lag! So, I tap when I travel internationally. Basically everyone mocks me for this :). And sometimes people will tap on their head and then just smile at me as a joke :). A clear #3! We’re not going to agree, but it so not a big deal compared to other clashes on the continuum!

      (They also can mock as much as they want, I really don’t have problems with jet lag like I used to, so I don’t care what others think :))

      1. Michele Womble July 18, 2015

        Hmmm, I may have to ask you where to tap next time I travel internationally.  🙂

      2. Monica F July 23, 2015

        My husband is a firm believer in EDMR/TFT.  You are not alone:)  Ha ha!

  4. Elizabeth July 18, 2015

    3, 6, and 7!! Love them, feel them. Almost every day I think to myself, “My neighbors must think I’m crazy.” I do life so differently from them. I teach my kids at home, and we don’t play outside all day. I don’t sit on the porch of my house all day, leaving my door open and unlocked, and talking with extended family (because of said teaching). I get much of my food from a grocery store and only some from the market. And I often think they must think I’m crazy! We’re the crazy foreigners, that’s who we are. 🙂

    Calvinists vs Armininians? Let’s not even go there! Fights to the death. (And historically speaking, I mean that literally!) “The Bible Clearly Says” is definitely an argument opener, isn’t it??

    But #7? Honestly, that’s probably the toughest one for me here. Some of the sin structures in this society really get under my skin. There’s the corruption, yeah, but even some of that I can write off as “cultural.” It’s the treatment of women and the sexual ethic of local men, though, that really drives me crazy. So much sexual sin and acceptance of sexual sin, and it just irritates the snot out of me. Makes me sad sometimes, makes me mad other times, but I’m never happy or at peace about it.

    1. Amy Young July 18, 2015

      When I first moved to Asia what was commented on me most? How fast I walked :). This really surprised me … as, in my opinion, I’m not speed walking through life. I’m just walking! We are crazy, though, when seen from others’ eyes :).

      #6 — ah yes! I was just thinking the other week of the Anabaptists who were willing to die for their beliefs. Good reminder (for me) in light of what seems to be tearing apart some parts of The Body. It’s not that new, is it?

      And #7 — I get it! Even not all “sin” is the same (okay, I think you all know what I mean. I’m not ranking sin). But the consequences for society sure isn’t the same and what you’re talking about here, the true victimization and stealing of innocence … I can hardly stand it. I watched the movie “Woman in Gold” tonight (recommend it!), but the actions during war are HORRIBLE.

  5. Kim July 18, 2015

    Yes! 3 & 7 especially… 3 still drives me nuts after all this time. No, my stomach virus is not caused by a drop in barometric pressure, it’s from a bacteria in something I ate because someone didn’t wash their hands properly. Because the funny thing here is, the weather is always the culprit and apparently always changing. And yes, we run ACs all day and night and have lived to tell the tale. Crazy.

    And #7 we’re walking through right now and it’s been so ugly because it’s in the church and the let’s-sweep-things under-the-rug mentality to protect the guilty (who happens to be male) has reached a limit–finally. Grateful for local brothers who are standing strong and not caving into culture, but the pressure to conform is huge, even though it’s not Biblical or ethical and makes no sense to me. I was lamenting to a local friend here how I simply did not understand how some, supposedly wise, men were walking through this. He explained that unfortunately women, even though they are innocent, still get the brunt of the blame when a male gives them unwanted attention. So women rarely speak out against harassment or violence or abuse because culture still takes the side of men. So true still in a huge chunk of the world, I’m sure. And as we say in GA, it burns my biscuits!

    1. Amy Young July 18, 2015

      Kim, I’m so sorry to hear about the #7’s your church is facing, but thankful that members have reached a limit (though I’m sure that might mean it’s quite bad. Sorry). It’s hard for me to grasp blatant, consistent, not right by any culture’s truest sense of who they want to be, behavior.

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