Frank was very confused! His confusion made him funny, but it also got him into a lot of trouble socially. Frank was one of my students when I taught international students in a university in America. What we need to realize is that each one of us has a different background. We have different experiences. We live in places that have different weather patterns, different languages, different dating customs, different food, etc. There are so many different ways of doing things around the world. Frank’s problem was that he couldn’t even speak his first language and knew nothing about his country because his dad was a career diplomat from some small African country. He had lived in several different countries, and now he found himself in America. His first language was French, so he became one of my students. He really had no base to work from. He didn’t know who he was or where he had been. He was a nice guy, but he didn’t understand anyone’s customs.
The first think Frank did was in my classroom. I was teaching a poetry class. Frank had done really well to understand English well enough to get to the point to be allowed to enroll in a poetry class. I had assigned the students an essay. When I got Frank’s paper, I couldn’t believe it! He had written the whole paper in Shakespearean English! If you have read the King James version of the Bible, that is the kind of language he had used, and he was good at it! Some people can’t even write a paper in their first language. Others can write a paper in their first language, but not in a second language. Frank had not only written a paper in a second language, but a very good paper in very old language that was no longer being used! I asked him why he had used that kind of language. He said he had been taught to use formal language in his essays. He had been to church and heard people saying prayers and singing songs in this language from the 1600’s, and he decided that since they were talking to God, that must be our most formal language, so he decided to use it when he wrote his essay. I had a bit of explaining to do to him.
Frank wasn’t finished. He had a friend named George from another African country. There was a group of students who liked to come to my house on Sundays after church for lunch. We would usually fix a rice dish because rice was cheap and could go a long way. We made Japanese rice, Mexican rice, Indian rice, etc., all different kinds of rice, and tried to pair it up with beans, eggs, or lentils or something else cheap, and the students loved it! There was a group of students from everywhere who liked to come to my house to eat after church. Frank’s friend, George, had become a regular to these meals. George’s name was very interesting. He had chosen the name George because people couldn’t remember his real name. His real name was Okongo which meant “little beer” in his language. His dad was busy getting drunk the night he was born, and when George, or Okongo was born, his dad decided to call him “Little Beer.” No wonder George had changed his name! However, George was not as confused as Frank. George had befriended Frank and invited him to come to this gathering of international students at my house.
As they walked in, another student said to to Frank, “Take your shoes off. Everyone takes their shoes off when they come to this house,” a great custom I had learned in Japan that kept my floors cleaner. Frank looked around himself at all the students as he was taking his shoes off. He was thrilled! He said, “Wow! I am going to get a wife from every country!” The girls heard him. The Japanese and the Korean girls couldn’t take it! They promptly excused themselves into my daughter’s bedroom, locked the door, and wouldn’t come out. People were running from Frank. Socially, he didn’t know what he was doing. I decided to pull him aside and talk to him because I hated to see his misunderstanding causing him so much trouble.
He appreciated it. I said to him, “I thought you told me that you go to church.” He acknowledged that he did, so I said, “That means that you are a Christian, and Christians only have one wife.” He said, “Well, my dad is Muslim, and my dad has four wives.” I asked him if he was Muslim, and he said, “No, but I thought I would become a Muslim for a little while, get married to four women, and then become a Christian again.” I had to explain that it didn’t work that way, and that if the girls in America or in this international student group thought he was going to try to marry four wives, none of them would even talk to him. He understood and decided to announce that he was a Christian, and the girls didn’t have to worry because he didn’t plan on getting four wives. People weren’t running from him quite so much after that.
The next time Frank flubbed, I just couldn’t help him anymore. They had an international student day in chapel. Several countries’ students were invited to come to the front in their countries’ traditional clothing and put on short performances from their countries. It was really nice. There were Japanese in kimonos, Koreans in hanboks, etc. Frank was up there too. I can’t remember what he was wearing or what he did until the very end. When the program was finished before everyone was ready to leave, he ran to the microphone and announced in front of the whole school that he was looking for a wife. He stressed he wanted to get married. The whole room was shocked! In America, if you want to get married, you don’t go around announcing it. You make friends with some girl you like and ask her out on a date and take it slowly, court her and make her feel loved before you announce your intentions to be married, but Frank just couldn’t figure it out. No girl in the school would talk to him after that! I hope he eventually found his wife. I didn’t pull him aside that time. He went on his way, and I went on mine. Culture is such a confusing thing, and Frank had no basis to begin with because he didn’t even know his own country, and he was really messing up among the international students and the American students. My life has been long and confusing at times living in 8 different countries, and I could see that Frank was still going through a lot of confusion, but surely he will get it figured out someday. Hint: Christian principles have helped me a lot!