Unforeseen obstacles to intercultural marriage?
October 4, 2012 12:59 PM   Subscribe

What do you wish you had known before you embarked on an intercultural relationship/marriage?

I want to keep this as general as possible, but some information about us if it will help with answers: My boyfriend and I are from different countries and met in yet another country. We are also of different "races" (he's an Eastern European man, I'm a South Asian woman). Neither of us is particularly religious, nor are our parents, but he is of mixed Jewish and Christian ancestry and I am of mixed Hindu and Christian ancestry. We are the same age (mid-twenties). We're both politically similar (I am a tad more liberal than he is, but not enough to speak of). We have similar ideas about what we want with respect to marriage and family (we both want kids and an egalitarian marriage where we share duties outside and inside the home). I have met his parents and he has met mine and everyone seems to like each other. We are both possibly over-educated.

I ask this question because so many of the resources out there seem to assume glaring differences in religion or outlook or values, and I don't really see that with the two of us, yet on paper we look very dissimilar. What should we be concerned about, if anything, based on your experiences?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (37 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Some people will be dicks toward you. This is tough to deal with. Prepare for it in advance.
posted by phunniemee at 1:00 PM on October 4, 2012

What country do you each want to live in, both for the short- and long-term?
posted by unannihilated at 1:05 PM on October 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

What faith traditions, if any, will you raise the children in? What languages would you speak to them?
posted by knile at 1:09 PM on October 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

How much control are you each willing to give parents over your relationship & life choices? For example, would either one of you feel compelled to raise your child in your parent's religion/cultural outlook/ language if the parents insisted on it? Are either set of parents going to have major cultural issues with your choices? Regardless of how nonreligious you or your respective parents may feel, each side of the family races to put its stamp on any grandchildren. If you're planning on having kids, consider what you're willing to compromise on when it comes to that. For example, my SO's parents are much much more conservative and devoted to traditional gender roles than what I was raised with; they still cannot understand that I've chosen not to change my last name to my spouse's. They always send me mail addressed to Mrs Boy'sName rather than my legal name. Not a huge deal, but weird and a little irritating to me. I suspect they are going to have trouble with the idea that any kids I have will have my last name in addition to his. SO has already expressed that he thinks his side of the family will find this confusing and overly complicated.

You may also consider certain unacknowledged sterotypes/prejudices that go along with your respective cultures of origin. Your respective cultures may have left you with lingering notions that people of this or that group are naturally better at X or not as good at Y. These things are buried pretty deep in our minds and may come out in surprising ways.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 1:15 PM on October 4, 2012 [4 favorites]

I've never had anyone be a dick to me or my wife, but I wouldn't be crazy enough to live in a place or be surrounded by people where this would be an issue, for a whole ton of reasons.

Couple of thoughts, at least issues that have come up in our relationship which is now 16 years long (damn!), neither of which would have been issues at the beginning, but of course are now.

One: Although we don't take our cultural background very seriously personally (I'm from a very religious Catholic Family, she was born in India), everyone unconsciously models behaviors they've observed in their own family and regardless of how I think Catholicism is based on archaic ideas and rigid theology, it greatly influenced how my parents raised me and therefore, how I have learned to act as a husband, father, and friend; My wife sees a lot in India that is disrespectful of women, she thinks Hinduism is a mythological belief system yet she takes on subconsiously a lot of the personality of traits of her mother, who spent her entire life as a home maker and never even considered education or a career and this really influences her role in the marriage. We generally work well together, because we are over-educated and work hard to escape our families, but it's always surprising to me when this rears it's head. Note: never, ever tell your partner in the heat of a fight that they are disagreeing with you because they're acting just like their parents. It might be true, but don't say it.

Two: Anticipate having to have 2 whole different sets of family holidays to plan around. Instead of having to decide whose family we're going to spend Christmas and Thanksgiving, now we also Divali, any number of like 15 separate events pertaining to the birth of a child or a wedding. I had real trouble with this at first, not understanding why on Earth I would have to take time off work to fly to Arkansas for the three day wedding of a distant cousin that my wife hadn't seen since childhood. That's just the way it works, there are different family expectations. My wife doesn't understand why we need to play football on Thanksgiving and why cooking Cornish Hens instead of Turkey because they're easier is simply unacceptable.

In general, it's been great fun though. I never would have gone to India and had my head shaved at a temple if it weren't for her background, and she never would have floated down a river in an inner tube with a cooler full of Stroh's on July 4th if it weren't for me. Plus, making my slightly racist mom wear a saree and a bindi for her son's wedding was just delicious.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 1:22 PM on October 4, 2012 [30 favorites]

Mod note: From the OP:
What country do you each want to live in, both for the short- and long-term?
The US for now, a bit up in the air for the future.

What faith traditions, if any, will you raise the children in? What languages would you speak to them?

