Things That I Have Learned From Latin American Culture
My family and I have been in Peru for over a year now. We have had the excellent opportunity to go through language school and work with David Gardner, a missionary here, and in a local church, Iglesia Bautista Omega. We will probably be here until next August to continue to work on our Spanish and to learn more about doing the ministry in a Latin American country. There is much more that I need to learn, but I thought I would take a minute to share a few of the things that I have learned so far from Latin Culture.
One, the journey matters more than the destination.
Americans, as a whole, are very driven and task-oriented. They want to win the game or complete the project. They want to have a purpose in everything they are doing, and if there is no purpose, they feel like they are wasting their time. Latin Americas, on the other hand, are not goal or task-oriented. They do not care many times what the purpose of what they are doing as long as they are with friends and having a good time. Playing a soccer game is not so much about who wins or who plays the best as it is about enjoying your friends’ companionship and making fun of them when they miss an easy goal.
A trip to the beach or the mountains is not so much about getting to the beach as fast as you can and doing as much as you can while you are there. It is more about having a good time with the people you are traveling with, so if you have to stop five or six times on the 3-hour drive, that is no problem. Many Americans will get frustrated by these apparent delays and feel like they are wasting time, but the truth is that these little delays are part of the experience. It is not about the destination, and the journey is what matters.
This is one of the things that I have learned/am learning during my time here. The journey is what matters, and you may not get as much accomplished, but you are building relationships with people that will last for a lifetime, which is very important.
Two, Relationships trump everything.
Relationships are trump everything in Latin America. One example of this was when my wife was about to give birth to our second son; we had to get some medicine because of her blood type to give to her so there would not be problems with the next baby. We got the medicine prescription and went to one of the biggest and best pharmacies in the city. Unfortunately, they did not have the medicine. We began looking around at other pharmacies, and none of them had the medicine that we needed either. We were getting desperate, so we asked some Latin American friends of ours what we should do. One of my friends called me back an hour later and told me there was that medicine at the first clinic that we had gone to. I told him that he must be mistaken because we had just been there that morning, and they did not have any. He told me that his aunt worked there, and she said there was some, so we went back to see. When we got to the counter, the lady told us again that there wasn’t any, but my friend told her the name of his aunt and told her to check again, and all of a sudden, they had the medicine in stock!
Obviously, in every country and culture, relationships are important, but I feel like more so in Latin America. Not only in business or for getting help buying something that you need but also in every aspect of life. It is amazing how just knowing the right person changes everything about a situation. When you need help with something, you don’t Google companies to help you; you ask your friends if they know someone who can help you. Relationships trump everything in Latin America!
Three, politeness is essential.
Many times as Americans, it is easy to come off as rude and uncaring to Latin Americas. Americans pride themselves on telling it like it is and being direct. We think that we are more productive because we get right to the point and don’t dilly around. However, I have learned that politeness is essential in Latin America, and it is something that I am trying to work on. One glaring example of this for me is when I send a text message to one of my friends asking him about our plans for the next day without saying good morning, and the first message I receive back says good morning. In a kind way, he is saying you are very uncultured and too direct. I need my good morning text before you can ask the question.
Also, I have learned that you should always greet everyone. An American might walk up to a group of people taking and join right in, but a Latin American will say hello to everyone in the group. They will also say goodbye to everyone as well. You don’t just leave a party or meeting. You must say goodbye to everyone there.
You also should not turn your back on people. So if someone walks up to the group, you will need to make room for that person to be included in the conversation so that nobody will be left out.
There are many more things that I have learned and am learning from Latin American culture, but I thought I would share a few differences that I have seen. I absolutely love Latin American culture and am trying to learn more and adapt to their culture every day. Although I know that I will never be 100% like them, I want to adapt as much as I possibly can to effectively minister in Ecuador.