September 7, 2008

Culture Shock?

I note from my hit counter that my few posts about Sarah Palin have drawn more attention and more readership than anything I’ve ever previously posted about anything, well, you know, important, like HIV or neglected children or the mission of God or the importance of the ministry of presence. But sigh… the campaign is exciting.

For those of you’ve who just come across this blog, you might be surprised to find out that before the Palin explosion, before John McCain plucked her from obscurity and had his political operatives cloister her in a room and teach her to spew untruths before a national audience, I spent a lot of time on this blog writing about my time as an Episcopal missionary in South Africa. But right now, I’m in the U.S., talking to anyone who will listen about the Itipini Community Project. I’ll share more about my travels in another post but I want to write now about my experience of the U.S. after a year overseas.

Happily - and somewhat oddly, I suppose, given some of my doubts about how this return would do - I’ve felt very little overt culture shock. In fact, in some ways everything feels very normal. Sure, the number of overweight people stand out and the size of the cars and trucks is shocking but more or less I find myself kind of sliding back into the set of assumptions and prejudices I had before I left. In some ways, maybe this isn’t so good but it makes for a lot less mental angst.

There are a lot of other little ways I realize I’m not in South Africa. While browsing in a store the other day, I found myself getting distracted by a conversation between two other shoppers. Normally, I manage to tune that sort of thing out but in this case I found myself compulsively listening because I could understand what they were saying. Such fluent English is so rare in Mthatha that whenever I hear it, I want to listen. So… if you see me this trip, watch what you say! I’ll be listening, even if you’re not talking to me.

I've been to a few cafes with friends and have once said, "You paid HOW much for that coffee!" So that's a step in the right direction.