Foreign to Familiar, Sarah Lanier

foreign to familiarRelevant to anyone involved in cross-cultural mission, including talking to your next-door neighbour, this isn’t the usual type of book we review here at the Highfields Book of the Month slot, but I understand that the author is a Christian and the topic is relevant to anyone involved in cross-cultural mission, including talking to your next-door neighbour.  So here we go…

This book aims to give you a general understanding of two broad generalisations of the world’s cultures, so that you can avoid making simple cultural mistakes.  Lanier says that there are ‘hot-climate’ and ‘cold-climate’ cultures, and you can pretty much work out which one your country is in just by the climate.

A hot-climate culture is a generally laid back, community based, spontaneously hospitable, helpful (to the point of giving the wrong directions rather than giving no directions), land-working sort of a culture which is relationship based and does not suffer from time pressure.  Neither does it expect efficiency in time-keeping or accuracy in detail.

A cold-climate culture is generally efficient, precise, truthful to the point of insult (‘Does this suit me?’  ‘No, you look awful in that.’), which tends to work indoors, plans for hospitality and values personal identity and time keeping.  The generalisations are about the culture, not about individual people, so you can be a hot-climate sort of person living in a cold-climate sort of country.

Lanier is qualified to write about these issues, having lived in both cultures, and made cultural mistakes with both cultures, including in her own lecture about cultural differences!  She gives helpful examples of how conversations, arrangements and plans have been misinterpreted, caused stress and, in some cases, caused years of hurt and misunderstanding, all because of a lack of understanding of these basic principles.

So, if as a cold-climate person you’re off to a hot-climate culture this year for a mission trip, or have hot-climate country neighbours, read the book!  If you’re a hot-climate person who has come to this cold-climate country and are wondering why no-one is wandering in and out of your kitchen uninvited or why people get so stressed about being ready by 10am on the dot, read the book!