11 Ways to Be Nice to Foreigners
There are those who want all immigrants to just go away. They’d rather not be bothered by their needs and by the effort it takes to get to know them. They find the weirdness of foreigners – their food, smells, cultural idiosyncrasies, and stumbling language – a bit distasteful and they don’t want to be imposed upon by them.
Then there are those whose hearts go out to outsiders. I assume if you’re reading this post you may be one of them? You see foreigners and although at times you’re not sure what to do with them, you want to make the world a friendlier place. Maybe you already feel a connection with them, but you hesitate in going deeper because you don’t want them to pounce on you and come on too strong. Or you don’t want to wrestle with the whole language thing.
We’ve now been immigrants for 5 years in a strange land called Spain. Overall the people are friendly, but some Spaniards have really stood out in the crowd. They’ve invited us to their homes, been generous with their time and energy, and helped us when we needed it. Even though we’re far away from family and friends, their care for us and investment in our lives have been a huge blessing. When we’re 70 years old and thinking back to our days in Spain, we’ll still think of them and be grateful.
If you’d like to have this kind of long-lasting impact on the immigrants in your sphere of influence, here are some things you can do:
1. Smile and say hello. To an immigrant who may be used to being ignored, a little kindness goes a long way.
2. Ask questions. Good places to start are where they’re from, how long they’ve been in the country, how they ended up here, and what’s different about their home culture and their new country. You might find – like I do – that the answers are fascinating and you want to hear more rollicking good immigration stories from others, too. In the photo below, four out of five of us are immigrants to Spain, and some of the stories my friends tell about their home countries and how they adjusted to life here are hilarious.
3. Gently correct them when they’re speaking your language. If you can do it in a matter-of-fact and flowing way (instead of in an impatient way), correct them when they’re speaking your language. We have many friends who correct our Spanish right away when we’ve wrongly pronounced a word or when we’ve said the wrong thing. It’s quick and unobtrusive, and it’s super helpful for our pronunciation and vocabulary. It also gives us a few laughs – who knew adolescentes was so difficult to say with the Spanish lisp? Or that peine and pene were so close? Good grief.
4. If there’s a venue for it, invite them to share about their own culture. One of my favorite moments was teaching Chinese to a group of Spanish kids one morning:
My dad saw this picture and said my Chinese was “very cute,” like I was in preschool or something, ha!
5. If they need it, help them translate official forms and letters or find something on a map. This has been priceless to us in crucial moments.
6. Pass down some clothes to them if your kids are older than their kids. Chances are they’re far away from family and don’t have anyone else handing down clothes to them, so they’ll appreciate your thoughtfulness and actually use your stuff!
Baby K in hand-me-downs:
7. Invite their kids to your kids’ birthday parties. This has been a great way for our kids to keep getting to know their classmates, and it gives us a chance to buy gifts and be generous to those who’ve invited us. We love it!
8. Conversely, when immigrants invite you to their special events, try to go if you can. It will mean so much to them. We had a child dedication for 3 of our kids at church, and three of our Spanish friends came, with their kids dressed up in little suits and dresses. They also came to K’s birthday party that same year and tried to bond with a terrified little M:
9. Take them to cool local places they might not have discovered on their own. One summer, our friends invited us to join them at their vacation house down on Montalvo beach. We had so much fun spending time with them and exploring Montalvo for the first time:
10. If they’re working on a project or shopping for something, send them recommendations if it would help. They may not know all the stores or where to look. One of our friends loves emailing us links. Over the years, as we’ve worked on hostel and Welcome Center plans, he has sent us links to bunk-bed makers, modular hotels, rural houses for sale in Galicia, newspaper articles on the Camino, and portable potties. His ideas for us flow faster than we can act on them, but we’ve appreciated his ownership over us and his desire to see us succeed. He also loves our kids:
11. Give them a gift of something local, whether it be a special local jam, cheese, or sports jersey. Your new friends will treasure it. Think about it – if you give them a Redskins or Bears jersey, they’ll be fans for life, because of you!
Nate, a Deportivo La Coruña soccer fan for life:
In conclusion, befriending an immigrant and investing in his or her life may get off to a slow start. It may feel weird and smell weird. It will probably also sound strange when people talk in their native language in front of you. But you have the opportunity to be a significant blessing and an instrument of peace and friendship, as well as to have your horizons broadened and your life enriched. So go little by little, ask questions, and keep smiling. If you’re an immigrant, or ever lived in another country, I’d love to hear what made you feel welcome, too!
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