From the Silly to the Hurtful {Book Club}

Oh the stories we can tell, right? Today we’re in chapter seven of Expectations and Burnout: Women Surviving the Great Commission ( by Robynn Bliss and Sue Eenigenburg) and we’re looking at the expectations of and for our host cultures. Before we get to the stories, this was another chapter I found myself marking almost every page. Which means the authors hit the nail on the head, but isn’t very helpful when it comes to saying anything succinct. This is what my notes look like:

121 — 3 cultures we function in: home, host, Biblical

122 — don’t fit in either place now


124 — I’d like to know how view of homosexuality are changing this (obviously will depend on context, but of all areas, this is one I’ve seen great shift in recent decades). Arrow down starting at “However, though single women might have more flexibility …”

*127 — also influenced by how my your host culture wants you in / accepts outsiders. Drew a smiley face next to “I unknowingly had this expectation that the nationals would be glad that we came! Ha!”

128 — element of TIME

129 — Need to figure out what’s wanted in return of friendship

133– point of tension: how much privacy many westerners want

135 — Ha! When you do it wrong

136 — Expectations based on western movies (oh yeah!)


I would imagine your notes look similar. It’s one thing to take notes, it’s another to live, isn’t it? I’d imagine your experiences fall into similar categories as mine.

Learning Opportunity

I knew I’d committed a faux pas at a local friend’s house when every single person laughed at my response to was I hungry for dinner. “I am!” Cue the laugh track. When granny laughs at you, you know you’ve stepped in it :)! We all learned about each other as I mildly came to my defense saying my response saying in my culture it would be rude to tell a host I wasn’t hungry after they had gone to a lot of effort to cook for me. Thankfully, this logic made sense.

Lesson learned, however, and I never enthusiastically said I was read to eat. If only all lessons were so harmless.

Good Stories

Part of the adventure of living outside of our home cultures is to learn to do things differently. When a teammate and I were asked to be in a movie being filmed for the local provincial station we said, sure, why not? When else was I going to be in a movie? One Saturday morning we went down to the local train station and filmed being picked up by a taxi driver. In the story he had lost his white collar job and was in desperate need of money.

(Humorous side note: the actor playing the taxi driver didn’t know how to drive, so while he sat in the driver’s seat and we got into the back seat, the cab was pushed by stage hands.)

In the plot, we left our wallet in the cab when we got out at the hotel. The taxi driver really could have used the money but returned it to us. The director wanted my teammate, who was quite a bit thinner than me,  to kiss him on the mouth in gratitude for returning it. We both balked and said it wouldn’t be appropriate to kiss a stranger on the mouth for returning a lost item.

Everyone stared at us.

But you’re loose western women, of course you kiss people on the mouth all the time, was palpably in the air.

We finally compromised with a heartfelt handshake.

 I know you’ve got your good stories too. Share in the comments!

Confusing to Down Right Hurtful

The view of disabled people.

What is considered direct and indirect may be the opposite — it’s so confusing! I thought you were indirect, why are you asking me if I ate too much beef as a child?

I’ll never forget the time our local staff was so disappointed with the folks who were new to the field. My colleagues had labored over visas for months and when they saw the newbies were confused and hurt that they had worked so hard for “them.” As we tried to clarify what came out were the amount of tattoos and that the folks new to the field “walked around in their bathing suits.” Only prisoners and very socially low people have tattoos. They were not walking around in bath suits, but after running in the morning, went to the breakfast area in their workout clothes. Confusion and hurt go both ways.

I touched on it above, but as a single person I’ve noticed the idea of singles being homosexuals (especially as we age beyond when people “should” get married) is becoming a greater question / issue than it was in previous generations.


How about you? What did you mark in this chapter? What and how have you learned about your host culture? Any good stories? Where have you been confused or hurt? How has God grown you through your host culture?

Okay Book Club Buddies, was stirred in you?



P.S. Next week we discuss chapters 8 and 9: Expectations and God.

Disclosure : Amazon Affiliate links included in this post.  If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site. 


  1. Emily Daniell April 13, 2015

    Again, another great chapter. There are so many good things to pull from this chapter. I think the one that resonated with me was the view that Westerners are all rich. I read this shortly after having a conversation with an Afghani family who we just became friends with here in the US. They stated that before they came here, the mindset that they and their friends had was that there would just be trees made of money. A lot of this came from what they have seen of celebrities on TV. They said that prior to leaving, they thankfully had contact with US military in their country who told them that this wasn’t true! It lessoned the blow a bit for them!

