post wp-admin edit 283611

Meeting of the Minds – Building Cross-Cultural Friendship

Photo by Christian Wiediger on Unsplash

Ting! said my WhatsApp.

I glanced at my mobile and saw that a message had come in from my newly-formed local foreign ladies group. It was just after the lunch hour on a Wednesday and I was curious who had posted a message. I clicked on the group to open the message.

“Hey I heard that there’s a new Bulgarian store in Brussels. Let’s add it to the list of international supermarkets we want to visit next weekend!!” – the message was from Irina, the Pole in the group.

Bulgarian supermarket? Hmm I wonder what they sell there. What do Bulgarians eat? I wonder if it’s anything like Polish or Russian food. I knew Poland and Russia were quite a distance from Bulgaria but I had no other East European references.

“OK for me,” I replied, then smiled and went back to my work. There was now another new culture I could discover via its cuisine. How glad was I that I had approached Irina a few years ago, just upon the chance coincidence of hearing her converse in English in public – a rare occurrence in the town where I now live.

Irina and I then met up a few times for coffee in town, and we soon discovered that we had other foreign friends living in the same town who were also relatively comfortable conversing socially in English. Excitedly we discussed getting all four of us together and after a few hiccups, we had now formed a local foreign ladies group. It was small – there were just four of us – and informal, without even a name and meetings were ad hoc.

The four of us came from different countries but had been living in Belgium for around the same length of time. Irina, our resident East European, had moved to Belgium right after her engineering studies to be with her boyfriend. Ana, from South America – Brazil, to be precise – was a stay-at-home mum devoted to her daughter while her husband travelled often for work. The other Asian, also a mother, in our group was Dewi from Indonesia. And finally, there was me – from tiny Singapore where multiple cultures lived right next to, and often even influenced, one another.

As eating together is a good way to get to know one another – and none of us were really sports enthusiasts – our first in-person meeting had taken place on a Thursday evening on the small main square of the town where we now live. We picked to meet at the one main brasserie (a French word used widely in Belgium, also in the Dutch-speaking areas, to refer to any restaurant with a more relaxed and informal setting where the menu offers one-dish meals, snacks and beverages including hot drinks and alcohol) on the square.

From that first meeting in the brasserie, where the conversation had started off a little slow as we tried to get a feel for one another’s interests and cultural influences, while making allowances for the varying levels of the English language in the group, we have since gathered for several meals at Dewi’s house with our families, where she introduces us to the delights of Indonesian cooking, which is, of course, spicy. Spiciness is not a flavour that is present in Belgian or in Polish cuisine, but both Irina and the Belgian partners present gamely try the cuisine, if a little gingerly. On the other hand, Dewi tries to reduce the level of spiciness in the dishes she prepares – either offering a chilli condiment on the side for those of us who like spicy food, or preparing the myriad dishes to varying levels of spiciness, so that everyone present can enjoy the food.

And now, we are soon to be off on “an expedition” to discover new cuisines and cultures. On the list so far are a Japanese, a Bulgarian and a Brazilian supermarket. As we live in pocket-sized Belgium, often touted as the heart of Europe, where services and amenities, especially in the capital Brussels, are often located close to one another, we are keen to grab this opportunity to access new cultures and learn more.

While curiosity to learn more about another’s culture is natural and to be encouraged, one must remember to remain polite at all times. When looking for friends in a new country, it is important to keep an open mind and attitude. Accept that the other’s culture is different from yours and try to find common points upon which you can both agree. Then, invest your time and efforts on these points, exchanging nuggets of information about your respective cultures. With time, you’ll learn more about your new friends via the cultures they grew up in.

Monica Devi Lim

Hi, I am Monica Devi Lim, and I am originally from Singapore. I started my career in the television industry where I got to travel to a different country every few months, and then moved on to aviation in search of more of the world. During my free time, I love cooking exotic dishes and also reading for further travel inspiration. I speak several languages and now live between Belgium and Spain with my husband of Danish descent.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

man pointing at another man

Recipe for Managing Conflict

When was the last time you disagreed and argued with someone over something? Do you remember the unpleasant feeling and how draining it was? It is because, being social creatures, by nature, we loathe conflicts. Often, conflict starts with frustration. Frustration can happen when we least expect it, and it arises when things are not…
Suzhou gardens TCg March 2022 newsletter

Window Frames of Your Mind

Have you been to Shanghai and visited the famous classical gardens in Suzhou? If so, have you noted the different styles between the Chinese versus the English and French gardens? Besides the usual flowers and trees in every landscaped garden, the classical Chinese gardens feature rocks, ponds, pavilions, walkways joining different halls and towers in…
TCG 2022 February Newsletter - Tigger

What Tiggers Do Best

My very dear friend who grew up loving Winnie-the-Pooh once gave me a Tigger figurine, and it now sits on the shelf next to my work table. Since it is the year of Tiger, I thought to share with you this one and only one “Tigger” in the Hundred Acre Wood that has the audacity…
2022 January TCG newsletter tablet, books

My Diary, My Life Story

Each year, despite everything going electronic and online, I will still go out and get a diary/planner in Dec as part of my new year ritual. Last week, when I opened my new 2022 diary, I found a pleasant surprise, a lovely note inserted in its cover. Let me share the extract of the note…
Christmas bonsai plant

Que Sera, Sera

While “uncertainties” is not the favourite word for anyone, it is a fact of life. With so many festivals despite the chilly winter, perhaps our ancestors are trying to pass down some wisdom to us: to appreciate life as it gives and make the best of it as we can.
TCG social media

The Human Library: Real People With Real Stories

Before the internet, social media, and mobile devices took over our world, many of us spent our growing up days frequenting the libraries in search of knowledge. I love going to the libraries, so much so that I even volunteered to be a school librarian during my teenage years. A library to me is the…
TCG buildings

The Big Idea in Innovation

Chang’an (长安), Luoyang (洛阳), Nalanda, Alexandria, Athens, Rome, Paris, London, L.A., cities of the ancient and our modern worlds. What do they have in common? They either were or are centres where people gathered to exchange goods and ideas. Governors and residents of these cities integrate and assimilate new cultures and customs into their local…