I’ve heard it said that Adelaide people are ‘polite’ before. But let me put it out there – Melbourne people are forthright. I could say ‘rude’, but that’s a little too strong. Of course it’s only a generalisation, a trend I’ve noticed since being in Melbourne (just as Adelaideans’ reputation as ‘polite’ is only a general trend). Let me illustrate.
Whether it comes from our Adelaidean hearts or our missiological principles (I favour the latter) Arthur and I feel that it is important, in coming into a new culture, to listen, to understand, to discover before giving opinions or suggesting changes. We figure we’re the outsiders, so we want to take some time to understand a culture and think about how to serve within in it in a culturally appropriate way. In part, that means not jumping too quickly to conclusions; it also means being very intentional about observing what is around us and then drawing hypotheses of what force might be at work in a certain situation.
So our approach to church, and for me, to CU, has been to observe quietly and then ask lots of questions about how things are done and why. To me, that seems to be a culturally sensitive approach. But it doesn’t work in Melbourne! Having only been to Christ Church three times, we had others asking us what we thought the weaknesses were in the church. This weekend at CU Base Camp, I was asked by two different staff members why I haven’t been talking that much in staff meetings. In all three conversations, when I explained that I was trying to spend some time listening and learning how things were done, the others seemed quite confused by my approach. “You’ve got fresh eyes!” they said. “Tell us what you really think!” This has certainly surprised me – after all, don’t I need some runs on the board before I’m allowed to have an opinion, to speak into a certain culture?
The more confrontational nature of Melburnians stands in quite a stark contrast here to the politeness of Adelaideans. And they both have their strengths and weaknesses. After all, being more confrontational shouldn’t be a license for constant, knee-jerking criticism, but it does allow for a healthy culture of accountability and change. Although, being less confrontational may mean that when you actually decide to say something, it’s better thought through. Or it could lead to a state where even healthy criticism is frowned upon, or perhaps not offered. In the meantime though, I find myself in something of a paradox: to employ my missiological principle of being sensitive to working within a culture, I need to work hard at being more confrontational!
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.