One of the instructors at MTI told a story during training of when he lived in Russia. It was his anniversary and so he decided to buy his wife roses. Her favorite color is yellow so he walked into the flower shop and asked for a dozen yellow roses. He was shocked when the shopkeeper refused to sell them to him. Fortunately he asked her why. She told him he couldn’t have a dozen, because even numbers were for funerals and he couldn’t have yellow because that was for divorces.
He decided to ask for thirteen, baker’s dozen, his wife probably wasn’t going to mind having extra, why not? No, the shopkeeper just looks at him sternly. Eleven would be okay, but not the number thirteen! At this point he is starting to get creative. Can he have seven roses and five roses? Yes, that is acceptable. The shopkeeper wraps five roses and then seven and hands them to him. He starts to leave the store, but she stops him. He is carrying them bloom up, which is the wrong way so she tells them he has to carry them bloom down, totally opposite for an American. Feeling properly chastised he carried them upside down out of the store in separate hands.
The class was in stitches as he acted out the story, but it was a great reminder that culture shock is going to happen at some point. It will be the big thing, like food and language, but it will also be the little things we take for granted, like knowing how to buy flowers. During class they used an illustration of a bridge (which Ian and another engineer were quick to volunteer to help build). It started steady, a phase called “Settled”, moved to chairs that rocked, “Unsettled”. Next was “Chaos”, illustrated by balls you had to cross. Eventually you settle again in a new place. They let the kids race over the bridge a couple times while we lined the sides to catch them if they fell. The kids had a blast and it was a fun way to remind us that we are going to need our support team to be willing to help and encourage us as we deal with the new chaos in our lives. We are so thankful for each and every one of you.
For the record, I was laughing too hard to remember which color of roses he eventually bought!