    In travelling, I have seen that to be a repeated theme. I still get emails asking for money from people in another culture I visited short term almost 15 years ago. It’s a hard balance to be faithful and caring for those who are in need and not enabling or perpetuating the false idea that all Westerners just have an unending bank account and should be sharing it with everyone else!

    Great chapter. So many take-aways!

    1. Amy Young April 14, 2015

      Emily, this is such a common myth … and yet we are wealthy (many are when running water is the standard!). BUT money does not grow on trees and we all know of people who are giving sacrificially. As you said, so many take aways from this chapter :)!

  2. Jenny April 13, 2015

    One very funny and recurrent misunderstanding we’ve had is regarding freckles…”What are those blemishes/spots/marks on your face?  Why do only some of you have them?  Are they contagious? Do they hurt or itch? Have you seen a doctor for them?  Have you gotten treatment for them?”  As I explained to a friend that they are just a variation of normal for some fair skinned people, and often passed down in families he had an AHA! moment and knowingly exclaimed, “Ohhhhh, I see, it’s a genetic defect.”

    1. ErinMP April 14, 2015

      That’s fantastic. As part Irish I have dark hair but a slew of freckles, and the Korean kids were also fascinated by them (by fascinated I mean they thought they were really weird), so you’re not alone!

      1. Amy Young April 14, 2015

        By fascinated I mean they thought they were really weird.

        Laughed at that! Thanks for a chuckle.

  3. Jewel April 13, 2015

    Two places I had marked very clearly in this chapter – one was were it mentioned the unsolicited advice. I now always try to have some kind of explanation as to why I am sick, so that I don’t get met with this overwhelming sympathy for this poor gringo who doesn’t even know why she is coughing.  Why of course, I did go out in the sun yesterday right after I drank milk!  Or I washed my hands in cold water after taking bread out of the oven – that is way my back aches today.  Do the people in other countries also have strange reasons for why they are sick?  Oh yes, NEVER sit on a hot seat or you will get sick (maybe tomorrow morning or maybe a week from now.)

    And the other place I marked was the same as you did- where it spoke to the singles. But the homosexuality issue, I faced that more in the states than out of the country.  There were several of us single ladies living in one house in California, and that seemed to raise question marks in people’s minds more and more.  I didn’t like it.  But I do not feel any of that suspicion here in Bolivia.  But oh so many men seek to get my interest.  I was just in the city a couple days ago, and taxi drivers can be some of the worst.  He even wanted to know if my parents knew I was in Bolivia, and if they would be ok with me having children!

    1. ErinMP April 14, 2015

      OH MY GOSH Thank you for sharing. I will read that chapter pronto.

      The Thai people actually so far seem super practical, at least the few who have worked with me. When I was sick once, and couldn’t take antibiotics, one students mother kindly took me shopping for medicine and bought me soup, and another student’s mother bought me alternative but practical medicine (Chinese herbs, some fruit-vitamin mixes, some medicines), all of which worked.

      But the co-workers? Very similar. One girl began crying, clutching my hand and telling me, “It’s because I told you you might get sick, and you did the next day. I’m so sorry, I spoke it into being, please forgive me!” And she’s a nurse! Another told me, yes, it was because I took a hot shower after being in the rain, when we all know you should take a cold shower (duh). Two other co-workers one time grabbed my ears and one told me, “You have cold ears! A fever!” The other co-worker, from a different culture, glared at him. “No! It means someone is missing her! That is why her hair is longer, too!” I started laughing until I realized she wasn’t joking, and then began awkwardly coughing, which garnered a whole other slew of advice…

    2. Amy Young April 14, 2015

      Jewel … now I want to sit down and chat with all of you in person! I can just hear the stories fly :). I hated getting a “weird-ish” infection and being questioned (drilled) by doctors as to what I’d eaten. I didn’t know that eating hot-pot two days in a row was bad. AND I’d been invited to both meals and couldn’t say no. Well what did I expect? No wonder I had an infection — I wanted to say, I don’t think infections come from spicy food.

      And the amount of times I’ve been drilled if I sleep with the AC on. Clearly a death wish. If you have any pains in your neck or back or get a cold, obviously you have been (even if you lie and say you haven’t. Hypothetically.)

      I once had a taxi driver say when he found out I was single, “But you look so normal.”

      The men in your neck of the woods sound rather aggressive. Do they treat local women the same? Sometimes I wonder if I’m/we’re just so different, so other they forget we have feelings (and then I need to hold the mirror up and make sure I’m reminding myself every  person I encounter also has feelings).

