Intimacy and the Ex-Pat

A few days ago I had an unexpected phone call from someone I had never met.  She introduced herself as a neighbor who lives directly across from us.  In fact, she can see our house out her window.  Normally that would creep me out, but she sounded so nice that I let it slide.  She then explained that she met my husband on the station platform waiting for the S-Bahn.  It was delayed by 20 minutes on that particularly cold day, and she noticed my husband wasn’t wearing a winter coat over his suit.  If you are waiting for the S-Bahn early in the morning from this little village, you most likely live here, so they started talking.

She had lived many years in Tanzania as a missionary and, she explained, knows exactly how difficult the first year in a new country can be.  I replied, “Boring and lonely.”  And that is why she called.  She wanted to know if I would like to come with her Thursday evening (tonight) to a planning meeting for the upcoming Women’s Day of Prayer.  That way she could introduce me to the other ladies in our neighborhood!  I found myself easily telling her our story – why I could speak German even though we have only been here a few months, etc.

The ease with which I divulged such a story to a complete stranger bespeaks my foreign status.  After my blogpost entitled ‘The Dreaded Question’, a longtime and dear friend sent me an eloquent reply in which she said this,

“I was taught a lesson by the best small group leader/relationship counselor I ever met.  Rev. Ray Smith.  He said that friendships start at a superficial level and people give each other verbal invitations to go deeper a little at a time.  Sort of like this:

Person 1                              Person 2

Hello                                      Hello

How are you?                    Now person 2 has a decision to make…Keeping at the most superficial level response is “I’m fine, how are you.”

However, person 2 could invite the conversation to go deeper: “I’m tired today, I didn’t sleep well.  How are you?” or I’m fine.  Are you really well?  I haven’t seen you around lately and had heard you were sick.”

Then step by step, people invite the other to go to deeper levels of sharing.  But you don’t go there without having been invited, or asking if it is okay to go there without risk of offense.”

It occurred to me how true that is in one’s own culture, but how ex-pats generally skip many steps and go straight for the friendship level.  We are desperate to find friends, to get involved, to have the social respect and standing we are accustomed to in our home country.  This can lead to dangerous situations as we pass out our contact details willy-nilly and find ourselves instinctively trusting someone in a way we never would had we not left our hometown.

I figure an ex-missionary is probably pretty trustworthy.  She is picking me up tonight.  I can hardly wait to meet her in person!

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About Lois Loban Stuckenbruck

Trained as a Ballerina, then completed a BA in Business Adm and English Literature at Milligan College. More recently trained to be a lay pastor (Reader) in the Church of England. Wife of a Biblical Scholar, Mother of three. I'm an American who has also lived many years in England and Germany (currently Munich). I have worked as an Editorial Assistant, Systems Manager (Xerox Stars on Ethernet Network), and several positions in higher education fundraising (Alumni and Development).
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