Friday, June 24, 2011

Cross-Cultural Friendship Revisited

I think my previous post, "Is It Possible to Be Friends With Someone of Another Culture or Religion?" may have come across that it was hopeless. I didn't mean to leave it that way, just to raise the question, to reflect on the fact that building friendship with someone from a different culture or religion can be tricky, can present surprises and challenges along the way, because of our different expectations about friendship and ways of approaching friendship.

I know, for example, that I have disappointed Arab friends at different times. Americans tend to be quickly "friendly," with people we barely know; but as individualists (culturally), and due to various factors, we have boundaries around the expectations between friends. Even a good friend, for example, might call and need help, but will accept various excuses if it doesn't work out; an Arab, though, in general, would never not help a friend, even if it were very inconvenient.

That's the thing. Friendship, I think, is about how deeply you can share with another person. It's about trust. And it's about what you can depend on, what you can expect. It's about loyalty, who will stick by you, and through what? At the very least, a cross-cultural or cross-religious friendship takes time, perhaps (?) longer than one with someone culturally and religiously closer. (And for me, there are levels or degrees of relationship, of friendship, or perhaps circles.)

So to conclude, I made some new friends this past week at the "Building Hope" Conference - some new Christian friends (American and other), some new Jewish friends (mostly Orthodox, and from different countries), and some new Muslim friends (from America and from both Muslim-majority and Muslim-minority lands). But I use the term carefully - we were "friendly" with each other, and we began sharing stories (some of them deep, profound, very personal); we began (at least some of us with some others) talking about our "personal" lives, our families. We began...we laid a foundation. But it will take time for the relationships to go deep, to get to know each other well, build trust. And we'll probably have to pass through periods/areas of Miroslav's "non-understanding."

And to return to Tunisia, I do have strong Tunisian friendships. I lived there for 12 years, and spent thousands of hours with many different people. I know several Tunisian friends who I absolutely can count on - if I showed up in Tunisia, homeless (or not), and in need (of any kind), they would take me in (no questions asked), give me money or whatever I needed, and make sure I was all right. They would treat me (in my book) as if I were family. And that's partly the beauty of the Tunisian (Arab, Muslim) cultural way of treating people you have spent much time with. 

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