Saturday, August 20, 2005

Culture Shock

For the past 10 months - we have been attending the Filipino SDA church. This was because our children really wanted to go to "Grandpa's church". They love running around with the other children, going to potluck after church every week, going to the many Filipino parties and singing in the children's choir.

We've been welcomed there - our children have taken to it like ducks to water. Allan for the most part seems to get alone reasonably well and be able to make conversation. Even though he claims not to speak Tagalog or the other dialects - he spent his first 3 years in the Philippines surrounded by them. Consequently - he does understand quite a bit. Not everything - but enough to usually get the general idea. People will talk to him in dialect and he'll answer in English. He was also brought up attending Filipino gatherings - so is more or less used to things.

For me on the other hand - I'm STILL in culture shock. I though PGR (a gospel choir, mostly from the Caribbean, we used to belong to) was a culture shock - and it did prepare me to be one the few white people around. But it's even more strange being the only one who doesn't speak the language or usually the only FEMALE who doesn't speak the language! For some reason the women seem to speak in dialect more than the men do. Maybe it is that the men are more in the public workforce and need to speak more English? Or maybe it is that women just talk more than men in general. But I frequently feel completely out of it - even after 10 months. It's not that people MEAN to be rude - in fact it's awkward for them also to have me there. They catch themselves speaking in dialect and then look embarrassed and then will say, "oh we were talking about ____," to me in English.

I'm embarrassed to admit that after 10 months I still can't tell them all apart yet. I don't know everyone's names. I don't know how to connect on a deeper level. Especially when I'm NOT in the Sabbath school lesson studies - I'm in with the children every week. But as Allan points out - I was in with the children back at Creekside and at Open Door before that. I'm also an introvert and a very shy person IRL. I like things planned and scheduled in advance and for things to proceed in an orderly and calm fashion. Now that is the OPPOSITE of how things happen at Filipino church. We rarely know in advance when there are going to be church meetings, practices, or church picnics.

Often someone just says, "oh for vespers we are all going to the park."

"What time?" I might ask and get, "Ohhhh, I don't know, maybe suppertime?" Which means a supper PICNIC even though that wasn't stated!!

Now it takes me a LONG time to get to know people and usually do better in small groups. In fact - for years big crowds of people gave me panic attacks with the noise, chaos, and confusion. To the point of just running in sheer terror out of sports areas, big conventions AND big, loud Filipino functions! Allan can attest that for the MOST part I'm doing much, much better! I'm lasting longer before I have to "GET OUT OF HERE NOW!" I'm also getting better at the small talk and until today it's been a long time since I've had a public panic attack.

Today combined a number of my fears: the "vespers/church picnic" was at Deas Island - which isn't an island at all but a peninsula on the Fraser River. The FAST MOVING DEEP Fraser river. The chosen picnic location was right on the bank near that deep, swift river and located conveniently between the bathrooms and the park garbage cans. As usual there was lots of food, chicken, fruit, corn on the cob, and juice. What was not usual were the hordes of WASPS! Wasps the insects - I was the only human WASP in attendance! Melissa is allergic to bee stings and I realized I had NOT brought either Benadryl or the Epipen. So between social anxiety, paranoia about the proximity of the river to our active M's, and then the wasps that kept LANDING on the myself, the twins and Melissa - I lost it. Panic attack, and ALLAN WE ARE LEAVING!!!! I have GOT to get us out of here. Allan managed to gulp down a plate of food in record time before helping me load the kids back up into the van.

White Rock pier
Originally uploaded by Allan & Cheryl

We redeemed the evening by stopping at White Rock beach on our way home. A walk on the beach, playing tag with the M's, throwing rocks into the water and watching the sunset did wonders for our collective well being. (Melissa had been every bit as freaked out as I was over the wasps swarming around).

Maddy at dusk
Originally uploaded by Allan & Cheryl

I still need to find some way to connect though - to break the cultural barrier and really get to know some of these other church members beyond polite chit-chat.


Sunny said...

I have thoughts. (No surprise)
I'd like to e-mail you.
Not sure what your address is.
Maybe we can connect through your mom who can give you mine or me yours.

Cheryl said...

I'm sure you would have some insight! I'll check with my mom for your e-mail address - but in the meantime you can e-mail me at

syntaxerror @ (take out the spaces)

Bryan said...

Don't be so hard on yourself! :)

A few years ago I started attending a filipino SDA church in Maryland and had the same problems. At that time I was a single, outgoing, non-filipino guy--pretty much the opposite of how you describe yourself--but I really had a hard time feeling any connections. Even though the would invite me to activities, sports outings, and you group events, everyone talked tagalog or "tag-lish" or about back home jokes that I totally missed.

After a year I knew most of my church family by "auntie, uncle, ate, kuya" and I was really embarrased about it, especially when they invite you to their house for potluck or their kid's birthday party. My girlfriend at the time was Filipina so I'd describe people as autnie/uncle with the (car/house/number of kids)" She actually was less interested in attending that church than I was, so she wasn't much help in solving the issue (she's a understand-er but not speaker too).

What really helped me out a lot was finding an auntie "of my own" that I liked. For me, it was the lady who my girlfriend was renting a room from while she was attending college. I'd see her more frequently, and she kinda treated me like a son--or at least like extended family.

Through her I got more familiar with other families who were in her clique (I'm sure you've found that out) but didn't let that isolate me from meeting others. once the aunties take care of you, you're all good.

I learned how to say "I'm full", "Happy Sabbath", "Wow you're beautiful" just to charm my newfound mothers and it went a long way. When I married my longtime girlfriend and we moved away last year, the whole church threw a big party for us and gave us a nice monetary good luck for our travels. Even now that we're living in Korea, the incomprehensible network that Filipinos have connected us to resources and FAMILY here where we are.

I'm sure that in time, you'll find an auntie, or another mother with children--someone who you'll just naturally bond with. Soon after you'll feel no culture shock at all! :)

Sunny said...

Bryan, What are you doing in Korea? And, where do you live? Are you aware there is a nice Philipino SDA church on the grounds of the Seoul Adventist Hospital? Lots of foreigners go there for the English, the food and the fellowship.