      1. ErinMP April 14, 2015

        I get the AC one too. In meetings they tell us to keep the AC at a certain temp. so that the children don’t get sick from “transitioning” between the heat and the air con at a certain temp. Turns out they were running out of money and needed to keep the air con at a low level!

  4. Kristina Krauss April 13, 2015

    So I was cracking up at your post, and the “mouth kiss” and thinking to myself, I haven’t had anything that funny happen to me ever, and certainly nothing recent. Then I remembered one that happened this year. Maybe not as funny, but made me laugh out loud thinking about it. 🙂

    I was apologizing profusely for the fourth time during our good-bye meal for the way I moved out of the pastors home for our trip. You see I had asked for a hotel room ahead of time, apologizing for being a crazy gringa who needs pampering. One thing led to another and they had placed me in the pastor’s house. I asked to be moved to a hotel, and it had caused much pain on my hosts. (I wont bother with defending myself right now je je je) So there I was at the fare-well lunch with our staff in charge of the Guatemala branch, and the host pastor. After apologizing again, for my surprise offense, he said, “No worries sister. it was no surprise at all. Your Guatemala staff well-prepared me for you, and I was not surprised at the offense. You really have a gem in this girl, you should keep her!”

    It stung, but I went with the flow and agreed that I had a gem in her. I looked over and she was just beaming with pride. She had no thought that maybe she just got thrown under the bus (or had dirty water thrown on her as they say in Colombia) for pre-warning the host that I was an offensive gringa. There she sat beaming, and I sat pretending to beam. jajajajaja

    I work so hard at the juggle of not offending, but not doing absolutely everything they expect so much that I arrive home after a trip, never wanting to return. It cracked me up to find out that my attempts at not offending are hardly seen. It all gets wiped away when I ask for a hotel. Just think what they would say if I wasn’t trying at all!


    1. ErinMP April 14, 2015

      Ahaha! I experience similar–I try so hard not to offend and then one “little” misunderstanding gets comments like “Well I know you’re just an American girl, you know nothing,” or “You’re American, you’re all too loud,” etc. I wonder…is this their best attempts at being polite, or are they “throwing dirty water” in retaliation for a percieved offense? Hard to tell sometimes! Thanks for sharing.

    2. Amy Young April 14, 2015

      Kristi, knowing your love of a good laugh, it is virtually impossible for me to imagine you haven’t had some knee slappers. (Okay, maybe it’s me and not the cultures I live in. Two years ago driving in America I was at a stop light one winter night and a man in the lane next to me gestured to lower my window. I did. He asked if I just liked hats or if I was particular to Pandas. — I was wearing my panda hat, clearly — I have to admit I love a good hat! We smiled and off we drove our separate ways!). Tell, me you don’t have these kind of encounters! You love a good laugh !!! 🙂

  5. ErinMP April 14, 2015

    So I still haven’t read the book yet…it is sitting on my Kindle waiting to be read!…but I wanted to chime in here and thank you for the stories you shared! I am SO GLAD that as a single American woman I am NOT the only one going through this. OK to share some similar silly to hurtful comments…

    I had a grown male teacher (not from my host country, but here following his wife with a calling, but also not from a Western land, so open to believing things about us American women, I suppose) tell me he couldn’t believe I would save myself for marriage because “American women don’t do that,” and then proceeded to be completely inappropriate by asking me how many men had touched me, where, and how much of my clothing had come off. “Excuse me?” I asked, shocked that my coworker of 8 months would be asking me this. I mean yes he had crossed the line in his physical compliments to me, to the point that I ended up telling another male coworker about it, and he and another male friend attempted to intercept at times. But this was unbelievable. “You’re being racist,” I informed him, hitting on, probably, the wrong point. He just laughed. “American women who look like you, who have your figure, don’t stay immaculate and pure,” he said. “Any American man would be an idiot to not take you [here he thinks he’s being charming], and I know how liberated you American women are.” At this point I FINALLY left the conversation, learning something very valuable– one, I shouldn’t have let it get this far by not strongly telling him to stop complimenting me before, and two… yeah, there are a lot of stereotypes out there.  Oh and touching on the same point–this same co-teacher once asked if me and another friend were lesbian, because we were 24 and still single. It was the beginning of the year and I thought well, I don’t know his culture, I’ll let it slide. Perhaps this was naive of me!

