Every culture and people group has their own language and cultural norms. Anyone who wants to effect change in cultures other than their own are required to become increasingly skilled in language and culture. But the process can often be painful. My wife is a perfectionist. In the 4 languages we’ve had to formally study, she is very careful to gather her thoughts and be word perfect before she attempts to use a language other than her own. As for myself, I learned languages because I share stories and tell jokes. I cannot stand being unable to communicate with people. So give me 3 or 4 sentences in any given language and I can turn them in to a page or 2 of significant, linguistic nightmares.
I will never forget the first time where I used the local language in East Africa in front of my family at a restaurant. I was positive I had looked at the waiter and asked him for a simple glass of iced water. What I actually said to him, apparently, was, “Would you give me a kiss on the mouth?” I knew something was amiss when he began to pucker up and lean toward me!
I have looked for many times, since then, for a proof text in the Bible which requires families to eat at home and never go to restaurants.
But one cultural euphemism in very rural African villages continued to elude me. Coming from rural Kentucky I should have expected and looked for such tales used by grandmothers for frightening little children. Where I grew up in Kentucky when you were not good your grandmother would say, “If you don’t behave the bogeyman will come and get you!” I spent many nights as a child afraid of the bogeyman. What I did not know, in this part of rural East Africa, was grandmothers who told their grandchildren, “If you are not good the white man will come and eat you!”
And then I would arrive; the first white man they had ever met, jumping out of my pickup truck, weighing about 120 pounds, looking lean and hungry, with my arms thrown out wide, seeking to embrace the children of this village while attempting to speak in my simplified, local language.
The children would run screaming from my presence! They knew for sure I had arrived to eat them.
Grandmothers by the scores would come and greet me, touch me on the face, and thank me for coming to their village. This had no spiritual connotation whatsoever; it had everything to do with their grandchildren. I had scared these kids so badly there would not be a discipline problem in this village for weeks to come.
It’s bad to meet your grandmother’s bogeyman and to find out it is you.