I'm working my way through a book recommended by my director at CrossWorld to help me learn more about French culture. It's called "French of Foe" and though it was written with the business world in mind, I'm finding amazing insights into the French that I think will aide us in this ministry when we're there. That's the theory, anyway.
The first chapter of the book opens with the unspoken codes that separate the polite from the rude. (We have them, too. You know, like don't stare at people you're not talking to and don't step too closely inside their personal "bubble". If either of these is a news flash to you, um...)
Anyway, the first code: Don't smile at strangers. Okay, that certainly goes a long way in explaining the "French are rude" stereotype, but there's a really interesting piece behind it with implications for those who would share the gospel. The French are taught from birth not to trust strangers. There are myriad historical reasons for this, but 'nuff said for now. To break this code, to smile at someone you don't know then, is viewed as hypocritical, a trait particularly despised by the French. As the writer's French son-in-law puts it, "Americans have banalized the smile. Americans smile all the time, always the same. For us there must be a reason."
And that's a key-turner for me. I remember learning that the French want nothing to do with "church" or what they think is "Christ". And now it makes sense. The abuses they witnessed and endured over the centuries wrongly placed under those titles were indeed hypocritical. I wouldn't want to have anything to do with what they perceive as "Christian", either. What they will need to see in us -- OVER THE LONG TERM -- is that we live what we believe, as much as we possibly can.
Recently someone we've met with for many weeks to study the Bible asked me, "Someone told me you and Pat try to live your lives according to what's in the Bible. Is that true?" On one level, I was cut to the quick. If someone I've met with for Bible study for that long doesn't know the answer, what am I doing wrong? Hmmm, can't say I have an answer. But the challenge in finding it is a good one. What can I do so others know, or rather, that they SEE that I live what I believe? Can I do that in France? Will they see?
The thought that they might makes me smile. But I'll keep it to myself.