cross-culture in high heels

Not the road in question, but similar
Last year, I was walking on a dirt road with 2 of my Kenyan friends. It was rocky and not at all level, with ruts where the majority of traffic traveled. We were not walking in the ruts, to avoid being run over by motorbikes. We were walking beside the ruts, where the road was even more rough.

Somehow, we began talking about the effects of child bearing and age on our bodies, as women do. One of them said that her doctor had told her to stop wearing high heels because it was damaging her back. This was surprising to me because it was to her house that we were walking. On this rocky, uneven, rutted dirt road. Where she walks every day.

I said that I couldn't wear high heels and walk on this road everyday, but not because of my back - I would trip over rocks and stumble into holes, turn my ankles, and fall down. They asked if I ever wear high heels (they've only seen me in my dirt-road-friendly flats).

I said, "Yes, but I can only wear them if I'm going to be walking somewhere very smooth, like Nakumatt." (That's the big supermarket.)

At this point they both gasped, "I could never wear high heels at Nakumatt! The floor is so slippery. I'd fall down!"

During my first year living and working cross culturally, I was living on MV Doulos (this link goes to our old blog; I didn't transfer the Doulos posts over here). The crew and staff were Multicultural Team, Extreme Edition. Over 300 people lived and worked on board, and we were from upwards of 50 countries. Not only did we have cross-cultural relationships with the people and churches we were serving, but also with our co-workers, roommates, and best friends. One cross-cultural proverb that was repeated in every port of call was "It's not right or wrong; it's just different."

I would pause here and say that there are things in every culture that are absolutely right. And there are aspects of every culture (yes, even mine) that are absolutely wrong. But for the most part, cultural differences are neutrally different. They could both be right or both wrong or both nothing. It's not a zero sum game - don't let yourself believe one has to be right and the other wrong. Most things are like high heels.

There's no right or wrong time to wear high heels, just what you personally are used to and comfortable with - it could be every day or never! It doesn't really matter. They're just shoes. It is important to be able to talk about these cultural differences, inconsequential though they are, lest you make unfair judgement calls. "She's silly and vain for wearing high heels every day when she has to walk home on a rocky dirt road. She should wear flats or walking shoes." Just because you aren't comfortable in heels on a dirt road doesn't mean she isn't.

Now, there may be something that is so very important in your culture that doesn't matter at all in another. You argue, "This is not just shoes. This is not inconsequential. This is a big deal." And I would say that still, it may not be an issue of right and wrong, but mere difference. Begin learning about your own culture: why this issue is so important to you? And also learn about your cross-culture: what do they value instead?


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