It’s not wrong, it’s just different.
These are the phrases we repeat over and over to ourselves as we navigate culture adjustment. We’re working hard to ask questions rather than pronounce on things. Our default is to assume that things aren’t the way they seem to us.
But it feels like a very one-sided relationship. Our experience thus far has been that the same respect hasn’t been afforded to our culture. To Mama Velo, the bread I make isn’t different, it’s wrong, and I have to be educated about how to make bread properly.
The one-sidedness is appropriate. We’re the ones crossing cultures; Mama Velo is in her home country.
As our tutor said to us, for many Tanzanians ‘the Tanzanian way is the world’s way’ because they’ve never seen anything different. Even my awareness of different cultures denotes education and privilege.
This education could become self-righteousness (“My bread is better because it’s more nutritious than Mama Velo’s”) or even downright condescension (“She just thinks her bread is better because she’s uneducated”).
The challenge is instead to let it lead us to cultivate humility, to be willing to be understanding of others and changed by them though that attitude may not be reciprocated.
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.