Never underestimate the value of small gestures when you are relating cross-culturally. I learned this lesson well in my relationship with my Lebanese friend, Daria.
We began our relationship through Facebook Messenger well before we had met face-to-face. I had seen pictures of Daria on Facebook during my summer vacation. She seemed so intriguing as we chatted. Her French and Arabic invaded her English in occasionally humorous ways. Yet I could understand. And I felt a natural bond from the get-go.
A Middle Eastern Beauty!
A month later, after dozens of chats about everything and nothing at all, we met face to face. Wow! I was in the presence of a true Middle Eastern beauty! Like she had just walked off a runway. Daria hardly seemed to adhere to the conventional dress standards of her native homeland of Lebanon. Or, at least to my stereotypes.
She was bold in her color choice, poised, elegant and tall in 4” stilettos. All for an international women’s luncheon. Her presence filled the room.
Over the months we’d see each other at these events. Always cordial. We developed a comfortable rhythm as we interacted. Warm, friendly…but not too close.
Another woman from Daria’s home country became involved with the luncheons as well. While Melanie hailed from a different religious group and didn’t possess the same air as Daria, the two became fast friends.
Suspicions Over Motives
Over time, I learned more about Daria through Melanie. Daria was suspicious, especially at a Christmas luncheon where our group shared very openly the true story of Christmas – Jesus’ birth. We did so in a very culturally sensitive way, but still, the questions arose.
Why are the people at the luncheons so friendly? What is their goal? Where do they get the money to do all this? On and on….
Melanie tried to quell Daria’s suspicions, but recognized this was just a normal, knee-jerk reaction in a country that has been torn apart by war and sectarian violence for centuries.
During this season I felt Daria’s skepticism and cooling attitude. I approached her with the hopes of getting together from time to time, hoping to talk with her and get to the heart of the problem. No way. She flinched.
I had to back off, even in our online chat relationship. I gave her space.
But still she attended the luncheons. Something inexplicably drew her there. The people who came together were so warm, friendly, inviting. And they showed genuine interest in her. She could not deny that. These friendships – especially when far away from home – became compelling.
The Value of a Simple Bouquet
A few months later, I learned that our luncheon would be on Daria’s birthday. (Facebook can be so good for that!) I jumped at the opportunity to buy her a nice bouquet and write her a card, from our group of course.
Although she had RSVP’ed she was coming, I wondered if she would change her mind on her birthday. Still, preparing the gift was worth it, just in case.
It was a small gesture. But that $5.99 bunch of flowers plus the note spoke volumes to Daria. For the few minutes when the spotlight was on her, she was shining. And moved.
The relationship has warmed again, and this time in a way that melted the ice and broke through the facade.
In fact, we featured her country at one of the following luncheons. She and Melanie were thrilled to share with the group of women from 17 different nations about their unique homeland. And throughout, Daria was beaming.
Knowing Daria has Enlarged my Heart
Expressing interest in our international visitors – and really meaning it – not only builds bridges but also enlarges our own heart. Small gestures can have impact. These peacemaking efforts may not be around a UN negotiating table, but their value cannot be overlooked.
Sometimes small gestures prove the key to unlocking the heart.
What does Daria’s story speak to us about pushing past discomfort in a relationship? What are ways you might reach out to someone who is different from you? How about someone who may be skeptical of you and your motives? How can you better try to understand him or her and develop bonds of mutual respect and understanding?
If someone is skeptical of you at first, how do you try to understand him/her and look for ways to bridge the gap in understanding through a heart of genuine love, maybe even using small gestures to do so?