Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Fritoes and Sumo

Written by: on May 10, 2018

I love chili and don’t get to eat it as often and I like. I remember thinking that I ate chili the normal American way…until I married my wife. Her family made chili -that was different than my family- and ate it with Fritoes chips (gross) while my family had chili over rice (the normal way). Since rice is more accessible then Fritoes, she has learned how to eat chili correctly. Things we define as normal are rarely what others perceive as normal. David Livermore quoted his daughter in his book, Leading with Cultural intelligence, asking at the dinner table on day, “Can we just eat something normal?[then Liverm ore writes how normal is what we do and abnormal is what other do]…Most of us tend to underestimate the degree to which we ourselves are a product of culture. It’s much easier to see it[the abnormality] in others.”1 Working and living in a cross-cultural setting requires one to be open to new ways of thinking and humble enough to recognize when your normal is being stretched to incorporate a new normal as well as new ways of perceiving the world. This is referred to as cultural intelligence.

Cultural intelligence (CQ) is the “capability to function effectively across national, ethnic, and organizational cultures.”2 Sometimes we learn and grow in the privacy of our own homes and other time we stick our foot in our mouth publicly for all to see. When our family arrived in China 12 years ago we spoke absolutely no Chinese. We had a familiarity with asian culture from our time living in Hawaii. I realized quickly that I had biases that I had not recognized before. I thought I knew asian culture and was not ready for the culture shock hit me from time to time. I remember we had been in country for a couple of weeks and were watching a Japanese sumo wrestling match on t.v. We at an American friend’s house that spoke fluent Chinese. I turned to our host and asked foolishly, “How can you tell the difference between the Japanese and Chinese language, the sound the same?” You see the sumo match was all in Japanese. The host got a weird look on his face and said, “I can understand Chinese and I can not understand Japanese.” I didn’t have enough Chinese knowledge to know the difference between the 2 cultures let alone the 2 languages. As I look back in context of Livermore’s 4 steps of CQ, I recognize stories that could be told out of each of these steps in my life. Taking that first steps often opens the doors to envisioning cultural answers in our own communities.

“There are also three key experiences that consistently reveal a positive relationship with CQ: cross-cultural experience, educational level, and working in multicultural teams.” I often tell people that they need to get out of their home culture and try traveling. Dipping your toes into the sea of multi-cultural understanding can change your worldview. We love hosting college students that want to come, live and experience the Chinese culture. Through the years many have come to live with us for 2 months. We have found that those that come from multi-cultural backgrounds actually have some of the hardest time adapting. I believe this is because they have the hardest time acknowledging their own cultural biases. Believing that our own CQ is not in need of being stretched limits our growth and sensitivity to other cultures. Just like eating local honey will help your body adapt to the local pollens, walking the streets, trying new foods and humbly needing others to help you will help us understand some of the local ways of thinking.

I do think cultural intelligence and cultural sensitivity go hand in hand. I remember I was in the States a few year ago sharing on what was happening in this part of the world. I was on a week long tour in south Florida hoping from different events sharing in churches. In the course of that week, at east 3 times some older God-loving, but not culturally sensitive person, would come to me and say, “ching chong ching chong, what did I say?” The first time I just stared dumb-founded that they thought that funny. Especially after I had just spoken on what God was doing throughout the country of China. I will admit that when this happened again I might not have been old person sensitive but was a little more prepared. When this same joke was said to me, I looked appalled and told them, “you just cussed me out! Don’t ever say that again.” After a long moment I smiled and told that I was joking but that they should probably never tell that joke again. I do believe a little shock helps drive home the point.

Cultural Intelligence helps us recognize what is important to those we are hanging out with. Whether that is in Texas, Montana, or San Francisco understanding the local culture help build the bridges to a successful relationship. We sometimes have lost the value of being together and sharing a meal. There is an intimacy that is created when we gather around a table laughing, talking and making a memory. For many cultures, meals are only shared with friends because it is special event. Finding moments of connecting with people and seeing value in the differences can change our lives. Livermore said “Life is about things that transcend us”3 When we begin to see beyond ourselves, then the One that transcends can guide to deeper and much fulfilling life.



1Livermore, David. Leading with Cultural Intelligence : The Real Secret to Success (2). Saranac Lake: AMACOM, 2015.

2Ibid, 9

3Ibid, 53

About the Author


Greg has a wife and 3 children. He has lived and work in Asia for over 12 years. He is currently the Asia Director of Imanna Laboratories, which tests and inspects marine products seeking US Coast Guard certification. His company Is also involved in teaching and leadership development.

