I'm sure you've heard the phrase, "When in Rome, do as the Romans do."
Essentially it means that whenever you are in a foreign culture, it is polite and advantageous to follow the customs of that society or culture.
For most of my life, I didn't have much context for this phrase. But being in Poland, this phrase makes so much sense now.
When in Rome, do as the Romans do.
When in Poland, do as the Polish do, apart from sin.
The same goes for American culture.
I've only been in Poland for a few days, but already I can see that there are some stark differences between American and Polish culture.
Here is a list of some differences:
There are so many more cultural differences. These cultural differences aren't bad. They're just different. But it's really cool and interesting seeing how Polish culture differs from American culture. There are times though when the differences can feel overwhelming.
This week, Chelsea, Savannah, and I experienced shopping in a Polish mall for the first time during a break from our orientation week. We only went into one store, H&M (which is BIG over here), but it was a great lesson in cultural assimilation and dealing with culture shock.
As a side note: in the city we're in, American visitors are not common and neither is speaking English in public. In fact, most people assume that we're Hungarian because it would make more sense to them for a Hungarian to visit this city than an American.
While we were in H&M, we were stared at because we look different from Poles, and we speak English. Since Poles are generally quiet, we had to be more soft spoken in the store and speak to each other in a lower volume.
We also had to figure out how to convert the cost of the items we were purchasing from the Polish złoty to the American dollar to decide if we wanted to buy them. European sizes are also very different from American sizes, so we had to figure out how to convert the sizes of jeans and pants into American sizes. Even figuring out what some of the store signs meant was a challenge.
And when we paid for our items, we didn't have exact change, which is something Poles value. But luckily, the woman ringing up our items extended grace to us. And she even smiled when we said thank you in Polish.
Our trip to H&M was only one instance of trying to assimilate into Polish culture as visitors. It was challenging and humbling. I definitely felt like a small and helpless child, but the Lord was with me through the whole process.
Learning to "do" as the Polish "do" is definitely a learning process, and it reminds me a lot of Jesus.
"Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross."
Jesus was the Son of God, yet he became a man. He experienced what it was like to be fully human and assimilated into Jewish culture. He was raised like a Jew, he thought like a Jew, and he acted like a Jew. He entered into the world of the Jews. He was God incarnate, yet he humbled himself by becoming a man.
Essentially that is what the Lord is calling Chelsea, Savannah, and I to do. We're called to image Christ and to enter into Polish culture, to learn from them, to think like them, to act like them, and be one of them this summer.
Obviously, we're still Americans and we'll always be Americans. Even if we were to live in a foreign culture for the rest of our lives, we would still retain aspects of our American culture. However, if we really want to learn from the Poles, if we really want to become a part of their lives while we're here, then when in Poland, we should do as the Poles do.
And sometimes that looks like making a sacrifice like eating second breakfast (hehe). Or even drinking Coca Cola without ice.
All in all, I'm really looking forward to seeing how the Lord uses our time in Poland to draw us to Himself, showing us our need for Him in this foreign land, as well as His grace when we make mistakes such as when we speak Polish. And hopefully by the end of this summer, we'll really learn how to "do" as the Poles "do," learn from them, love them, and share our love for Jesus with them.
Savannah, Chelsea, and I with a Polish knight/cavalry while in the city of Krakow.
Read more about why the Polish cavalry wore wings as part of their uniform here.
Poles love lody (ice cream). We love them and their lody!
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