Marrying Cross-Culturally


I feel in love with green eyes and a Kiwi accent (I think the accent won hands down). The fact that DH was not from Australia just added to the mystery and excitement but I had no idea at the time what it would mean to get involved with someone from another country. And even though our cultures are very, very similar - they are also different.

After almost thirty-five years of marriage I've learnt a little about what it means to marry cross-culturally ...

One spouse has to give up their homeland. Initially it was DH. After he met me, he resigned from his job in New Zealand and found one in Australia. After two years we were married and quickly bought a house and began a family. As far as I was concerned, we were settled forever. But - as someone told me not long after we moved to New Zealand - Kiwi blokes always eventually bring their women home. And "home" to New Zealand we moved in 1996.

One set of grandparents always misses out on regular contact with the grandchildren. We were blessed that DH's parents made the trip each year to visit us in Australia (DH had a sister who lived not far from us so they were able to kill two birds with one stone - but that also meant that we had to share them and didn't get as much time with them as we would have liked). Today there are so many ways to stay connected with family overseas - unlike when we relied on Aerograms (does anyone even remember those?) and the occasional phone call - but Skype and Facebook are still no substitute for cuddles and kisses and face-to-face time. (I'm well aware that this isn't unique to cross-cultural marriages. Nowadays grandparents miss out on regular contact when families move away - even a move of only a few hundred kilometres means regular contact is not so convenient.)

Family are missing from important events. Baptisms. Significant birthdays. Engagements. Even weddings. I've had to work hard not to feel deep sadness or loneliness when not one person from "my" side of the family has been there to rejoice with me on special occasions. Thankfully DH comes from a large family and there's usually a few of them able to be present to support us.

Friends. DH and I made some great friends when we were first married. My best friend from childhood is still my best friend. These friends all live in Australia. I've struggled to make friends here. I have acquaintances but few - if any - friends. The rules of friendship differ to those that I know. Perhaps that's why the first friend I made here was a fellow Australian. We understood "the rules". I still don't know what those rules are or how to navigate them. And this despite my culture being very similar to the one I now live in. How much harder it must be for someone whose culture is vastly different.

Differences. Take two people from different backgrounds (as most spouses are to at least some degree) and you have a recipe for misunderstanding and miscommunication. I can't think of anything large that we've had to work through, but there have been lots of little things. I remember the first Church Camp we were to attend when we first moved here. I read the list of items to take to camp and immediately burst into tears. What on earth were Dimp and jandals and flannels? I know now but prefer to use the terms with which I've grown up (okay, maybe not all - but I will not call them jandals - ever). I've also had to learn that there are a few terms I must not use (they would cause offense here but not in my country), and there are some that still make me blush when I hear Kiwis use them because they are highly offensive in my culture but not here. And then there are the misunderstandings due to that accent I fell in love with. (Um, darling how on earth are you going to write with a pin? What kind of pin? Oh, you want a pen. Why didn't you say so?)

Prejudice. It didn't exist in Australia - as far as I was concerned because I was on the other side. I've experienced it here. And sometimes from the most unexpected sources. People don't mean to be offensive (or maybe they do) and often have no idea how rude and hurtful they sound. I remember watching a rugby game with some couples from our church (and that's another thing: I cannot understand this national obsession with rugby) and one woman was becoming quite embarrassed by the comments of one of the males in the group who was really putting Australians down. She tried to get him to tone down his comments but he honestly could not see that he had any reason to apologise for his words. I've become used to it now and just laugh it off most times but it was difficult in the beginning. (I can still remember clearly the day I wanted to hug the attendant at the petrol station for saying something nice about Australians.)

Losing touch with your roots. What I see and hear here about my country paints it in a bad light. It was probably the same when DH was living in Australia and hearing about his country. When the Olympic Games are on telly, I hear about how many medals New Zealand has won and see the same winning footage again and again and again. I have to do some sleuthing (aka Googling) to find out if Australia has won even one medal. I don't get to see or hear what my countrymen are achieving unless it is something that puts Australia in a bad light. They say you can take the girl out of the country but not the country out of the girl ... I will watch an Australian programme I'm not even interested in just to see the scenery and hear the accents again!

Broadening your mind. You learn that there is no "right" way. You learn to see things from another perspective. Living in another country, you learn to look at a whole lot of things through new lens. You learn to disregard stereotypes and to examine your own prejudices and biases. You grow. It can be painful but it's worth it. And you realise how far you've come when you're surprised that family and friends back home are still stuck in their old ways.

You experience the best of both cultures. You learn what is important about your own culture and what is worth keeping and you do the same for the other culture. You form your own culture that includes food and slang and celebrations from both cultures. You see your children - and grandchildren - take pride in their cultures and you realise that what makes your culture unique won't be lost or forgotten.

You find things that unite rather than divide. For us this is easy because we both share ANZAC Day. Our language and values are similar. We both claim the same national foods (and have to defend our own country's right to be the owner of that said food). And we have a love-hate relationship with the other's country. Australia and New Zealand are just like siblings: they fight each other tooth and nail but if any other country dares threaten one, just watch the other stand up for them!

You realise it's totally worth it and wouldn't have it any other way. I no longer notice DH's accent (apparently mine is now "tamed") but I still love those green eyes and am glad that I get to experience life with him.

[I realise that an Australian marrying a Kiwi is not really out there cross-culturally. We probably have more similarities than we do differences. If you are considering marrying someone from a different culture - even if both are English speaking cultures - go slowly and prayerfully. There are many minefields. Here and here and here are some articles to get you started.]

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