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About half a year ago a young Egyptian woman contacted me via Facebook, because she was looking for a native German speaker who also has some decent English skills. Of course at first I suspected some love scam or so, but I'm certain that this is not the case. She studies English and German and students are encouraged to look for some native speaker to practice their skills. Despite the fact that we've only exchanged a few voice mails (to help her with pronunciation), I think we have established quite a good friendship by now and we're equally fascinated by each other and by our cultural differences. (At one point she even put a screenshot of our conversation in her WhatsApp status.) There's nothing romantic about our relationship.

She is 21 years old and a practicing Muslim. As far as I can tell, she's quite tolerant towards other religions and she seems to appreciate conversations about personal faith. She has many siblings and I must assume that her family is to be considered "upper class".

After a while we both started sharing some personal pictures and information, and this is where we get to the core of my question. So far I've received one picture of her niece, one picture of her home (showing little more than a field), a few pictures that a friend of her created and a set of postcard-like pictures of the town where she studies. I also see her status pictures in WhatsApp occasionally showing friends of her. On the other hand, about once a week I send her one or two pictures that I think might be interesting for her: Our Christmas tree, our kids playing in the snow, a milking machine at a farm that we visited, some castle or historic building that we went by, a frozen soap bubble, a polling station, a radar trap, a classroom - things like that. With the exception of my kids, it's nothing really personal, though usually there's a small story behind those pictures which I'm willing (and regularly asked by her!) to tell.

What I'm trying to achieve is basically her doing just that: Sharing some small fragments of her life, her routines, her place, her traditions - anything. Of course, there's always the option for me to simply ask, but I don't want this to be an interrogation and I prefer to let her choose what she wants to share with me. (There is nothing specific I want her to share, though. For example, I'm not specifically looking for a picture showing her.)

Let me elaborate a bit more on this:

Except for the very beginning of our friendship, there's two things we talk about quite frequently and intensively:

  1. Impersonal topics, such as politics, language, science and so on.
  2. Things in some way related to me and my life.

If things weren't going so well, I probably wouldn't care, but as a matter of fact, I'm interested in the person I'm talking to.

Especially when I was younger, people often accused me of only talking about myself while showing no interest in others. I must admit that most of the time this was because I simply had no interest in others. This is different! It's not about showing interest in order to be polite, friendly or whatever - this is one of the (rather rare) occasions where I actually am interested and I'm not really sure how to show it, because there's a huge cultural barrier between us and my social skills aren't generally good, anyways.

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    I don't understand, isn't this already what she is doing? – Ael Jan 21 at 13:47
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    Do you know if the talks you're having with her at this stage are still a part of her assignment/education, or has that been finished? In other words, is she now talking with you because she likes the conversations too, or is she still just fullfilling the criteria of her education? I think whether the conversations are by choice or part of her education can influence a lot about how 'easy' it may be to ask someone to share more. – Tinkeringbell Jan 21 at 16:50
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    @Tinkeringbell That's a very interesting question. Truth is, I don't know for sure, but I think she really enjoys our conversation even on a personal level. At a few occasions she asked me if she's allowed to share some of my pictures with friends and she never gets tired telling me how gorgeous my daughter is, for example. Besides, in order to fulfill any educational requirements, I suppose she needed to do much more of the conversation in German. So, let's just assume that she does have a private interest in the conversation, though I'd appreciate hints on how I could "verify" that. – Thomas Jan 21 at 17:50
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    It does appear to be contradictory to say there's nothing romantic about our relationship while focusing heavily on getting closer. If someone pursued me to get closer and still insisted that those advances are not romance or sex, I'd think they're lying to me or to themselves. – Yosef Baskin Jan 24 at 15:46
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    @YosefBaskin I got your point and I've given this some thought, because yes, I've been there, indeed! However, my emotions are more like that of an uncle, a much older brother, a godfather, a teacher, a master, a guardian... None of those fit perfectly, but you should get the idea. This woman seems to be looking up to me, perhaps even adoring me. While I am of course flattered by this, this kind of relationship is an absolute no-go to me when it comes to romance or sex! It's not something I secretly wish for but deny it because it's immoral - it's something that's simply not there. – Thomas Jan 26 at 11:59
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Ask her to share something after you've shared something. Keep the request vague, like if you just sent a picture of a cool building, ask her if there are any interesting buildings she's seen lately. If she describes a building, simply say you'd love to see a picture of it. There's no pressure in that, you're only expressing interest, and it's easy for her to simply never have a good occasion to take a picture of the building. That approach has always worked well for me.

If you do this regularly and she still never shares, then she's probably not interested in doing so. The way you stay polite instead of pushy is by expressing your interest only occasionally and focusing on that instead of an action on her part, e.g. "oh that building sounds cool, I'd love to see a picture of it" rather than "oh you should take a picture of it so I can see". Note the complete lack of the word "you" in the first sentence. You're expressing your feelings without telling her to do anything or giving her any reason to be defensive. If she's interested in sharing pictures, she'll start to do so. If she's not, she can escape it with conflict.

