Dogs: A Cross-Cultural Window

(from Eric)

There are no dogs here at Kibuye.  I mean, none.  It's getting a bit weird, because now if we (or especially the kids) see a dog, it's more of a mix of fascination and trepidation than it should be.  Why don't they have dogs?  Doesn't everywhere have dogs?  You can form your own hypotheses as well as we can.

A couple days ago, one of the hospital staff was sharing in morning devotions from Revelation 22, where it says "Outside are the dogs…", referring here (presumably) to a shameful or evil person.  Calling someone a "dog" seems to have the same meaning for Americans as it did for the 1st century church as it does for Burundians.

But that was not the speaker's assumption, and for somewhat compelling reasons.  "Before I go on," he said, "I think I must explain what this means, because I have heard that for Westerners, dogs are good things.  People even consider dogs like their children.  Even better than their children.  So, maybe, when Americans refer to a person as a 'dog', it is a compliment.  We know this is true, because they even let dogs go in their car!  But, for us, you must know, that it is not a good thing to call someone a dog."

Their is a wealth of cross-cultural observation there.  First, Westerners and their dogs.  They are, in fact, a member of the family.  They are well fed and groomed.  They are up-to-date on their vaccination schedules, and if sick, sometimes get very advanced medical treatment.  So, in some ways, the speaker was right:  Often, we do treat dogs as our children.  They do ride in our cars.  In favor of that, God has made these creatures, and we care well for them.  Perhaps the odd thing is why calling someone a "dog" is still derogatory in American English.

Now, the flip side.  When the speaker mentioned that dogs are allowed to ride in cars, everyone laughed, including all the Americans.  John turned to me and said, "Maybe they wouldn't have a dog in their car, but they would have goats and chickens."  And that is the amazing truth.  Americans couldn't imagine riding several hours with your family goat or a couple chickens, but for Burundians this seems pretty normal, and seemingly not at all unsanitary in the way a dog would be.  

Several years ago, Tracy Kidder wrote a book called "Mountains Beyond Mountains."  More than the content of the book, we frequently quote the title, as a way of say "I never dreamed there were this many layers of complexity and opportunities for confusion."  Dogs.  Never thought much about that one before.  I would have put there mostly in the category of "things our cultures have in common".  

Mountains beyond mountains.

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