10. Culture shock and carpeting

In this ebook, "Pasta, pizza and Pinocchio," Howard Culbertson answers questions asked about missionary work in Italy. Originally published for the Nazarene Missions International mission book series by what is now called The Foundry, this book carried ISBN number 0-8341-0612-4. Some material has been updated for this ebook edition.

ebook: Pasta, pizza, and Pinocchio: Questions and answers about missionary service in Italy (part 8)

Missions in Italy

Why did they send you to Italy? Did you feel called to that country?
No, we didn't feel that our call was to a specific country. In fact, none of the three couples now serving in Italy really felt a call to Italy.

Our Global Mission leaders attempt to match up individual missionaries' gifts and skills with the requests that come in from mission field councils for additional missionaries. That is, they attempt to match available personnel with needs on mission fields. As a result of that process, the Longs, Lovetts, and the Culbertsons landed in Italy.
I don't suppose there'd be much of a culture shock going to Italy, would there?
You are right in thinking that American culture is related to the Italian one. But that doesn't mean that an American feels immediately at home in Italy. The language is different. Foods are different. Buildings and cities are different. Cars are different. The political system is different. Money is different.

Perhaps more importantly, the way of thinking and communicating often differs. The Italian code of behavior is centered around a family-based social web. Rather than being success-oriented, the Italians consider relationships to be the most important thing in life. Add all those things up. And they do happen to equal what Oberg called culture shock -- at least they did for us! [ more on culture shock ]
What are some Italian customs that would be different from those in the U.S.?
Among good friends of the same sex, there is much more kissing and hugging. When you greet your friends at church, for example, you kiss them on both cheeks. Good friends are often seen strolling down the street arm in arm. This must, however, be rooted in deep personal friendship. The kind of back-slapping, buddy-buddy behavior put on by some American men immediately upon being introduced to someone would be regarded by the Italians as effrontery, a shameless disregard of propriety.

Meals are eaten on totally different schedules. The noon meal will be eaten around 1:30 while the evening meal may be served at 7:30 in northern Italy and as late as 11 p.m. in Sicily. When dining, you do not put your napkin in your lap. It should be left folded beside the plate. Until I learned this one, I had waiters bringing me napkins a couple of times during a meal. They thought they'd forgotten to give me one when it was really lying over my knee!

Italians are sometimes thought of as being disorderly because they don't use nice, straight waiting lines as we do. However, what may look like a mob (or a horrible traffic jam) often has a very definitely understood order about it.
What do your kids do for schooling?
We have started Matthew in the Italian public schools. (Rachele hasn't yet started to school).
Aren't there American schools available?
Yes, but some of those "American" schools could teach U.S. public schools a few things about drugs, immorality, humanism, and materialism. And they are quite costly as well.
Won't your kids have to take make-up subjects before they enter American colleges?
Not necessarily. Thousands of foreign students enter the U.S. each year to study with no problems. We will, however, probably be tutoring them in English, American history, and such subjects if we continue their education in Italian public schools. This will make an easier transition for them into American schools during home assignment years as well as for entering college.
How do you decide what to do as a missionary?
Once a year the complete missionary staff (all six of us!) gets together. We report on our individual ministries for that year. We evaluate where we are and what we have or haven't done. We attempt to sort out our priorities for the coming year. Theoretically, it's a team strategy effort.

Normally, each missionary will be working in areas and on projects where his or her interests and abilities lie. It doesn't always work out ideally in practice, but that's the theory.
What did the Lovetts do?
Russell and Donna Lovett moved to the Naples area in the summer of 1978. They worked in evangelism and church planting in that area and had charge of two already existing but struggling churches. Russell also took on the responsibility for pastoral training on the district in addition to interim responsibilities as mission treasurer and literature coordinator. He also worked as district NYI president.
Did you get a lot of American visitors?
Yes, we did. Particularly the missionaries living in Rome and we in Florence. Both of these cities are visited by almost every American tour group that comes to Italy. In some of our summers in Florence, scarcely a week went by without us seeing somebody from the U.S. With nearly 13 million tourists coming each year, tourism is one of Italy's biggest businesses.
Can you travel easily or are there restrictions on you as a foreigner?
Italy is a Western European nation that does not attempt to control the movements of people inside its borders. The only difference from the U.S. is that every hotel or motel does have to send a copy of its nightly register to the police. Therefore, when you register for a night's lodging you have to present government-issued identification such as a passport.

