Over the weekend I read a snappy little book called “Foreign to Familiar” that neatly summarized the differences between “warm climate cultures” and “cold climate cultures”. The book was a concise 128 pages long- an easy Sunday afternoon read. The main idea is that you can make generalizations about cultures based on their weather- with a few exceptions like the American deep South. The author categorized the traits into chapters with straight forward titles like “Relationship verses Task Orientation” and “Different Concepts of Time and Planning”. As I read along, I thought back on our nearly 10 years of missions work and dropped my own stories into the author’s generalizations.
For example, in the chapter which talked about how various cultures view and use possessions, “Individualism verses Group Identity”, I thought about how Americans relate to their cars. For an American, their car represents their independence and, to a large extent, their privacy and right to self governance. This explains why a year without a vehicle is particularly painful for language school students. I once knew a family that was in the country for a 6 week intensive at the language school where I work. They actually BOUGHT a used car for their 6 week stay. I was shocked! Even though public transportation is abundant and relatively cheap here, they felt they could not possibly live without the freedom to go where they wanted in the privacy of their own vehicle.
After language school, we moved to Mexico City for our first term as missionaries. Being one of the largest cities in the world, and densely packed with people and vehicles, our choice of vehicle would determine the quality of the hours and hours of time each day we would spend in our car stuck in traffic. Our car for 5 quickly became an extension of our house. We stored extra food, baby formula, diapers, a change of clothing, bottles of water, and toys for the kids in the car. It was a family vehicle.
Sometimes my husband would need to go to church meetings in a part of town that was unfamiliar to him. In those cases it was customary to arrange to meet a fellow pastor in a known location and the pastor would give directions to the meeting in exchange for a ride to the meeting. Thinking he was following a short cut, my husband was absolutely shocked the first time the pastor directed him through a residential neighborhood and then instructed him to pull over at the next corner. When he pulled over, two other perfect strangers jumped into the vehicle! The pastor then introduced the newcomers as other pastors and friends. The “pick up” continued until the car was jam packed with pastors, none of whom were known to my husband, and eventually they made their way to the meeting.
So then my husband was in a dilemma. Is he required to stay at the meeting as long as the others are planning to stay? Is he obligated to take everyone home again? Will anyone offer to pay for gas? (The answer to that was a unanimous NO. No one EVER offered gas money!) The principle that caught us off guard was how this culture related to personal possessions and privacy issues. The Mexican pastor was not thinking, “My friend is giving me a ride because he has a car.” He was actually thinking, “Oh good, now we ALL have a ride because we have a car.” As long as there was space to jam another person into the car, the pastor saw no reason why we should not share the car with others. It did not occur to him that it was an invasion of my husband’s privacy for the pastor to invite his friends to ride along.
Fast forward several years to our first year in Costa Rica. Knowing this Group Mentality ahead of time prepared us for what we might find here in Costa Rica. We planned ahead and instead of just buying a family vehicle that would seat our 5 family members, we bought a 12 passenger van. We planned to use our vehicle to haul people, things, luggage and equipment for our ministry and personal life.
Almost everywhere we go we are giving people rides. Once I was stopped in traffic and was startled when someone came up and knocked on my passenger side window. I looked and saw a fellow teacher friend of mine. She had been walking from the bus stop about a mile away from the school when she recognized my van in traffic. Obviously she thought I would be happy to give her a ride- and I was. I had learned how to share my personal possessions and my privacy with others. I have great joy and satisfaction in the way this Warm Climate Culture has changed me.