Last week my family joined another family whom we have befriended for a picnic, yet it was not just a picnic. It was two cultures intertwining over the course of an afternoon meal while leaving an impact that will not soon be forgotten.
Culture 1 – Family from the Middle East who arrived in the U.S. with refugee status (I understand the current varying views on that topic, but I also know that most people who are spreading their viewpoints are doing so without personally experiencing the situation for themselves – and perhaps through this post, one may catch a view from a different angle.). The family consists of a father, mother, 4 school-aged boys and 3 school-aged girls. Their native language is Arabic and during the past 8 months they have grown in their ability to master (the challenging) English language. This specific family did not live in a refugee camp; however, they did flee from a warzone (which – in reality – is something many of us cannot even begin to slightly understand no matter how many news reports we watch/read).
Culture 2 – A family that has a blended culture; however, for the sake of this post, I am focusing on my culture – American. We are a father, mother and one son. I am only fluent in English (though I’ve learned the art of body language through my years of teaching English Language Learners).
1 Picnic – The family who invited us for lunch expanded my culture through inviting me into theirs; here is what I learned:
- It’s relaxing to spend time with others without a time frame. The picnic came about through a phone message that went something like this, “We want you and your family to come eat at our house. Come when you are free this weekend.” There was no specific day, nor time. It was simply an open door. We were invited to come whenever we could and we would be warmly welcomed. Now, I’m a planner through and through. I carry a calendar in my purse and we have a giant family calendar in our home. Yet, this option of visiting whenever we wished felt like a breath of fresh air. I valued their ability to be so flexible. It showed me that everything does not need to be scheduled in advance AND that my schedule does not have to always be +80% booked.
- You will never leave hungry. I am used to participating in picnics where the dishes are empty before we leave, and sometimes empty before everyone gets through the line. Yet, other cultures prepare for picnics in a different manner. An abundance of food is prepared and it is expected that guests, and the host, will take a hodgepodge of food home with them. I cherish this approach for two reasons; one, everyone has plenty to eat. Number two, the community is looking out for one another by providing each other with enough food to also take back home. For this picnic we had several fish, two chickens, a large serving platter of rice and lamb, tons of flat bread, a large bowl of salad and three different types of dessert. There were also three types of cold drinks, coffee and shay (hot tea).
- Children who can entertain themselves for hours without technology do still exist. We enjoyed our time together for several hours. During that time, the children played amongst themselves. Did they perfectly agree on everything? No; however, there was no arguing, tattling nor whining taking place (which I believe speaks volumes to the manner in which they are being home trained). The children stood and watched the calm river, they observed birds in the park, they kicked a soccer ball, attempted to ride a bicycle and also interacted with the adults in an appropriate manner. I watched as there were times each child did not “get” his/her own way, and yet they went about playing as if there was never a preference over something else. As a teacher in a city school, it truly touched my heart to see children engaged with one another (without technology) and genuinely enjoying the afternoon together. I began to question if the statement (excuse?), “Oh, they are just acting like that (negatively) because they are brother and sister,” is used around the world, or just in my culture?
There were many additional details from this picnic that also made an impact on me; nevertheless, those were the three that were reoccurring in front of my eyes and in my mind. Every culture has unique aspects and there are lessons that can be learned if we open up our minds, hearts, eyes and ears. This afternoon picnic may have not seemed like much of a big deal to the hosting parents, but to me, it made a lasting impression. I was reminded of the beauty of simply enjoying the moment without time restrictions. In addition, I valued the honor of providing for one’s community through preparing enough food to be enjoyed during this event and in the future. Lastly, I saw the pure joy that is shared between children as they play amongst themselves in a park. These are lessons that go way beyond one picnic. They are lessons that allow two cultures to learn from one another; thus creating a stronger tomorrow.
Ahmeli… that we will be inspired and grow as we embrace, and internalize, the strengths of cultures with whom we interact.
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