Monday, April 21, 2008

Differences Disappear

In moving here, I anticipated that the expat community would be very warm and welcoming. That simply being an outsider living in Shanghai would be enough in common to become close friends with everyone I met.

I was wrong, but only partly.

As it turns out, you do need more than one thing in common. You need 2 or 3 things in common. Being an expat goes without saying. Being an active parent to a young child is rather necessary for us. But just being a young parent isn't enough, either. I've connected with a lot of moms, and found many moms that I just don't click with.

Parenthetically, it is refreshing how welcoming this community is. I have never heard an unkind word spoken about anyone, or felt on the outside of a clique. People are very genuine, quick to open their hearts, and entirely welcoming of everyone they meet.

Still, sometimes having young kids in a foreign land is not enough to forge friendships. I've found that 1 more step is all it takes. But when you step back, forming a community where all of the people have only 3 things in common creates a beautifully diverse group.

I find myself only practically able to develop friendships with moms who are the primary caretaker of their child, and that being a child who is not yet in school. I find that my friends are worried about the health and safety of their kids in this dangerous and polluted city, but are also down to earth and don't panic when they see their child eat dirt or share a sippy cup with their neighbor. This is sometimes all that we have in common, but it is enough.

I attended a women's retreat organized by one of the two English language Protestant churches in Shanghai. Again, 3 things in common. We all live in Shanghai as foreign passport holders - a requirement to attend this church. We are all women, most of us having followed our husbands. Those I became closest to have young children, but that wasn't necessary. Because the 3rd thing is that we are all Christian.

But what amazes me in retrospect is that all being Christian was as far as it went. In America, a gathering of Christian women would not be very diverse. More than likely, all of the women would believe very close to the same things. They would all disapprove of dancing. Or they would all feel uncomfortable openly evangelizing. They would all see value in inter-denominatioal conversation, which would lead to very shallow conversations. Or they would not. You see where I'm going with this.

The women at this conference all had wildly different religious backgrounds. The 65 of us in attendance came from 24 different nations. I am curious how many different religious affiliations would have been represented - probably 65. But it didn't matter at all. No conversations were stilted. No one felt the need to be careful. Preaching was certainly not shallow.

We had our 3 things in common:
1 - Foreign passport holders in Shangi
2 - Women
3 - Christian

That was enough.

This was true diversity, and it was beautiful.

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