I Just Want a Muffin!
Photo by Nicola since 1972
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I went to McDonalds to get a muffin. This is what happened:

Me: Could I get a muffin?
Cashier: A Mcmuffin?
Me: No, just a muffin
Cashier: Yeah like a Mcmuffin
Me: No, a muffin, like a bran muffin, a blueberry muffin
Cashier: Sure, its kind of a bready muffin
Me: Yeah, like bran muffin. I want a bran muffin!

I paid 1 buck, the cashier then went to the hot plate, wrapped two halves of a mcmuffin and put it in the bag.

Cashier: here you go
Me: Ahhh, I think we are miscommunicating here. I just want a muffin. A regular, plain muffin.
Manager: Sir, what’s the problem?
Me: Do you have any blueberry or bran muffins?
Manager: No sir we don’t carry muffins. Could I get you something else?

Perplexed and very confused, I settled: “Ok, I’ll just get a Cinnamon Bun”

What happened? I still don’t know. One possible explanation is that I was in a different country from Canada at the time in a neighbourhood where Spanish/Portuguese is the main language. Perhaps the people in this neighborhood didn’t eat muffins? But shouldn’t all McDonalds Restaurants carry muffins? From this exchange I learned something about cultural expectations. For me, it was clear: “I want a muffin. Surely he is not listening to what I am saying.” To the cashier, it was clear: “All people buy here is mcmuffins. Surely that’s what he means.

I’m sure if we break it down, we can decide who was in the right. But that’s besides the point I am making. The point is: how do you react when your cultural expectations are not met? Do you get angry and defensive or patient and humble? In this exchange I must confess at one point my patience ran thin and I raised my voice a bit. This was not excusable because in that moment, my self-gratification and pride were more important to me than humbly and patiently crossing over to his world to understand why we were miscommunicating.

I think the temptation to react impatiently when our cultural expectations are not met applies to how we understand the beliefs of others. The knee-jerk reaction we have when someones cultural beliefs conflict with ours is to say to ourselves “that’s just weird.” Recently, I was talking to my nephew of 7 years of age over the phone and said I would be celebrating thanksgiving in november while in the USA. He said “but we already celebrated thanksgiving!” “Yeah, but here in the USA, they celebrate it in November.” “That’s weird!” he said.

But what would it look like if we crossed cultures with love and service rather than in pride and impatience? As a follower of Jesus, I am consistently contradicted by him and need to repent of my impatience in crossing cultural boundaries with others to love them and serve them like he would. He modeled perfectly what crossing over to a culture should look like. Coming from heaven to earth to live amongst us, he took on human form. Instead of using his divine power to manipulate people, he used it to serve people, speaking in their language, eating their food, bearing their sorrows, healing their diseases, and dying for their sins and ours so that we may have life in Him. I know of no greater example of what it looks like to cross a culture with love and service as opposed to pride and impatience than I see in Jesus’ example.

How would you have responded in the McDonalds incident? Why do you think it is that we seem wired to respond with pride and impatience in clashes of cultural expectations rather than in love and service?

4 thoughts on “I Just Want a Muffin!

  1. Brayden Krell

    I think we respond this way for the same reason we might be alarmed by the way things are done in another person’s house or church.
    We become so accustomed to doing things our way, that it doesn’t really occur to us that people would do things differently. Especially in the context of something like a McDonald’s. It’s a North American chain, it would be easy to expect North American service.

    When we see something different, we can respond one of two ways…
    1) With offence.
    2) With the attitude of respectfully wanting to understand why the difference exists
    If a Baptist went to a Charismatic church, you might witness a very similar exchange. But just because there’s a different way of doing things, doesn’t mean it’s wrong.
    I think that’s the key to crossing those bridges…Overcoming offence and expectations.

  2. Eric David Nielsen

    Good point Brayden. I think a lot of it had to do with expectations. I both assumed and expected a certain type of service and when I didn’t get it, I became more and more frustrated. It amazes me how I can think of I am a patient person and then when certain situations come up, they expose the self-regarding impatience stemming from my own heart. If it was not for the hope that God can actually change us through what Jesus has done for us, I’d despair that I could change.

  3. Allison

    I like this, especially the description of Jesus humbling himself to be part of our culture. ‘Down to earth’

  4. Eric David Nielsen

    Thanks Allison, sorry for such a late reply. As I mentioned to Brayden, the amount of pride I have in my own culture to the exclusion of loving my neighbor seems to crop up at the most unexpected times, revealing a lack of humility and therefore, clear vision on my part. What’s an experience you have had in a cultural clash?

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