    Other silly/hurtful comments have mainly surrounded my body and eating habits. I had two moms tell me they were shocked I didn’t eat more at a dinner party (I’m still not sure if that’s because they view me as fat or because I’m American!), several have assumed I live a soap-opera meets sarah jessica parker lifestyle, and have imagined liasons between me and at least 4 of the male coworkers (there are only 6 total)…once they liked me it was “harmless gossip,” but still gossip! And I’ve received numerous comments, from men and women, on my walk and my breasts (no one has asked me if they are fake yet, but I have had children and older women pat me questionably on my behind and chest), and many men hitting on me in English (if they’re in the local area they only stop when they discover I am a “teacha,” or kroo, a respected position in Thailand). And I am safe in assuming some of it is just how men and women will act…and some of it is because many wrongly assume “all American women” are “like that,” something I have had a handful of fellow female teachers assure me, before they even knew me at all (only one of them was saying it as a compliment–she told me she knew what they all said about me, but I was proving them wrong, and if they still wanted to gossip about me it was on their heads now).

    I guess I received more harmful than silly. The silliest was when some staff workers said it must be because I am an American I sometimes go somewhere barefoot (I am from CA, so it’s probably more that than a universal American thing), but they thought it was funny if not a little confusing. Overall I wish we could cease this public image, and most of all, it being an excuse for other women to judge and be paranoid, and men to think they can sexually harass or hit on American/Western women with no repercussion.

    1. T April 14, 2015

      eek!  that first guy just sounds slimy!

      1. ErinMP April 14, 2015

        Thanks, you two! 🙂

    2. Kristina Krauss April 14, 2015

      Ha! Thanks Amy… but no. I don’t own a panda hat. jejejeje  One time some friends laughed at me when I got off the plane wearing a bright neon green skirt suit. But I don’t think we were laughing together on that one. 🙂  What???  We dress better in Latin-American if you ask me.

  6. Beth Everett April 14, 2015

    I really resonated with the part about not fitting in anywhere again, and “the advantage is we have a clearer idea of what it means to be a citizen of heaven, that this earth is not our home.” Survival Tip #7 Heaven is our Home at the end of the chapter was spot on for me.

    I’m intrigued by this statement “right from the beginning we cultivated the mantra and lived in its reality that Heaven is our true Home. We’ve persuaded our children. We’ve drilled it into them. Where is home? Heaven!”

    I would love to know more about what they did as parents to cultivate this and how this has helped their TCK kids figure out the dreaded “where is home for you?” question.

    “Where are you from?” is a question we are trying to help our oldest (7yrs) figure out how to answer. Mum is from Barbados (my only passport); Dad is from America (his only passport); and my son was born in China, but has an American passport though never lived there. And we are preparing to move to Mum’s passport country this summer. Recently I had been thinking about the answer that ‘home is where your story begins’ but after reading this section I am not so sure that is the best answer … at least it seems incomplete. I like the idea that “home is where we’re going. It’s that place that welcomes us in and accepts us. There’ll be no more separation, no more grief … Jesus is at home. His hospitality will embrace us and remove all shame and guilt.  We’ll leave all of our strivings and all of our anxieties. What has been so blurry and confused will be suddenly clear and obvious.”

    I am hoping to camp out in the verses suggested at the end of that section and meditate on heaven over the next few days, as part of my ongoing heart preparation for our upcoming transition.

    1. Mel April 14, 2015

      I love the idea of mediating on heaven to help with transition. I haven’t read the book yet either – it’s calling to me from my shelf. But I have sometimes wondered if Jesus experienced culture stress. He was certainly misunderstood on every level. I am in the thick of transition now, and needed this reminder.

      1. ErinMP April 14, 2015

        That’s a good point, to notice that He experienced misunderstanding on every level.

    2. Amy Young April 15, 2015

      Beth, you’ve got the wheels during. This makes me think of C.S. Lewis’ book Pilgrim Regress (at least I think that’s the name. It’s an allegory about Pilgrim’s Progress and I don’t tend to read allegories), BUT it was about The Landlord and how he knits our hearts more to one shire than another. I’ve always thought this a lovely way to view calling — I care about the whole world, but I don’ feel called to every corner :). Anyway, now I’m wondering about the idea of heaven being our true home — but I also know we’re not just killing time here. For me, and I’m not a kid, so I have no idea if this really would work, but cultivating the idea of several homes really helped. It helped explain why I at times feel fractured 🙂 — because I don’t have just one home. Maybe with your kiddos talk about how it wonderful and hard to have multiple homes and flesh out the best parts (the yay duck!) and the hard part (the yuck duck). Just some random thoughts 🙂

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