Want to know one simple way to create hours of conversation with your immigrant friends?
Ask them about their family.
This might seem simplistic, but particularly to Non-Westerners, family truly is at the center of life and affects every other area of life, far more than is typical in Western culture.
Often, two Westerners who are friends with each other may have only the vaguest idea of the other’s family structure. For Ethiopians—my closest frame of reference—on the other hand, this would be unthinkable, because the first several minutes of every meet up includes a run-down of family information, “How is your wife? How are your children? How are your mother and father?”
Here are ___ reasons why “tell me about your family” should be the most used conversation starter in your arsenal:
- Family is a common denominator. Any other conversation starter might fall flat (you ask about sports and they’re not a sports fan, or you ask about holidays in their country and their family weren’t big into celebrations), but nearly everyone has at least one living relative that they care about deeply and want to talk about.
- An immigrant’s family (both the members who are present with them in the host country as well as those who are back home) is likely one of the foremost things on his or her mind. And there are frequent updates to this information, so this conversation starter can be used over and over again!
- When you care about your friend’s family, it shows that you care about him or her, too (because you’re interested in what he or she is interested in). This will deepen your friendship, and will help you understand your friend’s greatest joys and griefs and worries.
- If your friend has a traumatic background and perhaps has lost family members, don’t shy away from “tell me more about your family.” Those who have been bereaved frequently say that they wish had more opportunities to talk about their loved ones, to keep their memory alive, and to grieve in community with other people. If you’re ready and willing to hear hard stories, listening to them may be one of the best ways you can help them heal (especially since they are away from their network of support back home).
Today, ask one of your immigrant friends to tell you more about their family. You’ll gain new insights, hear good stories, and deepen your friendship as you listen.