I am a foreigner. I live outside of my native country and away from my mother tongue. There are many days when I rely on the kindness and understanding of strangers. Navigating through basic transactions takes extra time and planning. There are days when the transition is exhausting.
Living as a foreigner has given me a whole new appreciation of what it is like for people immigrating to the US. Especially people who don’t speak English as their first language. Here are my three tips for being more gentle with newcomers.
1. Language is a huge barrier to completing the simplest of daily tasks. If you want to be supportive be patient. Trying to figure out the right words in the correct order when you are under pressure becomes more difficult. If you know you’re speaking with someone who doesn’t speak English fluently try to be open minded. They way they pronounce something might be different but try to avoid frustration. They are trying.
2. Customs are very hard to understand never mind master. The one I found most boggling in my home new home is when residents would respond that something would be ready or restocked mañana. This translates to tomorrow. Except it never actually does. It really means in the future, maybe. I would get frustrated when I returned the next day and what I needed still wasn’t there. What I didn’t understand is that they never told me to come back tomorrow. Try to keep in mind that when a foreigner does something “wrong” it isn’t because they are rude or stupid. I would bet that they don’t have any concept at all that their behavior might be rude or inappropriate.
3. Unless you have been to a person’s birth country and lived in their home don’t assume you know what their life was like. Assumptions are never helpful. Just avoid them. This one actually applies for every interaction in life.
Immigrating is a long process. Friends and family are usually far away. It can feel very lonely especially when the people you are trying so hard to join aren’t giving you a chance.
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