Friday, January 16, 2015

Marriage of Different Cultures

Toastmasters CC Manual Speech #6 Vocal Variety - December 19, 2014

Marriage of Different Cultures

In less than two months, I will marry my Indian fiance. Many people, including my mother, have warned me that it's more difficult to marry someone from another culture than from your own. But every marriage is a marriage of different cultures.

When you hear the word “culture”, the first thing that comes to mind is probably a representation of “nationality”. Culture is not just about where you're from; it's a fluid collection of influences, constantly changing with new experiences. With emigration, global trade, the internet, and cultural exports, people can be influenced by other countries without leaving their hometowns.

Take me for example. I had a pretty normal childhood in a middle-class, 90% white, Christian, Midwestern suburb. I am a salsa-dancing, Korean-speaking, Bollywood-watching, global food-cooking, agnostic young woman. I am not simply a product of my upbringing. I am a product of influences from around the globe which have been available at my fingertips for much of my life. And my generation is like this all over the world.

In that way, I am marrying someone from my own culture. My fiance was born in India two and a half years before I was born, and he, too, had a middle-class upbringing. He has two older brothers, and I have one. He liked some of the same shows and music I did. He wanted to be a doctor, but chose engineering instead. I got 3 semesters into pre-medical school before changing my major. He took a trip to Thailand while I was living in South Korea. We both love pizza, fajitas, and Thai food, none of which are from either of our countries.

The most obvious cultural differences I feel are gender differences. Everywhere in the world, there are wives nagging their husbands because their husbands don't listen. I bore him with shopping lists and wedding details, and he bores me with sports and war history. I look through my closet and feel there's nothing to wear, and he wears the same t-shirt 3 days in a row. I keep my nails clean and sometimes painted, and he lets his become weapons. I love to relax and pamper myself, and he's a workaholic. I really am marrying someone from a totally different culture. Maybe I should be a lesbian instead!

Every marriage is a marriage of different cultures. Traditions are easy to learn, blend, or build. The important thing is to respect each other and to build a new household culture for the new family. This can be done in little ways, like surprising your partner with comfort food on a bad day. And in medium ways, like learning your partner's favorite hobby so you can do it together. And in big ways, like working hard to communicate without fighting. Most importantly, every single person has a unique culture so sometimes it's necessary to just let your partner be different.

There are going to be difficulties in our marriage that are above and beyond what most homogeneous couples face. His parents and I don't speak the same language, so even the simplest conversation will be hard work. His family is Hindu, mine is Christian, and I'm agnostic, so choosing a theology to raise our children in will be a challenge. Even our expectations of each other differ from our expectations of ourselves because our role models have been vastly different.

These types of difficulties do not scare me. They are opportunities to enrich myself and our marriage, to forge a deeper connection rather than be content with a shallow understanding of each other, assuming that we are the same because we come from the same background. Every marriage is a marriage of different cultures. We are just entering ours knowing this and ready for the challenge.

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