No faith traditions, as such, as we are both atheists. I did grow up celebrating Christmas and Hindu festivals in a non-religious manner and would like to continue to do that. My boyfriend is only attached to Russian New Year celebrations.
Languages -- English, primarily. This is my first language and my boyfriend speaks it fluently as well. I speak several Indian languages and my boyfriend speaks several European languages so we will have a surfeit of languages to choose from. Of these, definitely Russian, since he feels strongly about that.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 1:26 PM on October 4, 2012

You said he's "of mixed Jewish and Christian ancestry," but not which parent is which. If it's his mom who's Jewish, then he is Jewish, regardless of what religion anyone actually practices. (Though if you guys have kids, they won't be.) In come countries, to some people, at some times, etc. this matters. And it can matter in a bad/dangerous way, even if he himself doesn't much care. From the way you phrased the question it seemed like you haven't considered this. (Sorry if you have.) That's the specific point, and the more general point/advice is for each of you to be aware of the prejudices the other could face from various quarters, that your own background and upbringing might not have made you aware of.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 1:47 PM on October 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Be careful not to assume that cultural issues will be the biggest potential risks or sources of contention in such a relationship or marriage. That assumption can cause you mistakenly to minimize the importance of personality, intellectual, and emotional characteristics.
posted by Dansaman at 1:50 PM on October 4, 2012 [3 favorites]

I'm in a mixed faith marriage. Husbunny is from a rural area, I've always lived in big cities. His family is fundamentalist Christian, mine is Jewish. He's a math and literature guy, I'm a business and literature gal.

If your core values are the same, family, children, respect for individuals, then the other differences can be easily dealt with.

We have set holidays that we spend with each family, his mom gets Christmas, Easter, and his birthday. My parents get the Jewish Holidays if I can get them off of work.

As for languages, I can see no downside to teaching your children to be native speakers of however many languages that are in the house.

Our world is smaller than ever, and with each generation, we're open to more and more differences in our backgrounds.

The biggest predictor of success in marriage is the respect with which you treat each other, treat each other's families and in the way you respect all cultures of the world.

You sound like a vastly interesting couple, if you're ever in Atlanta, call, I'd love to have you guys to dinner.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:51 PM on October 4, 2012 [4 favorites]

I guess a general thing to say is yeah, be prepared for the thing you hate most about that culture to suddenly bite you in the behind when you least expect it. My friend dated a man and thought that he was thoroughly assimilated into American culture--until his parents arrived for a visit. All of a sudden, he started ordering her around and treating her like crap, behavior that was normal to his parents. Whether it was unconscious or not I'm not sure, but it definitely happened.
posted by Melismata at 1:51 PM on October 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

Honestly, if you're both similarly lapsed when it comes to religion, you both have other similar outlooks on important stuff, and both sets of parents like everyone, it sounds like....you're doing great. About the only thing I can think of would be if there's some great-grandmother lurking in one of your backgrounds who's all stubborn and orthodox ("....Wait, great-grandma Ethel wants us to give our son a bris?"), but it sounds like you can enlist your parents to run interference on that as well.

There may be some people in the outside world who Don't Get It, but there are always busybodies in the world no matter what you do; just present a united front against them and you should be fine.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:56 PM on October 4, 2012

Have frank discussions about money and sex if you haven't yet. About your expectations, boundaries, what's OK to keep private vs what's to be always shared with the other. If it's hard for you to talk frankly about these things, talk about the fact that it's hard to talk frankly about it.

Talk about your parents. How often will they visit, and for how long, and where will they stay. As Melismata mentions, whether you will act differently around them than you do when they're not around. What do you share with your parents, when, and what do you keep between yourselves. About elderly care when it comes time for that. I don't know about Eastern Europe, but this is an area where South Asia tends to have pretty specific norms that are different from other places' in my experience.

Boundaries and expectations, not final decisions. Find out what you don't know you don't know.
posted by lampoil at 1:56 PM on October 4, 2012 [5 favorites]

I think interactions with family, esp parents, tend to be where these differences show up. (They don't necessarily need to be cultural differences. Any two people can have hugely different ways of interacting with their family.)

I'd talk about things like... when you have kids, what happens? Would (for example) he have a problem with your mom coming to stay with you for a week, a month, three months? What about his? If they got sick or went broke, would you open your home to them? What about lending money to siblings? What about naming your kids? What about your wedding, does everyone need to be invited? That sort of thing.

Maybe you'll find out you're totally on the same page, which would be great! But if not, you'll be doing yourself a huge favor to talk this stuff before it's actually happening. (This discussion is also useful to have as a placeholder, so that five years later it's an easy way to bring something up. "Remember when we had that talk about...")
posted by fingersandtoes at 2:09 PM on October 4, 2012 [3 favorites]

I am a product of an intercultural marriage, and though my parents are alike in almost every way, the one thing I noticed that always seemed to touch a nerve is one of them assuming that they know the other's culture well enough to be able to criticize it. I mean, not like this this happened often at all... it's not like my parents were cutting each other down... it's more like sometimes my mom would say something not necessarily positive about her own culture, and my dad would be like "yeah!" in agreement, which would in turn offend my mother. - or vice versa.