It's also possible that she prefers to write text over taking pictures. I personally have a friend who enjoys taking videos of things (such as his pets being silly) and sending them to me. I never reciprocate because I don't have any interest in taking videos, but I do send pictures and texts. So it could be she doesn't send many pictures because she doesn't take many, but she'd be happy to share about her life in other ways.

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I disagree with the frame of your question. By that I mean that I understand your question to be asking how you can take action that 'gets' this person to share more with you, without you directly asking her.

I am not proposing an answer to that framing of the question because it appears founded on the principle that asking her would constitute 'an interrogation' and that finagling information out of her by other means is an appropriate approach.

That trying to 'get' her to share more without explaining to her that you would like to know more is not in line with the 'good friendship' you feel exists between you, and does not communicate a respectful attitude towards this person.

You should also consider whether it is really true that the pair of you are

equally fascinated by each other and by our cultural differences.

because if that were the case, the exchange would be likely to be more even-handed than you portray.

You also say in comments that you regard yourself as having

emotions [...] more like that of an uncle, a much older brother, a godfather, a teacher, a master, a guardian.

I'd invite you to think about what those roles might represent to a practicing Muslim. While I have no idea how traditional her family is, reasonably liberal I would imagine if her school is encouraging contact with strangers, culturally all of those roles would be people with some degree of authority over her.

You say

I prefer to let her choose what she wants to share with me.

But, like a person with authority over her, you feel that you have the right to try to change her sharing level, you just don't want to be seen by her to be doing so. You talk as though those positions you mention mean you are very respectful of her, but almost in the same breath what you express is the desire to undermine the choices she has made.

The very phrasing of 'let her choose' suggests that whether or not she chooses to share things is something you could control.

To be clear, I'm not suggesting that you have necessarily actively decided that you have the right to get her to do what you want. But I do think you may have strayed into a paternalistic or even colonial mindset where you perhaps don't realise that you appear only to be paying lip-service to her agency.

Consider that there may be cultural reasons that she does not share more with you. It may in some fashion be fine for her to receive information about your life without having the same freedom to share in return, or it may be purely her own preference, but the only way to know is to have the conversation. It is the only respectful way to go.

If I have an answer to 'How to get a young Egyptian woman to talk about herself', it is 'Openly and respectfully ask if she is prepared to, accepting that the answer may be 'no'.'

Whatever you do, be up front about it

You might explain to her that you have curiosity about her life, culture and environment which you would appreciate if she could help satisfy, but there are no actions which will reliably get her to do what you want, and if there were it would be immoral to use them, particularly in light of what you say about her 'perhaps even adoring me'. Friendship is built on trust, not on being adored by a person you feel you have male authority figure emotions towards.

Ultimately the images you share are what makes you feel good to share, if not getting the same by return makes you not feel good, reduce the amount you share. If that provokes a question from her, then you can honestly answer that you felt the exchange was one sided.

The reason I give this response is that your post reminds me of controlling people I have genuinely known in my real life and I think it would be good for you to consider whether you may be acting like a controlling person in this instance, and if that's really how you wish to be. Any answer which sought to help you 'get' this woman to share more without being open about your ambitions, would be conniving at reducing her agency.

What is a controlling person? It’s someone who needs to have the people around him or her behave in certain ways and not in others. Source

To quote a previous answer on this site:

It is widely understood through many shared experiences that trying to 'change someone' will not lead to mutually beneficial results. Here are just two of the many articles written on the subject. These in no way specific, you can search 'can you make someone change' for similar, current results.

That poster went on to quote #3 from the website 7 Things You Can Never Change About Someone I'm going to quote #7 as being more specifically appropriate here

Their priorities

Usually when we have a problem with someone else’s priorities, it’s because we really want their priorities to match ours, or to give us more weight and importance in their life. But since it feels kinda shitty and self-involved to say that, or even consciously acknowledge it, often how it ends up expressed is as (supposedly) objective judgment; we tell them that their priorities are “wrong”, as opposed to saying what we really want. Either way, it’s not a thing that you can change as an outsider. What you can do is talk about how you feel as a result of how they structure and prioritize the parts of their life. People who care about you are far more likely to change out of concern for your feelings than they are as a response to your orders. It’s about owning your feelings, not placing blame, and keeping them in the driver’s seat of their own lives. The power to change always rests with each person, no matter what your relationship with them is.

user @Johns-305 also cited this page from the Huffington Post, which while it more specifically addresses women wanting to change their romantic partners, still has some relevant insight:

"If you are, here are your options: you accept him exactly how he is right now and find peace inside yourself or you admit that you do not have magical transformational powers over other people and lovingly end the relationship."

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