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When Cultures Clashes

We have some friends who are missionaries in Paraguay. They are not from the U.S., they are from another South American country. We've been observing them and we've noticed that they're struggling with fitting into the culture. One would think that because they did not cross the hemisphere or even the equator, that the cultural differences would be fewer. However, it's evident that Paraguayans do life very distinctly from our friends and the adaptation has taken its toll on their relationships.

Here are a few examples of how we've seen the cultures clash:

Our friends choose not to answer their cell phones at certain times of the day; yet Paraguayans like others to be available. They like you to answer your cell phone. They don't like talking to an answering machine. It's funny because we have an answering machine and the only people who leave messages are Americans! Paraguayans will continue to call,even up to 10 times, until they hear our real voice.

Our friends ask Paraguayans to take off their shoes when they walk into the door, but Paraguayans are offended at this request. My guess is that it has to do with not being accepted as they are. They also have a great appreciation for the red clay-like soil and they don't complain about it like foreigners do.

Our friends wake up late and go to bed late, but most Paraguayans are farmers and are early to bed and early to rise. Schools and businesses open up at 7:00 a.m.! Our friends get upset with early morning wake-up calls (as I did when I first moved here), but early callers are just the norm here.

Our friends just give a blanket greeting when they walk into a room, but Paraguayans like to be greeted personally, one-by-one. In fact, I learned quickly, that Paraguayans will break up your private conversation to greet you. It is an important part of welcome and if you don't greet someone, they will assume you are upset with them. Also, our friends still haven't gotten used to kissing once on each cheek (their culture has a different number of kisses) and sometimes end up awkwardly avoiding a kissing mishap.

Unfortunately, our friends are not gaining acceptance as quickly as they'd hoped among Paraguayans. They have studies and have brought titles with them, but they are not yet identifying with Paraguayans. We've talked to them about some of our observations, and we hope and pray that they can learn to transition into their host culture.

As missionaries moving into a new culture, it is crucial for us to walk in their shoes, eat what they eat and live life according to their rules (as long as they fall within Biblical guidelines).We've definitely had our share of cultural clashes (Paraguayan time vs. U.S. time) and made many blunders, so we continue to be refined and dependent upon the Lord and our dear Paraguayan friends to teach us and show us loving grace.

Observing our friends has caused us to question: What might we still be doing that offends the Paraguayan friends we are trying to reach? What barriers might we be building by not being sensitive to their cultural customs and rituals?


  1. I love this post, its so true. We work with other Latin American missionaries as well and sometimes it seems like it takes the LONGER to make the adjustments.

    I love your insights. Keep writing as you discover these things, its helpful to all of us.

  2. I noticed when we taught in Trinidad that this is a common problem. People expected us to have different "culture" and were tolerant of our learning curve, but students came from all of the Caribbean islands and there was a lot of conflict because they expected all "island people" to have the same culture. They were very intolerant when people looked like them but didn't act like them. -- Katrina and Elden


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