I don’t remember where I was or what I did. The reaction it got, on the other hand, is forever burned into my memory.
Maybe my memory fails me because it happened in one of Burkina Faso’s ubiquitous villages of round earthen structures with conical thatched roofs surrounded by fields (photo) and wooded grasslands. They can all seem the same. While discussing with a group of men through an interpreter, one of the younger men became angry at something I did. His glare matched his rapid and loud tirade. Embarrassed by my gaffe, my interpreter fell silent.
When the young man’s energy was spent, one of the older men spoke a few soft words, the irate young man nodded his approval and smiled. The tension was gone.
“He is just a white man. He doesn’t know anything”, were the words that saved me. The old man was pointing out that I did not know their customs, and therefore I should not be blamed for breaking them.
Don’t try this in a court of law because there “Ignorance of the law is no excuse.”
I have been fortunate to be working in Africa where my white-skinned ignorance usually gets me a gracious pass. I hope you will return the favor and be gracious to the “foreigners” you meet in your “village” – especially as we remember that our Lord Jesus himself was born away from home.