There was a knock at the door.
Bang bang bang
I decided to ignore it. I had come home from school not feeling very well and so had slipped into bed for a couple hours of afternoon rest. The door was locked to keep any neighbors or friends from just wandering in as they occasionally do so I could have a couple uninterrupted hours.
There was another knock at the door, this time combined with callings of my name.
Bang bang bang “Lu-ter!” Bang bang bang. “Luuu-ter!”
It was my landlord, who lives in the adjacent house on the property.
“Ignore him,” I thought naively, “That’s the best way to make him go away.” Unfortunately, it only served as a challenge.
There were several yanks on the door, the loose deadbolt rattling in its locked position. More knocking. Then the phone started to ring. I let it ring through. It rang again. I let it ring through again. It rang twice more before there was a reprieve in ringing and knocking.
“Thank God. He’s finally learned I don’t want to go to the door.” But it was just the eye of the storm. Moments later he returned with his son who, while my landlord began a barrage of knocks on the front door, walked around the side of my house and launched an attack on the window. It was too much. I waved my white flag.
“WHAT?!?” I screamed from my bed.
“Lu-ter,” my landlord said in a cheery voice, “Come drink tea!”
I was furious.
“Is my house on fire?” I yelled back.
“Is. My. House. On. Fire?”
“Then leave me the hell alone and stop knocking!”
“Lu-ter – just come open the door.”
“No! I will not open the door!”
“I want to rest! Why is that so difficult to understand?”
“Ok, ok, just asking…” He walked away.
By this point I was so irritated I couldn’t get to sleep. Why didn’t he understand that when nobody answers the door, it means they don’t want to and aren’t going to? Doesn’t he know how rude it is to knock more than 2 or 3 times?
Doesn’t Luther know how rude it is not to answer the door when someone is knocking?
I didn’t get why my landlord wouldn’t stop knocking. My landlord didn’t get why I wouldn’t answer.
The difficulties in living and working cross-culturally are in our expectations. Growing up in one particular culture, we are conditioned to expect certain behaviors from people in specific situations. And when people don’t behave as we expect, we get frustrated, annoyed, confused or upset.
I came in knowing there would be cultural differences, but I didn’t think about how difficult it was going to be to draw the line between what makes us all the same as humans and what separates us by our cultural habits. It’s not so easy to know if your landlord is simply knocking because it’s the culturally friendly thing to do, or if he is inherently rude. Just what is it about human beings that makes us the same? What are the universal truths about our species? What are the behaviors we should expect out of any person, anywhere?”
Everyone wants to be immortalized…in carpet.
I believe it comes down to God’s truths laid out in the Bible. God’s truths cross all cultures and all of history, laying out the expectation that we are to respond in service and honor and worship of Him by doing things like pursuing justice, taking care of widows and orphans, being honest and showing one another grace.
But just how this plays out in our behaviors isn’t always clear. Being raised in one environment makes it very difficult to separate out truth from behavior. Kyrgyz and Americans are both hospitable, but a Kyrgyz person will show this by force serving you multiple cups of tea beyond your bursting point while Americans will tell you to “help yourself.” Americans and Kyrgyz will want you to eat well so Americans will feed you a portion from each section of the food pyramid while a Kyrgyz person will watch in eager expectation as you try to swallow the lump of pure-fat-sheep-butt in a breadless sheep-liver sandwich. Americans and Kyrgyz respect the elder generation and so Americans will create opportunities for elders to continue to take control of their own lives while grown Kyrgyz children will make space in their already small homes to provide for all the needs of their elderly parents.
Our intentions are often exactly the same because as humans we’re following one, collective gut in how we should treat people. But, while what our gut tells us may be the same, what our gut tells us to do can be oh, so different.