When you work in a fusion of cultures, sometimes things can get quite confusing. The indigenous people of Guam are known as Chamorros. Of all the ethnic groups attending Pacific Islands Bible College, Chamorros are vastly under-represented. The reasons for this are 1) 96%+ of Chamorros are Catholic, 2) PIBC was originally started on the island of Chuuk; therefore, Chamorros were not the people group originally targeted. Nevertheless, the Chamorros are the people with whom we daily rub shoulders. They are our neighbors, Noelle’s soccer buddies, and my (Karyn) volleyball teammates. They are the people who make up our church and the people with whom we fellowship.
Although having many similarities to Micronesians, the Chamorros definitely have their own unique culture. They are extremely friendly and hospitable. They always greet one another with a kiss on the cheek, which is actually more like a cheek-touch accompanied by a kissing sound. This has taken some getting used to for our family. Like most haoles (white folk), we come from a hand-shaking culture (or, if someone is especially close, sometimes a hug is offered). So, the kissing of strangers certainly was a cultural stretch for us. Nevertheless, in good missionary-spirit, we overcame our cultural inhibitions and can now be rightly counted in the ranks of cheek-kissers. There was one slight difficulty with this. To a newbie trying to acclimate to different cultures, one culture blends in with another. At first, the nuances between who is Chamorro and who is Palauan, Yapese, or Chuukese were lost on us. And this was definitely a problem because only the Chamorros “cheek-kiss.” The other Micronesian cultures are non-touching cultures. To attempt to publicly kiss someone from Micronesia would result in unspeakable shame. Fortunately, aside from endlessly forgetting to offer the kiss upon greeting a Chamorro friend, we were eventually able to discern from which island an individual hailed and therefore which greeting would be appropriate.
Notably, there is one other group of people with whom we regularly interact, and that is the PIBC staff. This group is made up of Germans, Americans, Chuukese, Palauans, Yapese, Filipinos, and even an Ecuadorian. Because we are very close to our fellow comrades, the Americans and Filipinos primarily hug each other in greeting, and warm smiles are offered to the Germans and Micronesians. Well, one of our German missionaries, Harold, and his wife had been on furlough in their hometown in Germany for many months. As I walked into the bi-weekly staff prayer meeting, I was surprised to see Harold. His unexpected presence completely discombobulated me. As I approached him, I desperately shuffled through my mental index cards on culturally appropriate greetings. “Hmmmm…” I frantically thought, “He’s not American so I don’t think it’s a handshake or a hug, he’s not Micronesian, so I know there should be some form of touching. . .” Before I could find the appropriate index card, I was upon him. Apparently, the next card in the greeting file was the Chamorro kiss. After the smacker was planted, the awkwardness was palpable. Poor Harold turned twenty shades of red wondering why he’d been kissed. But his red paled in comparison to my bright scarlet as I recognized my major faux pas which sent me fumbling for an appropriate explanation, to no avail. Sheesh!! This missionary stuff is hard work!