Confrontation is not Faux Pas

by Stacey

I remember the first time someone I had just met tried to give me a kiss on the cheek here in France. Quite honestly I wanted to run away. Apparently “the kisses” (one small kiss on each cheek) is the French equivalent to the American hug. Each time it happens my former missions professor pops into my head and says, “Remember, it’s not good, it’s not bad, it’s just different.” I have since gotten used to kissing people on the cheeks instead of a hug, but there are still plenty of other things to get used to. 

For example, in my verylimited experience with French culture, I would dare to say that confrontation is not faux pas. In America, we hear a lot about self-esteem. We value “positive reinforcement” and have to be careful not tell our children to “be quiet” but instead to “listen more.” At work or in the church, we make sure we sandwich any confrontation in a praise. Such as: “You are a really hard worker and we sure do appreciate you. However, you have been late every day for the last six weeks. We know you can do better!” We want to deal with the problem, but in a way that the person does not feel attacked. For fear of being labelled a grammar nazi most of us bite our tongues when we hear grammatical mistakes, especially with non-native speakers. Even with close friends, we generally wait for “what do you think?” before offering our advice. 

Does Anyone Care About My Self-Esteem?

But, as I have found, this is not the case within French culture. People do not apologize for correcting you or think there is anything “faux pas” about it. For example, we have been told how to properly clean our house, the importance of wearing shoes outside, that we need to be more stern with our children, and that we need to be less stern with our children. When we pick our children up from school, some of their teachers stand waiting with a list of what our children did wrong and they never apologize for giving us bad reports. 
Further, the freedom people feel in correcting our French is astounding. I have started meeting with a woman regularly whom I met in a grocery store. Turns out she was looking for someone to converse with her in English, and I for someone to converse with in French. The first day we met together, I came down the stairs of our apartment building, and realizing it was colder then I had expected, yelled to her across the street that was going to go back upstairs to get a jacket. She yelled back across the street that “jacket” was a feminine word and thus I had assigned it the incorrect article. 
And, so far my recent favorite story: I had a terrible toothache for weeks. Finally I found a dentist, and as he was drilling my tooth (without numbing me first!) he kept talking to me and expecting a response (I guess that is a global phenomenon). When he freed my jaw enough for me to make a response, I confused my verb tenses…and he corrected me! I could barely speak at all due to all the pain and I was expected to speak in French correctly?

A More Loving Way?
Strangely enough, through all of this, we have not felt unloved, but more loved. We do not just have a school committed to us learning French, it seems we have an entire country devoted to us speaking their language properly. We have people who are concerned for our health, our children, and our French article usage. We have people correcting us, not spitefully, but with a smile. We do not feel like we are in middle school, embarrassed because we do not fit in, but instead we feel like we are on a team with coaches instructing us for our betterment. It is like being surrounded by those friends who are not afraid to lovingly tell you that you have food on your face or a spouse who whispers to you that you are talking too much.
Honestly, sometimes it is a bit exhausting being constantly corrected. But, in reality, correction is a grace. This is no where more evident than in the book of Proverbs. Proverbs 8:33 says, “Hear instruction and be wise, and do not neglect it.” We are not to cringe when people confront us. We are not to defend ourselves or argue as to why we are right, but instead we are to see it as a grace to help us improve. Being in this culture has taught us to be a little more thick-skinned and to be humble enough to receive instruction because we know we need to change, especially in the area of learning French.
There is nothing wrong with warm praise and careful thoughtful confrontation (which has been more my experience in America), but I am coming to see that even if a culture confronts differently, my role is nonetheless to treasure wisdom, instruction, and rebuke. So in whatever culture you are living in right now, I challenge you to see instruction and correction as a grace and do not defend yourself. Be wise and do not neglect the opinions of spouses, roommates, parents, and brothers and sisters in Christ as they help you to become a better person, even if it comes packaged in a way that might rub you the wrong way.  I think this culture may be closer to the biblical understand that confrontation is a kindness, not an offence.
“Let a righteous man strike me- it is a kindness; let him rebuke me- it is oil for my head;
let my head not refuse it.”   Psalm 141:5

Author: David M. Hare

Dave is a husband, father of four Africans, and is currently helping the Kwakum people do Oral Bible Storying and Bible translation in Cameroon, Africa.