Whether it’s the family next door, a new coworker at the office, or a mother you see routinely at the local library, many people have trouble making an initial connection with newcomers, especially if that person is from a different culture.
You want to be polite, but you can’t seem to get much beyond “Hello.” You always want to extend the conversation, but it always seems awkward or forced. You might have a fear that you will say the wrong thing or don’t want to intrude into their personal life. Whatever the reason, you get stuck at the gate.
In nearly all cases, people new to the neighborhood or the office would be thrilled to make a deeper connection with a familiar face. Here are 28 things you can say to get the conversation started, especially if your neighbor is a Hindu.
Does anyone else in your family live in the US? Many Hindus have large networks of family spread out all over the US and might have visited more places than you have.
Where do your parents live? Parents and extended family are very important for most Hindus. Some may have their parents living with them, but others might have parents living back in India. Showing any kind of concern for parents is always a good way to give a friendly greeting.
How many kids do you have? Just like any other culture, children are a source of pride and joy. Ask about ages, names, and the meaning of the name.
Do your parents or in-laws visit often? Indians are extremely mobile and visit family very regularly. They are mostly likely just finishing up a family visit, or preparing for the next one.
India is a big country, where are you from? Acknowledge that you know very little about India and let them explain it to you in their own terms.
Is it hot there? Is it a very big city? Most people have a deep fondness for their hometown and will be happy to answer any question about it.
How often do you get to go back home? Some may travel back extensively while others may stay for years at a time.
Could I try some of that? Food is meant to be shared and there may be no better offer of friendship than asking to take something from their lunch at the office.
Would you like one of my… If you don’t want to eat their food, offering your own is a great sign that you want them to be welcome. However, many Hindus are vegetarians or simply just prefer the taste of their own food and will politely decline.
Can I order your food at a restaurant here? While you may have an ‘Indian’ restaurant in your city, there are multiple cuisines in India and they may have a good suggestion on where to get it locally. Or better yet, you may get an invitation to come to their home for a delicious meal!
I’ve only ever had Indian food from a restaurant. What is your food like? Many Indians have a strong preference for food cooked at home versus restaurant food. Adopt a learning attitude and let them explain their food.
What is the name of that? How do you make it? Another way to show your enthusiasm is to learn the local name of their food, which may be different than they name you know.
What American dishes do you enjoy? This answer could range from “everything” to “nothing”, so be prepared for it all and don’t take offense!
Indians are largely very open about their religious practices and don’t keep them hidden. However, being in a foreign country might make them skeptical to share. Starting the conversation is a sign that you are eager to learn.
Is your family Hindu? Just because someone looks Indian does not mean they are Hindu. India has the second largest Muslim population in the world and over 23 million Christians (and several other religions).
Do you have any festivals coming up? How will you celebrate here? Festivals like Diwali are usually the highlight of the year and they will love to share about them. If you are lucky, you may get invited!
Is there a temple nearby? Most major metros in the US have at least one temple, but many will look quite different than they do in India. Also, different temples are associated with different gods, so some families may not go to a temple if their community doesn’t worship that god.
What do you do at the temple? You aren’t being nosy here – just curious. A new friend will probably be eager to share and teach you.
I was praying this morning, and… Don’t be afraid to express your own personal devotion. Many religious Hindu families would find you extremely relatable if you also express your devotion. Don’t do it unnaturally to force a spiritual discussion.
We are having a cookout this weekend. Would you like to bring your family? There are no rules about how many times you need to meet before inviting them home – in fact, the sooner, the better. However, if you do invite your new friends for a meal, make sure to check if they are vegetarian and have some good options for them.
My daughter’s choir is performing at the high school this weekend, would you like to come? You can expect to exchange invitations to cultural events like this. Anything local going on in your town that is a part of the local culture (festivals, car shows, choirs, sporting events, Christmas pageants) is a great way to show you want to include your new friend.
Making the first connection with a new family can be daunting to some, but it shouldn’t be. Remember that everyone is looking for a home and a place to feel connected to. Any of these 20 questions are a great way show that you want to know who they are and care about them feeling welcome in your community. Don’t stop at just Hello!