When I travel to a new place I cycle through some of the normal processes that most people experience as I work to get my bearings. Sometimes I find similarities between the new place to my regular places and then to the other places where I’ve been. Other times I am struck by the differences.
As one who hovers between processing things internally and externally, I often find it helpful to declare what I’m seeing and experiencing with my travel companions or hosts. The risk in that is one of either offending them or making them crazy with my blathering. The value in it comes when they can add their observations to my own and help me to clarify the “what” and begin to comprehend the “why” of these (mostly) differences.
The Russian culture is one where you take off your shoes at the door and put on house shoes/slippers for inside — in your own home and in the homes of those you visit. When it’s your own home, you also change into house clothes most of the time.
In Ulan Ude, the phone numbers have only 6 digits instead of the 7 to which I’m accustom.
While there are sidewalks and paved roads, one also finds unpaved roads and dirt paths with great frequency around Ulan Ude. Out in the village at the lake there was no pavement in the town — just sand. In the city, these unpaved paths are hard-packed sand and strewn with stones, making walking an adventure.
Grocery shopping in Ulan Ude has both many similarities and many differences to shopping in Orlando. I found far greater availability and variety in hair coloring products than fresh fruits and vegetables, for instance. Meats are cut in unfamiliar ways and packaged in unfamiliar ways. The boxed cold cereal selection is very small compared to what you’ll find in the States (a whole aisle dedicated to the stuff in some cases), but the hot cereal options are broader.
Weddings are more about driving around town doing photo shoots with an often rented car and your wedding party and less about any sort of ceremony.
Some differences are obviously about the differences in climate and geography. Others are about values. Still others are about access or economics. Living gracefully with these differences is part of the challenge of cross-cultural ministry.