Oh auto-pay bill pay systems how I love you and miss you. In foreign countries you pay bills at banks, grocery stores, and corner markets. That is, unless the system is down, which it probably will be. Then you have to find another store on the other side of town to see if it is working or you can go to a bank like everyone else… and there goes your day. Who knew it would be so difficult to give someone money!
Then there is the issue of what do things actually cost. We paid three times as much as we should for water our first several months in Costa Rica. We had an issue with our water tank where it would continually run, filling and overflowing. We didn’t know. Considering Costa Rica is in the Tropics and it rains like it did in Noah’s day, I thought the water was a little expensive but less than I was used to paying. I talked to our neighbors who had a large family about their bill. When I realized ours was more than twice theirs, I called the landlady. I’m glad we got it fixed but I wish it wouldn’t have taken three months to figure out!
All of this is relatively minor, until you figure out someone is actively trying to rip you off. When you get the “gringo” price. When you realize someone looks at you like an ATM instead of a person. You pay an inflated price despite your best negotiating efforts. How do you react? My guess is you react worse in months 6-9. At that time, you are in full blown culture shock. You are tired of being taken advantage of and you just want to be like everyone else. The problem with this is you are different. People do view you differently.
My question is, what are you doing to be viewed as someone who genuinely cares for the people you do business with on a regular basis? If it is not someone you do business with on a regular basis, do you greet them cordially and friendly? Or, are you treating your taxi driver as a chauffeur instead of a person? Are you treating him like a person in need of Jesus?
When we treat someone like a real person it is amazing what happens. I knew my Spanish abilities were really coming along when I convinced my landlady to let me put up a hammock. It was fantastic, I used the negotiating tactics I practiced in the market, and the cultural particularities I learned in classes. I needed a hammock because the Costa Rican weather was just so nice. A hammock would really help me enjoy the weather. Furthermore, Hannah, my daughter who my landlady loved and Hannah loved her, really enjoyed our neighbors hammock. A hammock would make our house more attractive to future tenants. Finally, I’d let her have the first swing.
But let’s be honest, I didn’t learn Spanish just so I could have a hammock and pay less for bananas. I learned the language so that I can serve the Lord in Latin America. I’ve studied the culture so I can make friends. I treat people nicely so I can make friends. I make friends to have friends with the hopes of sharing the gospel. The other night I was driving with a friend here and we were just talking about life. Then he asked me, “What is a Christian? You are a Christian, what is the process?” I was able to share my testimony and the gospel because he wasn’t just a store owner, he is my friend. Paying bills may take longer but I react better when I see everyone as individuals made in the image of God and who need Jesus, just like me.