Steve and Yaser first met in their chemistry class at an American university. Yaser was an inter-national student from Jordan. He was excited to get to know an American. He wanted to learn more about American culture. Yaser hoped that he and Steve would become good friends.
At first, Steve seemed very friendly. He always greeted Yaser warmly before class.Sometimes he offered to study with Yaser. He even invited Yaser to eat lunch with him. But after the semester was over, Steve seemed more distant. The two former classmates didn’t see each other very much at school. One day Yaser decided to call Steve. Steve didn’t seem very interested in talking to him. Yaser was hurt by Steve’s change of attitude. “Steve said we were friends,” Yaser complained. “And I thought friends were friends forever.”
Yaser is a little confused. He is an outsider to American culture. He doesn’t understandthe way Americans view friendship. Americans use the word friend in a very general way. Theymay call both casual acquaintances and close companions “friends”. Americans have schoolfriends, work friends, sports friends and neighborhood friends. These friendships are based oncommon interests. When the shared activity ends, the friendship may fade. Now Steve andYaser are no longer classmates. Their friendship has changed.
In some cultures friendship means a strong life-long bond between two people. In thesecultures friendships develop slowly, since they are built to last. American society is one of rapidchange. Studies show that one out of five American families moves every year. Americanfriendships develop quickly, and they may change just as quickly.
People from the United States may at first seem friendly. Americans often chat easily withstrangers. They exchange information about their families, hobbies and work. They may smilewarmly and say, “Have a nice day” or “See you later.” Schoolmates may say, “Let’s get togethersometime.” But American friendliness is not always an offer of true friendship.
After an experience like Yaser’s, outsiders may consider Americans to be fickle. Learning how Americans view friendship can help non-Americans avoid misunderstandings. It can also help them make friends the American way.
Here are a few tips on making friends with Americans:
1. Visit places Americans enjoy: parties, churches, Western restaurants, parks, sports clubs.
2. Be willing to take the first step. Don’t wait for them to approach you. Americans in China may not know you speak English. They may be embarrassed if they can’t speak your language.
3. Use small talk to open the conversation. Ask them where they’re from, why they cameto China, etc. Remember: Be careful to avoid personal questions about age, salary, maritalstatus and appearance.
4. Show an interest in their culture, their country or their job. (Americans like to talk about themselves!)
5. Invite them to join you for dinner or just for coffee or tea. Try to set a specific time.Americans sometimes make general invitations like “Let’s get together sometime.” Often this isjust a way to be friendly. It is not always a real invitation.
6. Don’t expect too much at first. Maybe they’re just being friendly. But maybe they dowant to be your good friends. It will take time to tell.
People like Yaser shouldn’t give up trying to make American friends. Americans do value strong, life-long friendships, even with non-Americans. When making friends, it helps to have a good dose of cultural understanding.