Sometimes we forget how America came to be. Ours is a nation of immigrants.
As we headed up the hill on our hike, my American friend Shari told me of her recent “adventure” renting out a studio apartment in her home.
“We used to have a wonderful Russian woman, Olena, renting our place. Tyler [Shari’s husband] loved it because he speaks Russian as well. So they would often chatter away. Good practice for him.”
She continued on.
“But then Olena fell in love and married. Before we knew it, she vacated the studio and we needed to get to work to fill that place. You know, it can fetch a pretty good price where we live.”
“So we put the ad on Craig’s List and got a number of inquiries. Sad to say, we had a couple of bad renters in between. Kinda destabilizing. But then, after we got the last one out, we were back in the same place, looking for new renters.”
And here’s where it got interesting.
Taking A Chance
“I got this inquiry from a guy named Abdullah. I wanted Tyler to deal with this, but he was on a business trip in China. So I needed to.”
I didn’t have to ask if Shari had any concerns about a guy named Abdullah coming from Iran. She didn’t. And I knew that neither would Tyler. Because, quite frankly, they are open-minded interculturalists themselves. They’ve both lived overseas and have spent a lot of time interacting with various ethnic groups at home. The prospect of having immigrants rent the apartment adjacent to their home was a nonissue.
They are also strong Christ-followers. But they're sensitive and non-judgmental in their approach to those from other faith backgrounds. I have always admired how well they relate with internationals. And they have been trying to raise their five kids with a similar awareness and sensitivity.
Cross-Cultural Misunderstandings Arise
“As we communicated back and forth, Abdullah told me he recently had married and arrived in the U.S. from Iran. Apparently, as both have technical degrees and work experience in their respective fields, they had won a green card lottery.”
In fact, they had slipped into the U.S. just months before the current administration took office.
“He told me he and his his wife, Afsar, were staying with an uncle who had been in the States for a number of years. That is the reason they landed in pricey Silicon Valley as opposed to somewhere less expensive.”
She went on. “But as Abdullah and I were going back and forth in our emails, he was coming off very hard line, trying to push the price down as much as he could. I had to keep telling him, ‘No, I cannot go below this amount!’” She gestured.
“I was getting pretty upset and was about to call it off. Also, I was delaying a bit until Tyler would return home before having them over to see the place. He would be home in another day or so.”
Finally Tyler was back, so Abdullah and Afsar came to see the studio. Shari had told them to arrive no later than 4 pm because they had dinner guests coming at 6:00. “They had all day to call. But what time do they show up at our door? 5:30!”
“At first, I was ready to tell them 'no way!' It was late and they would have to come back on a different day. And then, through their broken English, I learned that they had travelled for an hour and a half by public transportation just to see our place. I simply could not turn them away, of course!”
“But meeting Abdullah blew me away! He was so different in person compared to online. Face-to-face, he is a gracious, gentle and even self-deprecating personality.”
How Understanding Background & Context Makes All The Difference
I stopped Shari. “Why did he seem so hardline and offensive through email then?” I inquired. “Did you ever find out?”
“Oh, yes! We talked about it. Tyler was there as well. Abdullah told me his relative, who had lived in the U.S. before, told him you must fight for your rights in America. That when you are immigrants others will try to take advantage of you.”
“So, that’s why he was so determined to get you to lower the price?” I queried.
“Well, yes and no. There’s more,” Shari confided. “Abdullah also told me that, in Iran, they always bargain hard for the cost of housing. It’s just expected. They don't have written rental agreements. So, you can imagine how our paperwork – not excessive from our perspective – surprised them. We had to help them understand what to do every step of the way.”
She continued. “But, we really liked them from the moment we met face-to-face. So we decided to rent the studio to them – and they agreed on our bottom-line price – and all has gone well since.”
“In fact, they ended up joining us for dinner that night with our friends. We had a lovely time together. And our relationship has only gotten warmer since then.”
The Risk Proves Worthwhile – In Both Directions
Shari and Tyler took a risk. But one that has proven to be full of discoveries and opportunity. And growing friendship, plus bridges built across cultures."Welcoming immigrants to our shores and into our lives can change perspectives, for sure," Shari noted.
“They’ve been with us for about eight months now. Determined to find a good job, Abdullah was out pounding the pavement as soon as he could. And he’s been successful. So has Afsar.”
“They are both highly skilled, so I wonder if they’ll move up and out of our tiny studio soon. I hope not, of course. But it’s good to see them getting off the ground and developing their new life in America.”
I couldn’t help but smile. This is how America refreshes itself. Immigrants come to our shores, add color and life, and contribute to making America a better place. Indeed, this is what America – my America – is all about.
Has getting to really know someone from a different culture ever surprised you? How?
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