Six years ago, I made my very first trip overseas – to New Zealand – and it was fabulous! Breathtaking scenery, generous people, amazing art. With the exception of the indigenous Maori culture, which was literally another world, I felt like I “got” everything about the country.
My next trip? China. And again it was fabulous, but this time I “got” nothing. I couldn’t automatically tell whether someone was well-off or not. I couldn’t distinguish one neighborhood from another. I had no way to process cultural norms like split pants or outdoor kitchens. That’s when I realized for the first time that I carry in my brain an enormous vocabulary of visual cues that didn’t apply in China, and that I was used to processing these cues at lightning speed without even noticing.
We do this with churches all the time – we look at the building and draw conclusions without even noticing.