CONTRIBUTED BY INORI HAYASHI
Before I married my husband, my father said, “It is already a miracle when two people from different families live under one roof. Can you imagine how difficult it will be to marry someone from a different country?” he asked me. I am Japanese, and my husband is American. I did not know what I was getting myself into then.
I was not aware that our cultural differences would later be a major obstacle in the marriage. It is true – dating someone is much easier than marrying someone; especially when I am used to eating rice and fish for breakfast, and he wants bacon and eggs! That was just the tip of the iceberg. Cultures sometimes include differences in values and beliefs, which are deeply held. These may include ideas of traditional gender roles, preferred methods of conflict resolution, and the importance of individuality in light of the larger social unit. When East meets West, many of these are completely different.
Kim Zimmermann, a Live Science contributor, defined a culture as, “the characteristics and knowledge of a particular group of people, defined by everything from language, religion, cuisine, social habits, music and arts.” How my husband and I think, how we behave, what we like to eat, how we shop, and mostly, how we express our feelings are completely different. In the beginning, there was no common ground we could have come to. Our backgrounds are so different: gender, religions, family structures, native languages, ages, financial classes, careers, educations, diet, traditions, and other primary elements that compose a person’s life.
My husband’s native language is French, and mine is Japanese. To make things more complicated, we are not from one particular culture: he grew up in France, Dominican Republic, and the United States, and I grew up with foreign influences in Japan and spent a few years in the United States. We are both multicultural people. It often feels like we are from different dimensions.
So, how are we still together instead of having a war every single day? Paulo Coelho, the writer of The Alchemist, said, “Culture makes people understand each other better. And if they understand each other better in their soul, it is easier to overcome the economic and political barriers. But first they have to understand that their neighbor is, in the end, just like them, with the same problems, the same questions.” It is easy to blame everything on culture. “Oh, you are such an American,” or “You can’t be direct because you are Japanese.” We often use this “You behave this way because of your culture” card even outside of marriage – to coworkers, neighbors, friends, bosses, or even strangers.
As Paulo Coelho suggested, it is always important to remember that before we share different cultures, we are the same human beings. Cultures do exist, and it is a powerful social force; however, emotions are universal – even while the factors that set them off may not be. Learning to see the world as someone else sees it, and recognizing and respecting someone’s emotion even when you do not understand the cause – is a central approach to any personal conflicts.
I am still far away from being well culturally integrated. It sometimes feels like my husband and I are opposing countries ready to start a war, but I have to remember that we are a married couple; we are on the same team. My father was right; I had no clue how difficult my international marriage was going to be. We have had a rough journey so far, but I have never been this challenged to understand someone this hard before. This marriage has widened my cultural perception and my capability of understanding and accepting. We still have many years together ahead, and I am excited for what is to come.