This topic is what sparks those hilarious and/or dreadful stories of the mission field. Someone broke a cultural norm and offended a local resident, or perhaps wondered off to go exploring...and even worse. I grew up in Brazil and it was easy for me to catch the little things people did...ok, not so little things. More recently in the past 5 years I've been involved with missions teams, I've seen some crazy things people have done and said. Pay close attention because messing up here can spoil the situation and friendships.
- Don't compare. Never make comparisons between countries. This is setting you up for failure. I was in Haiti once and a young lady said "you guys don't have fast food". Then someone had to explain to the Haitians she was talking to what fast food was. You order and drive to a window and they give you your meal. In a country where the lack of food is a major issue. Another instance someone said "you don't have much running water here", another major issue in Haiti. One guy answered sarcastically and said, "no, but we do have cholera!" Rightfully he was very upset. Instead of making comparisons ask people about their lives, their families, just as you would someone you met in your own country. Compliment people on their food, country's scenery and language. Trust me, you'll make a friend a lot quicker that way.
- Don't point. This is just rude. It's really annoying to a person to see a foreigner point at something in amazement because it's different. Without realizing it, the "pointer" is sending a message of superiority. Downsizing the local peoples way of doing things or what they have. The locals notice it. The "pointers" never do.
- Don't stare at your food. If you are offered a meal, it's a good idea not to look at for more than 3 seconds. It's perfectly fine to ask "What is this?" but make sure it's followed by a "Thank you". Anybody, regardless of what country they are from gets offended when their guests scrutinize their food. Remember, food is a great catalyst for making connections. Use that opportunity wisely.
Don't venture off away from the team. I've had to remind several people to stay in the designated areas with the team. What happens is that people begin to get comfortable in their surroundings and forget that they are not in their own neighborhood or city. There have been people who have gotten robbed and even lost in a neighborhood because all they wanted to do was check things out. Not wise.
- Don't keep talking about the futile stuff you miss. Missing your family is normal, but when you're in a foreign country for a limited time there's no need to declare your love for a cold Coke. Part of the experience is to absorb as much as you can from your trip. This includes local culture, food, friendships. Maybe I'm somewhat radical, but in light of the mission, missing cheeseburger is too much. You'll get your cold can of carbonated toxins soon enough.