11 responses to “Fritoes and Sumo”

  1. Jennifer Williamson says:

    Greg, you know I can relate. I often hear jokes like, “Going to war without the French is like going hunting without your accordion”–a quote from a US general at the beginning of the Iraq War.

    And I totally agree tha meals are a place of hospitality and unity. Another place of unity that Christians share is the One you refer to at the end. The place at the foot of the cross is a place of welcome and diversity. There we are a community of Saints who are strangers to the world. What one author has referred to (and I quote in my dissertation) as our “collective other-ness.”

    Good thoughts here. What speaks specifically to your project?

    • Greg says:

      Thanks Jenn for reading through all my typos…what a week. I didn’t see a lot that connected to where my research was going. I wanted it to but it didn’t directly correlate to what I was thinking.

      I Like the thought of “collected-otherness” …our differences draw us to be united by Christ.

  2. Jay Forseth says:

    Hi Greg!

    Yours was the Blog I was looking forward to reading the most. I cannot imagine the cultural intelligence necessary for you to learn in China.

    My Chinese niece is adopted to my twin sister, and 16 years later they still have not conquered all the challenges of cultural intelligence. I can see why some American families simply abandon the foreign context for their adoptee, but my sister embraced the dual cultures, but has paid a high price. I cannot think of any two cultures more distant apart. Fortunately, they have found a Chinese American school, and that has made the most difference.

    The largest hurdle they have addressed is friendships. From afar, I have witnessed the idea of friendships in China is way different than in America. Would you speak to me a little about the difference?

    • Greg says:

      Jay we will need to sit down in HK so I can understand the context better. I do know that relationships develop a sense of loyalty. how old was this girl when she was adopted. As you know many struggle simply because they are adopted and some struggle more because they are ethnically different. Obviously not a reason not to adopt but the knowledge that struggle come with a fallen world and broken families is the beginning to understanding how to move forward. I am glad you sister was able to find a school that helps this young girl understand her place in the world.

  3. Dan Kreiss says:


    I found this part of your blog most intriguing to me; “We have found that those that come from multi-cultural backgrounds actually have some of the hardest time adapting. I believe this is because they have the hardest time acknowledging their own cultural biases. Believing that our own CQ is not in need of being stretched limits our growth and sensitivity to other cultures.” I had never considered this. I have worked diligently throughout my career to help students engage with other cultures and recognize their own cultural biases, I never thought about who would be better at doing this. I will take your observations and watch with interest as I continue to immerse students in various cultures to see whether I recognize the same trends.

    • Greg says:

      Dan let me know what you observe as well. I have found this mostly with Latin American students because the Asian cultures are very different and challenging.

  4. Shawn Hart says:

    Sorry Greg, but you lost me when you started bashing on my Frito Chili Pie…sheesh. If you would have just realized that part of your audience loved Frito Chili Pie, you could have avoided this embarrassing situation…should have done a little CQ research buddy.

    Okay, so you didn’t really lose me, but I hope I helped make your point. I think we have so many cultures used as a punchline to humor in this country, that people have not realized how offensive they can be. Lately I have heard comedy routines around Bill Cosby molesting women; Donald Trump having affairs, and parents who kill their children…how did this world get so sick and demented? We have lost all sight of what is good and appropriate…especially in the eyes of God.

    So as someone who has lived abroad for quite awhile now, how often do Americans offend in that manner when they visit China?

    • Greg says:

      Well you Frito eating Man, 🙂

      Unfortunately the offend here like they offend in many places; the can not understand why people don’t speak English, why every location doesn’t have forks and knives, why it is not like home…
      Usually I have found that if someone has not done any research on how China is different (or any where else) they offend because they are not tolerant of something different. I have found Chinese are extremely gracious to those that are respectful of their country, especially if you have tried to learn one or two words. So come ready with your “hello” and “Thank you” and that will go a long way.

  5. Great blog to start the summer quarter Greg! The only problem is you didn’t even realize you were eating the famous Frito Bandito when your wife introduced the most excellent way to eat chili 🙂 I will let that slide for now… The other thing I connected with was how all Asian cultures got combined for me growing up with 60% of my high school being Chinese, Japanese, Korean or Vietnamese, just like Japanese and Chinese sounded the same for you. I also think your shock technique was brilliant and often needed to get people to realize how ignorant they are being when it comes to cultural sensitivities. Once again, love your educating us of Chinese culture.

  6. You said: “Cultural Intelligence helps us recognize what is important to those we are hanging out with.”

    There’s a hilarious Canadian film called The Grand Seduction, about a Newfoundland outport fishing village that is about to die unless they woo a doctor to move to their community. A doctor becomes available but he loves cricket. So the village learns cricket in order to bring the doc to town.

    Trailer here:

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