Thursday, January 19, 2012


Last Tuesday Daisy and I walked to my car and found my front driver’s side tire flat.  Given the shape of the roads between my house and El Callejon, it’s really not that surprising! 

Getting my spare on took a few hours.  Some nice hombres in El Callejon tried to help, but the tire had put been on with incorrect lug nuts, and so it was impossible to use manual socket wrenches (we tried mine, plus three others!).  At last William, who works at the SI Base, was able to get it off. 
On Friday morning I swung by the mechanic’s place and explained I needed an Oil Change, my ‘Service Engine Soon’ light checked out, and my tire fixed.  I can’t do it today, but be here first thing on Monday.  What time?  8am.  Okay. 

At 8am I arrived and was met with a closed shop.  At 8:30 one of the helpers drove up.  I told him what I had discussed the week before.  He drove me up to the Base.  I asked if I could possibly get my car back Today because I really needed it.  He smile reassuringly and said it was possible.
I caught rides to and from with other SI staff.  That afternoon Brian (our SI Director) called the shop.  Not quite yet, but just a couple more hours.  I got a ride home with Brian, and he told me he’d let me know when the mechanic called back. 

At 7pm my phone rang.  I’ve got good news and bad news.  The good news?  My car didn’t need an oil change and the Check Engine light was just a hose with a leak.  Fixed that.  They’d also changed out the lug nuts. 
The bad news?  They hadn’t done the tire, because they needed to find additional lug nuts to secure the spare tire on the back of my Tracker.  So, could I drive on the spare (nearly tread-less and quite flat) until the next day?  
Tuesday I did just that, which was less than ideal.  We’ve had lots of rain and a smooth tire doesn’t have much traction on the wet roads and muddy track in El Callejon.  That morning we were told later that day.  Later that day we were told mañana. 
By yesterday afternoon I was getting really concerned about driving on the spare.  A call to the shop assured us it would be just a couple more hours. 
I had laundry and other work to do, so I figured I could stay at the Base until it was ready.  About 30 minutes later, my phone rang.  It was Brian.  Could you swing by the mechanic’s shop, pick up your tire and meet me at the place near the Shell station? 

I went to the shop, and there was my tire, looking just as muddy and pitiful as when it had gone flat more than a week before.  I sighed and smiled and tried to accept the helper’s apology as graciously as I could.
Why did I describe this to you in such detail?  My purpose wasn’t to sit here and whine – well, not exclusively! :O)  To me, this is a good example of the kind of cultural differences we encounter when we minister cross-culturally. 

In “Hot Climate” cultures like the DR, maintaining relationships is the most important thing.  Instead of telling me the truth, that there was no way my car was going to be ready that first day, I was told, it’s possible.  Later I was told, a couple more hours, or mañana.
For a Cold Climate gal like me, those seemed like flat out lies.  (Notice how I said, ‘telling me the truth’!)  From their perspective, however, maintaining good relationships has higher value than precise facts.  They didn’t want to damage the relationship by telling me something that would make me unhappy with them, and so they ‘softened’ it. 

Since I expect to be able to take what others say at face-value I didn’t ‘get’ that he was telling me what he thought I wanted to hear. 

The mechanic has been repairing SI cars for a long time, and so has dealt with Americans for a while.  He knows we expect the best and generally take much better care of our vehicles than Dominicans.  (No need to pay for preventive maintenance, just wait until it’s completely un-drivable before fixing!)
The lug nut to secure the spare tire was far less important to me than getting the actual tire fixed.  I would have been perfectly happy to throw the spare in the back in order to get driving safely again. 

The mechanic probably didn’t even think about suggesting this, knowing Americans like things done properly.  He was trying to work within my culture, but didn’t quite ‘get it’, either!
It’s been a frustrating week, but also a concrete example of differences between cultures.  Next time, I’ll know that when I hear It’s possible, Mañana, Just a couple more hours, what it really means is, I don’t want to upset you, and so I’m telling you what I think you want to hear. 

Oh, by the way, I brought my tire to the new place where it was patched and I was on my way – with the parts the mechanic hadn’t been able to find! – in less than 30 minutes.  Life here is definitely never boring!!

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