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"The ABCs of American Culture"
First Steps Toward Understanding the American People Through Their Common Sayings
by Stan Nussbaum

"Time is money." Three simple words. One profound observation about American culture. This and 233 other common American sayings are woven together in a 60-page booklet, "The ABCs of American Culture": First Steps toward Understanding the American People through Their Common Sayings and Proverbs, published in October, 1998 by Global Mapping International (GMI) based in Colorado Springs, Colorado, USA. The booklet is GMI's first step into a multiyear project called "Listen First, Speak Later," to promote cultural research as a pre-evangelistic approach to the world's least reached peoples.

As of 2 March, 1999 you may order copies of "The ABCs of American Culture" from World Christian News & Books in Colorado Springs, USA. E-mail: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or (in the USA) telephone toll-free: (888) WCN-NEWS. The suggested retail price is $5.95 for this 50-page paperback. World Christian News is a discount supplier. Request discount information for bulk orders or special circumstances.

This book is not directly relevant to African proverbs, but it may be useful if you are an American working in Africa or if you are an African trying to understand the Americans you work with. About 60 "Ask an American" discussion questions are sprinkled through the book. The book may also be useful as a model for describing an African culture through looking at its common proverbs. Gerald Wanjohi has done this in much more detail in his study of Kikuyu proverbs. It would be good to see many people attempting similar (if shorter and simpler) descriptions of many other African cultures using proverbs as the focus.

Though America is not a "least reached" people group, this booklet on American culture serves as a prototype, showing how any culture can be described through a study of its proverbs. The process of writing a booklet like this about an unreached culture gives the pioneer evangelist a focused activity which involves lots of conversation with local people about their beliefs and values, yet does not immediately threaten them. The evangelist listens, learns and writes, earning the trust of the people to whom he or she wishes to speak.

The resulting booklet makes an excellent resource for other evangelists, both as a piece of cultural education and as a tool for starting conversations with local people.

Booklets will vary in length, depending on the writer's skill, connections and available time. Some may be 20 pages rather than 60 pages (like the model booklet on America). Some may even be leaflets rather than booklets, but even here the booklet on American culture gives a guideline. It starts with a four- page overview of "The Ten Commandments of American Culture," ten of our most common and revealing proverbs [see list below]. In a new culture, a four-page summary like this could be a sensible target for a first-time researcher. Of course it can be expanded gradually as additional insight is gained.

Though designed as an aid for foreigners including those learning English as a second language, "The ABCs of American Culture" may also help Americans in a couple of ways. Those working cross-culturally need better awareness of their own cultural baggage which may interfere a great deal with their ability to represent God. Those who stay at home need to reflect on their own culture and its relation to the gospel. As the message paraphrases Romans 12:2, "Don't become so accustomed to your own culture that you fit into it without even thinking."

"Ten Commandments of American Culture"

                                                               i.      You can't argue with success (Be a success).

                                                             ii.      Live and let live.

                                                            iii.      Time flies when you're having fun (Have lots of fun).

                                                           iv.      Shop till you drop.

                                                             v.      Just do it.

                                                           vi.      No pain, no gain (Get tough. Don't whine).

                                                          vii.      Enough is enough (Stand up for your rights).

                                                        viii.      Time is money (Don't waste time).

                                                           ix.      Rules are made to be broken (Think for yourself).

                                                             x.      God helps those who help themselves (Work hard)

 

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