Our family has spent the last 3 weeks at Mission Training International (MTI) outside Colorado Springs. We have learned a number of really helpful things about working cross-culturally. Our class topics included cross-cultural differences, conflict resolution, major transitions, stress management, grief and loss, cultural integration, healthy families, third culture kids, and resting in God, among other things.
We have also enjoyed a lot of time for introspection and retrospection. Most of the retrospection has been reflecting on experiences/interactions that we had at Tenwek these last two years. It is not unlike watching a recording of a football game that I just played in to identify what I did well and what I did not-so-well so that I can improve in the future. This whole process has been immensely helpful, and I am glad that all the McCropders will be going through this "missions boot camp" of sorts this year.
Some of what we have done here is identify our own expectations of cultural norms which may not be universal. For example, the instructor called up two young, healthy ladies the other day and in front of the whole group asked one of the women how much she weighs. No reply. He asked again. She flat out refused to give her weight. As did the other lady. Then the instructor asked those in the audience as well as their husbands to guess at their weight. Nobody dared, until one of the husbands suggested 95 lbs. as a good guess (the women probably weighed at least 135 lbs each, but don't tell them I said that).
How strange it is, really, that weight is such a taboo subject in the American culture. And yet there are certain situations where the ladies would divulge their weight (a doctor's office). And then there are situations where women would write their weight down, but the written number could easily be 10 lbs less than what they really weigh (on a driver's license). And the women were obviously flattered that someone under guessed their weight. But that would be an offense in many cultures where a certain amount of meat on one's bones indicates health and even wealth. In those cultures, the husband should have guessed 190 or 200 lbs, just to be safe and to compliment his wife. All that, and then there are some women who will readily give you their weight. Hmmm.
All this to say that if there are so many unwritten rules and potential for harm around such a small issue of asking a woman how much she weighs, how many other such stigmas are there on unpredictable issues in the cultures we are going to? And it is not that discussing one's weight is a moral or theological or political issue - it is just the way it is in this culture. The point, obviously, is that I will need to adapt to the cultural posture on any number of issues as we enter a new culture in France, and then Burundi.
By the way, is that your real hair color?