Habits, mannerisms and cultural quirks that return home with missionaries

Published: Wednesday, March 13 2013 6:15 p.m. MDT

This photo taken Feb. 7, 2010, shows pelmeni, a crescent shaped dumpling found in Russian kitchens, with mushroom soup.

Larry Crowe, AP

Each New Year’s Eve, Josh Ferrin and his family stay up late making “pelmeni,” or dumplings — a delicious delicacy he was introduced to as a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Yekaterinburg, Russia. Pelmeni consists of little balls of dough filled with meat and, at the Ferrin house, an extra fun surprise.

“The custom is to hide something nasty in one of them, such as a piece of gum, a penny or fill it full of pepper,” Ferrin said. “Whoever eats it is going to have a really awesome year.”

In addition to the many spiritual blessings that come with dedicated missionary service, men and women also return home with new habits, mannerisms, acquired tastes or hobbies influenced by the traditions and cultures of their mission.

“You become part of the culture for a few years,” Ferrin said. “And you pick things up that stick with you for the rest of your life.”

Chris Badger served in Ecuador, where people don’t point with their fingers: They nod their head and make a kissing motion with their lips in the desired direction.

“Every once in a while I catch myself doing that and people look at me funny,” said Badger, now a football player at Notre Dame.

When Steve Schaack was serving in Sacramento, Calif., the mission president’s wife instructed all the missionaries to never walk around their apartments in bare feet.

“You had to be wearing socks, shoes or sandals,” Schaack said. “To this day I cannot walk around the house barefoot.”

Serving in Italy ignited a passion for Italian food for Shane Mickelsen. He also picked up a few other habits. He often finds himself using dramatic hand gestures and saying the word “no” when most Americans would follow up a comment with a verifying, “right?”

“You’re going out to eat, no?” Mickelsen said as an example.

Shane’s cousin, Tony Mickelsen, served in the Belgium-Netherlands Mission, where he found he liked how the Dutch handle their silverware. They keep their fork in the left hand and keep the knife in the right hand at all times, instead of setting it down occasionally, Tony Mickelsen said. The knife is then used to push all food onto the fork, which means they don’t ever stab food with their fork. He began picking up the habit when he grew up in Pennsylvania and observed a similar pattern among the Amish.

“My parents tried unsuccessfully for years to break that habit. When I got to Holland I was so excited to be among people who ate like me,” Tony Mickelsen said. “For the first time in my life, I was not the weird one at the dinner table. The Lord knew which mission was right for me.”

The Lord also knew to send Hilary Whitesides to Brazil. While she and her husband served in different Brazilian missions, the food, music and culture have become a significant part of their marriage.

“We speak Portuguese a lot at home, especially when singing the hymns,” Whitesides said. “A few hand gestures also sneak into our conversations at times.” They mostly keep their mission cultures alive through food. They enjoy making traditional dishes that include beans and chicken, as well as desserts and beverages.

Like many missionaries around the world, Saje Hurd gained an appreciation for the game of “futbol” (international soccer) while serving in the Mexico Mexico City East Mission. He admires the players’ skills and athleticism.

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