With our churches scattered all over the country, our responsibilities do make us travel quite a bit. We also get out of Italy at least once each year to church functions in northern Europe.
Have you seen much of Rome?
We spent eight months in Rome in language study. While there we became the official Nazarene tour guide, relieving the Fullers of that responsibility. So we have seen Rome and seen it well. But we still enjoy going there. Where else -- asks a Rand McNally guidebook -- can one stand on a perfect 17th-century square, in front of an Egyptian obelisk plundered in the 1st century, while looking at the world's most famous church which was designed by Michaelangelo in the 16th century and built on the site of a 4th-century basilica?
Were you located very far from the other missionary families?
Florence is three to four hours north of Rome where another Nazarene missionary family lived. Naples, where another family lived for a while, is another three hours on south of Rome. The Long also lived in Sicily for a while where they were 14 hours by car away from Florence. So we were quite geographically separated from each other. [ more on living in Rome ]
Do you missionaries get to see each other very often? Do you get together on a regular basis?
We men see each other more often than our families do. We're together maybe once a month, meeting with district boards and carrying out other responsibilities. Our families are all together perhaps three times a year at things like district assemblies, U.S. military personnel religious retreats (to which we missionaries were invited), and annual council meetings.
Do all missionaries get paid the same?
Theoretically, they do. Our salary and benefits are set by the Nazarene General Board. That's the same for all missionaries. Then, a cost-of-living allowance is added, which varies from country to country and supposedly puts every missionary on the same standard of living. Career missionaries receive an additional annual increment after their fifth year of service. Single missionaries get 70 percent of the salary set for couples.
What was your home like in Italy? Did it have carpet and other luxuries?
In our first term, we lived on the second story of the Florence church building. Built in 1952, it's a three-bedroom apartment with high ceilings and marble floors. (Wood is too expensive since it all has to be imported. Marble, on the other hand,is quarried out of the nearest mountain!)

On one side of the church is a very small grassy area where the children can play. There is an outside concrete stairway leading down to that small yard.

The Fullers and Longs lived in a similar arrangement in Rome while the Lovetts rented an apartment in Naples when they lived there.
If a young person feels called to missionary service, what should he do?
The first thing would be to write to the World Mission office at the Global Ministry Center in Lenexa, Kansas. Tell them about your call and express an interest in knowing where to go from here. They will then suggest possible ways of preparing, the kinds of experience to get, as well as some practical next steps to take. [ more on knowing God's will ]
In what other European countries are there Nazarene missionaries?
We have Nazarene work in most European countries, including several where we do not have expatriate (or foreign) missionaries. Rather than listing all of those where there are Nazarene churches, it may be easier to name the European countries that we have not yet entered. We are not yet in Austria, Belgium, Sweden, or little Liechtenstein or tiny little Monaco. . . . [ continue reading ]

  Page:   ←Prev    |   Introduction  |    1. The Leaning Tower, the Lira, and  Women's Lib  |    2. Italian, Illegal Drugs, and Insulated  Buildings  |    3. Fiats, Florence, and Furloughs   |    4. The Military, Missionaries, and the  Mafia  |    5. Marco Polo and Ronald McDonald   |    6. The Cerratos, Alabaster Churches, and  Work Crews   |    7. Communism, Catholicism, and the  Charismatics  |    8. Sincerity, Self-support, and Sowing  the Seed  |    9. Books, Broadcasting, and the Bible  College  |   10. Culture Shock and Carpeting   |    11. A Word from My Heart   |   Next→ 

A word from my heart

arrow pointing rightThanks to all of you who made our missionary ministry in Italy possible. . . . [ more ]

    -- Howard Culbertson,

More on Italy for you

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