Nov 21, 2013

Making friends

A conversation with someone last night inspired this post.

I studied cross cultural communications as subject before and it explained social interactions and the difference between Easterners and Westerners (term used liberally).

Let's use a pizza as an analogy. Easterners have a make up of pizza that isn't cut, Westerners have their pizzas sliced up. If you are allowed to 'eat' the pizza, Easterners will let you into every part of their lives. It's easier to gain entry into a Westerner's pizza but they will only let you into a slice of it, and not the whole.

So with Aussies, you can be very good school friends or very good work friends, but the door to their home is still closed to you. This can be a tough thing to someone new to the country who is trying to rebuild their social network.

I've said before that Aussies are the friendliest strangers in the world. I'm very grateful for the supportive community that I find myself in. But I'm super grateful for the warmth and for the open doors that fellow Malaysians and Asians have extended to me.

We got invited to a Thai friend of a friend's Christmas dinner the first two weeks we were here. We were virtual strangers but because of them, we didn't celebrate Christmas alone. A few months after that, we got invited to a Malaysian potluck lunch, and immediately set a camping date with these people, again virtually strangers to us, but now like family. At playgroup, I got invited back to a Filipino's house for tea, and just an hour later, it felt like I was talking to an old friend. It was the Asians who flooded my freezer when I had the baby, and helped me move house. Of course, it is the Asians who tell me what to do with my life, openly criticise some of my practices and come unannounced when my house is in a big mess, but then again, that's family for you and a side-effect of that 'barrier'-less pizza.

Is it a racism (sometimes I call it culturalism) thing? Other newcomer Caucasians integrate much easier and get deeper. It's hurtful to think that someone would exclude me or my children because of how we look. It's hurtful that no matter how much we try, no matter how many laughs we exchange and how much we volunteer, we still won't belong proper. I know I don't help the situation because I am introvert, but the fact the colour of my skin is a hurdle is a disappointing thing to know. And it breaks my heart when I see my kids encountering it.

Still, I try to be practical and think of my own biases of which I have a tonne. And I resolve to continue to work at it for the sake of my kids. To fellow newcomers, I'd say

 1) Know the protocol, different culture, different rules. Just knowing how to respond correctly gets you mileage.
2) Initiate, because then, you can't get excluded
3) Be involved, volunteer, be seen.
4) Pick your efforts. Some people are racist, and you know this because they won't give you the time of day. But there are also people who are more open.
5) Try not to decline invites (you or your child's) - this is only natural, and if you were to invite someone who keeps declining, you'd stop inviting, wouldn't you? On the same note, try to attend social gatherings that are organised.

And I"ll try to follow my own advice :)


  1. Funny, I went through all this too when I first arrived in Australia, and I was English! I think it's an Australian thing rather than a western thing. You do get there eventually though, especially if you follow all the excellent guidelines you've given. Hang in there! And keep writing the excellent blog.

  2. Thanks for the encouragement. Love your blog(s) and the fascinating things you find!

  3. From my personal experience Sydney has this reputation for being rather cliquey. When I moved here from Perth with a group of friends. We were all in our early 20s and even at that age we all noticed it. It was often easier to befriend fellow interstate or overseas migrants than the local born and bred residents.

    Stick with it though and definately head your advise, it's always much more difficult being an introvort and migrating than someone who is naturally outgoing.