When trying to build friendships (especially crosscultural ones), it’s tempting to focus on occasional grand gestures (spending a whole day together a couple times a year or planning an amazing end of the year ESL bash).
But it’s far more effective to focus on frequent small touches–simple acts of goodwill that gradually cement a friendship until it’s rock-solid and help immigrants feel more truly at home.
But what exactly are small touches? There are many, but here are four seemingly tiny things you can do frequently (that take four minutes or less) that will deepen your crosscultural friendships more than any one-time grand gesture.
1. Always stop to talk.
This is a big one for most internationals–when Western acquaintances or friends pass right by with a perfunctory wave or a clipped “how are you” which does not expect a response, it is baffling at best and offensive at worst to those who come from more relational cultures.
It makes a big difference–and sets you apart from most other Westerners, honestly–to simply stop (even for a minute or two!) and really say hi, shake hands, inquire about family, and ask what your friend is up to lately.
2. Call (or Facebook message or whatever) just to check in.
Being real? I am not good at this. I tend to think I need an uninterrupted hour if I’m going to call to catch up with someone.
Not so, say most internationals!
We would do well to learn the art of the four minute check-in–“Hi, how are you? I was just thinking of you and wondered how you were doing…well, I hope you have a great day. Let’s talk again soon!”
This can be done in the little nooks and crannies of our day and needn’t be burdensome–have some people in mind, and just call one of them next time you’re sitting in the school pick-up line, taking a walk around the block, or waiting for your pot of water to boil.
3. Follow up.
You’ll learn things even in your quick conversations that are worth following up on next time you see, call, or message your friend.
Maybe your friend has an exam next week. Maybe she is concerned about her mother back home, hospitalized thousands of miles away. Maybe he is applying for a new job.
Here’s a tip: when someone tells you something like this, as soon as you walk away or hang up the phone, open your calendar and write “Follow up with ___ about ___” on an appropriate day in the future (say, after the exam or interview, or a week or two down the road).
This way, you don’t leave following up to chance. You’ll be reminded to circle back with your friend (perhaps with another four minute check-in call) to ask about the thing he told you about, and you’ll make them feel cared for, deepening your friendship. That is worth another four minute check-in call for sure!
4. Connect them.
A good friend connects her friends with other potential friends and awesome finds. Have your friend in mind when going through life, and introduce him to another friend who has similar interests (soccer, cooking, parenting toddlers, working on cars, etc.), or text her when you come across a link or a song or a cafe or whatever else that you think she’d like or has been looking for.
To know that someone is thinking of you when you’re apart is one of the simplest yet most friendship-deepening things there is.
Give your crosscultural friend the gift of thoughtfulness–this takes far less than four minutes but has far-reaching potential for creating rock-solid relationships, even across cultural lines.
What are other “small touches” that have potential to build our crosscultural friendships?
For more encouragement and practical tips as you welcome immigrants, check out my book: