Sunday, July 20, 2014

A Shocking Cross-Cultural Interaction

We were in a cafe recently that had a replica of the iconic red phone booth one would expect to find along a street in London. I'm not sure why someone built a copy at a cafe in Hanoi, but there it was ready for globe-trotting tourists or imaginative locals to strike a pose and snap a photo. Caleb and Nathan were puzzled by it. Nathan wanted to know why someone had to go into a box to make a phone call. Caleb shrugged and said maybe it was to get out of the rain.

Later in the week the topic came up again. I attempted to explain the concept of a pay phone and in the process mentioned using a phone book. Both boys returned blank stares. "You know,"I insisted, "a phone book...the thing you use to look up a phone number." Still blank stares.

When my brothers and I were little, our first exposure to a phone book was through our derrieres. We used them as booster seats (along with Sears and J.C. Penney catalogs) at my grandma's kitchen table. At home there were always stacks of phone books on a table next to where our rotary phone hung on the wall. We used them as stepping stones across the living room carpet when we hopped from couch to love seat without touching the floor. Phone books were doorstoppers and bookends and ramps for Matchbox cars. Before the advent of the internet, phone books were our link to the outside world. What's playing at the movie theater? Look up the number and call. Where should I go to get a haircut or to repair a broken window? Flip through the yellow pages. How can I prop this up? Grab the phone book.

I think my most shocking cross-cultural interaction this week was between me and my kids. Imagine not recognizing a phone booth or a phone book when you see one! Now I know how my parents felt when I was bewildered by their collection of 8 track tapes. I guess you don't have to go far from home to encounter an entirely different perspective on the world.

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