Today, I had a bit of a run in with my American English and Australian English. It was entirely forgiveable in context, as it was the fourth day in a row I was commuting across Orange County, and we had snoozed through our anticipated start time (not a big problem except the trains are erratic at best). We got to the train station only to find there was a thirty minute wait before my train, and Tim suggested we both get a coffee, of which we were in dire need. We like the ‘Night Owl’, a little place in Fullerton filled with quirky furniture that reminds us of our actual hood, Newtown in Sydney.
A weary Tim dropped into one of the low 1960s chairs, and I stood waiting for the attention of the busty barista. When she turned around, I politely asked “Can I please have a non-fat Latte?”
She replied “I’ll get that out to you right away”.
“Oh no,” I replied, “I mean … Go Away”.
She stared at me strangely, beginning to laugh. “Go Away?” she enquired.
After I had explained to her that my brain had fused Australian ‘Take Away’ and American ‘To Go’, she thought it was the funniest thing she had ever heard.
“Well,” she giggled at me “I can go away, but I wouldn’t be able to make your coffee. Perhaps I should stay here and work the espresso machine for you.” She stood and we talked for about five minutes about international travel. “I’ve never been anywhere but Mexico, and only for one day on a cruise”, she said. She wanted to know everything about why I was traveling (a PhD), and where I imagined I would be in five to fifteen years (after a season of fieldwork in Australia, possibly at a European university, in my wildest dreams, somewhere in Switzerland so I can learn all three intersecting languages).
What is particularly interesting about this encounter is that I got on the train and began to read the next book in my long list of text books, Fareed Zakaria’s The Post-American World 2.0.
Zakaria speaks of an insularity of American culture post 9/11. He contrasts our former world of one rising Western superpower with the emerging, new world where there is one superpower and a rising Rest. He says, “”This is not a book about the decline of America, but rather about the rise of everyone else”, and in this he finds a balance that makes the text palatable to an American education institution, but also explains the changing role that American education institutions have within the global landscape. Facilitating other ‘voices’ cannot now not arise simply out of an altruistic desire to listen to the natives, but from the necessity to understand the worldviews and understandings of other modern nations.
This observation also true for the global church – rather than a paternalistic American church reaching out towards its ‘Southern’ counterparts in hopes to evangelize the natives, the potential is there to be able to see international church institutions as equals, with various local perspectives broadening each others’ view, and creating checks and balances in the system in a way that we have not yet seen. Christian community looks entirely different in the future world.
But, of course, there is always the potential for the above types of gaffs in cross-cultural encounters. Even eating and drinking becomes something tricky to be negotiated – and a potentially embarrassing interchange. In my case, however, it became the foundation of a friendly interaction with a pretty college senior who has never been outside of her own country except for a single day.