Walking on Fresh Grass
We had barely walked in the door when lists and lists of rules started screaming at me.
“Take your shoes off!”
“Wash the sand off your feet”
“Use the latch so the door doesn’t slam!”
"Bend your knees before sitting on the couch."
I counted seven more signs in the kitchen alone.
This was our vacation. A quiet place with miles of yellow sand and blue waves stretched before us. Salty nights and sun-drenched days. But…
This was my parent’s apartment. So, rules. My family love rules. Rules held us together. I have one relative whose favourite holiday is New Year's Day as she gets to make a new set of rules. I've spent a lot of my life ridding myself of rules and "shoulds."
Don’t get me wrong. Rules help tremendously. Our boys needed strict boundaries to feel secure and safe.
Like a tentative cat I courageously stepped over the threshold but felt myself tensing up. Smells, sounds, & dusty objects from my regimented, (yet happy) childhood assaulted me.
My tension was all the more acute having just spent Christmas Eve with Christian’s parents. They are the complete opposite of my parents. Think “Meet the Fockers.” That different. I’m not kidding. They're flexible, easy going, free spirited. But their flexibility comes with baggage.
My parents get upset if we arrive 10 minutes late.
Christian’s parents are insulted if we set a time to arrive.
My parents expect us to say three thank you's for each Christmas present, call the next day and say how much we are enjoying the present, then send an email about it a week later.
Christian’s parents get insulted if we say more than one thank you, and prefer that we don’t even notice that they gave us a present.
My parents love rules.
Christian’s parents live to break rule.
My parents like cats.
Christian’s parents like dogs.
And on it goes.
You see, our parents are from completely different cultures.
(How did we two ever get it together?)
The parents we love dearly drive us crazy sometimes. Get-togethers weaken and strengthen our relationship. We are drawn into family dynamics, our childhood roles are replayed, and we are challenged and questioned. If we behave differently to our expected role, our parents can hammer us:
“But you don’t like cats”
“But you couldn’t possibly just give that money away!”
“You always loved Whisky”
"You looked better in patterned clothes"
Each of them trying to reclaim their values as “the only way to be.”
But these are just the small things…
Earlier in our marriage, my tears and repressed anger were sometimes smattered over our windscreen on drives home. Cultural differences sought to exhaust and strangle our relationship.
“Culture” means “the way things are done around here.” Be it differences in country of origin, state of origin, or different faith or family traditions.
If you are in a relationship with someone from a very different culture, you may be like an Olympic diver who has chosen to perform a very difficult dive. If you are in a relationship with the boy next door, your dive degree of difficulty is not as high. In cultural issues, we expect our partner to behave in a certain way and are surprised, hurt or frustrated when they do not. Awareness is half of the solution.
To manage this, we discuss the following:
What are the cultural things we love about each other?
What are the cultural things which drive each other crazy?
How can we use our cultural characteristics for us rather than against us?
If you are going to make any New Years resolutions, consider making one of them being aware of your cultural differences.
We walked along the beach. We talked though the issues. There was a blue bottle on the sand in front of us. (A "marine stinger with a long tail." A real screamer. As a child, I was often stung, but now I just keep a watch out. The cultural issues still sting. Now we rely on each other to keep a watch out. We use heart and humour: a gentle hand on the back, a ridiculous comment.
Coming from different cultures, sometimes I feel that we are miles apart. My heart grieves. But on that Summer's day my perspective changed. Looking back on our sandy path, I was surprised to find that our footprints were not only close, but beautifully in sync.
Welcome to our blog. Each blog contains a little story of our journey and an insight drawn from Christian's 18 years of clinical experience as a psychiatrist. The central ideas are in bold. We post every fortnight and would love to hear your comments. Looking forward to travelling with you in this amazing journey called life.