Thursday, October 1, 2009

Living in a Multicultural Environment Can Make Us Less Friendly

I have been living in Canada for the last 4 years, and so far, most of my friends are from Mexico. Strange, right? living in such a multicultural environment, one would think that by now he would have made friends from different nationalities and backgrounds. However, if you pay close attention, that happens to almost everyone. You go on the subway and you see people from the middle east talking to people from that same region. You hear people speaking Portuguese, or Russian, or Italian. In Toronto, there is China Town, and Little Italy, etc. So it seems like no matter how open we are to meet people from different cultural backgrounds, we end up sticking with our own kind.

Talking with some friends the other day, one was sharing an experience she had had with a coworker in which she hadn't been sure how to behave because she hadn't wanted to do or say something that could offend the other person due to his own cutoms. That happends to me all the time, with colleagues, clients and in general with people I meet. First comes the greeting: should I shake his hand, kiss the person on the cheek, say hello and not make any kind of physical contact... it is always a big dilema. Then, once the conversation has started you wonder whether it is appropriate to ask the person about his family, or about work, or ask what he did during the weekend... you don't want to sound like you are inquiring about his personal life or customs and offend him.

Likewise, when someone does something that is not common in your culture, like give you a hug, for instance, your mind starts spinning and you don't know how to interpret the action... what are this person's intentions?

So in the end, you behave like you are not you. You adopt a robotic, cold, neutral attitude that keeps you from making that connection with other people and from starting true, long lasting relationships.

I think that if you really want to be friends with someone who has different customs and traditions, you have to show a genuine interest for his culture and you have to share and explain your own behaviors. Be yourself and don't worry too much about what the he is going to think about you. But mostly, I think you have to be very patient and let the friendship grow stronger with time and shared experiences.

A lot of us hang out with people from our own cultural background because we feel comfortable and safe; and that is perfectly fine, but maybe we are missing great opportunities to meet very interesting people and making true, life long friends because we don't want to take the risk of making mistakes and feeling embarassed due to cultural differences. If we remember that we live in one of the most multicultural places on Earth, not doing so sounds like a waste, doesn't it?

One more time I have to make use of one my grandma's sayings (man, she was wise!), "relationships are like plants or flowers, if you don't water them and take care of them, they die".

1 comment:

  1. I see your point, at the end we make long lasting relationships with whom we have similarities in life (e.g. educational background, objectives in life, tastes, etc.) and sure enough we’ll find this with people around your same group of age and/or country. At work we have social events every month lots of fun, mostly single people stay till the end of the party and start to hang out together, but what happens to those who have kids and/or family commitments and can’t stay until the party is over; would you say that they are missing the opportunity to meet interesting people?