Kinda like how when you make a remark like "my sister's so dumb", you're just venting, but if someone else says "your sister's dumb", it can be insulting.
posted by ohmy at 2:14 PM on October 4, 2012 [8 favorites]

I wish I had known that my former partner would always feel torn between me and his culture, despite my openness to learning about and even participating in his traditions and faith. I didn't see a dichotomy between being with me and being a Moroccan man, but he did and could never reconcile the two. I ultimately began to feel resentful that he put me in a position where he had to choose between me and his culture; I never wanted that and didn't feel I was doing anything to create this dichotomy. He had known who I was and what my cultural identity was when he asked me on our first date. And yet despite all promises that he loved me despite our differences, he just couldn't resolve his own cognitive dissonance.

Before the relationship ended, there were many points, during both good and bad times, in which he "chose" his culture over me. By that I mean, when he felt that he had to chose one over the other, he frequently (though not always) chose to leave me feeling betrayed, alone, or otherwise unhappy so that he could participate in what he perceived to be the traditions of his culture. One year he introduced me, a white agnostic American girl, to all of his very traditional Muslim family and was completely honest that we weren't married and I had no intentions of converted to Islam. The next time his family visited he lied to them and said that we were no longer together and actually entertained his family's suggestion that he pursue an arranged marriage to the point of going on a chaperoned date with the Muslim girl they had in mind for him. I will spare you the description of how utterly flabbergasted and hurt I was after learning of this (I was 19 and thought I was going to be with this man forever)

Meanwhile, I was taking a lot of flack from family and friends for being a feminist-identified young woman dating a Muslim-identified man of Arab ethnicity in a post-9/11 world. Even in the liberal circles I hung out in, where we openly discussed issues of tolerance and equality, my friends couldn't wrap there head around it. The fact that he was a Muslim became a point of morbid curiosity for people who didn't care very much about me, and a point of unnecessary concern for those who did. I couldn't find any comfort in Muslim circles, either. I wasn't one of them and wouldn't ever be until I converted.

You hopefully won't face difficulties like these, but I just wanted to share this bit of my experience. Even in inter-cultural relationships that work out, one or both partners can ultimately feel pulled in two opposing directions. For some couples this becomes one of those ongoing challenges that they must continually readdress, but they do so with success. Other couples don't. Love really isn't enough. If you're lucky, you'll live in a city where people don't really care and you've got families that don't really care, and you're both the sort of people that don't sweat the details when it comes to maintaining your cultural observances.

Good luck, OP, and feel free to PM me if you want to talk about this anymore.
posted by wansac at 2:24 PM on October 4, 2012 [4 favorites]

I wish I had known that my husband thinks that having Santa is lying to your children and that he feels strongly enough about that to make it an issue.
posted by dpx.mfx at 3:19 PM on October 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm a recovering catholic lady from the wild north woods. My gent is a non-religious jew from nyc, who came over from russia when he was six. I have sixty first-cousins. He has no living family.

talking about everything. What does family look like? What happens when someone gets hurt or sick? What about your parents? Who pays for your wedding, your kids school, your house? The people who give money often end up with more power than you might like.

Talk about what you like in your traditions, and what isn't such a big deal- and bring it up again all kinds of later because it can change. Like my gent sometimes worries that our (future) kids won't speak russian, sometimes he couldn't care less. Some traditions are nice but just not a priority. I would like my kids to go with my father and brothers hunting- but I think it might make my boyfriend's head explode so... maybe not.

Don't assume something is important to your partner, cause that might be just as bad as assuming that it isn't. It's ok to compromise, to ask "why" something is or isn't important.

And yeah you might want to figure out if you feel very strongly about where you'll end up cause that an issue even if you guys were born on the same block.
posted by Blisterlips at 3:31 PM on October 4, 2012

Have a very very frank and open discussion about homosexuality, abortion, gender equality, and politics.

If you have a son that comes out as gay, how would both of you react? If you had a daughter that had an abortion? Is gender equality of the same importance to both of you? Would one of your extended families ignore one gendered grandchild over another, and how would you both deal with that? Who would you vote for and why?

Having dated someone who was from a Slavic country, a lot of those conversations were "oh yah, of course" at the beginning, eventually turning into "I don't want you hanging out with your gay friends". He was very well educated, top grades. Very different values underneath the surface.
posted by Dynex at 3:56 PM on October 4, 2012 [3 favorites]

Looks like a lot has been covered but there is also post relationship issues.

Are you both on the same page for blood donation, organ donation, marrow donation, end of life care, pulling the plug, DNR, burial ceremony & internment placement.

Who will raise the kids if you both die, do they respect the religious beliefs you may or may not be teaching & continue that.

Corporal punishment. Psychiatric treatment. ADHD drugs. Military school. Whatever might come up as an option.

Permanent body mods. Piercings, circumcision, tattoos, nose jobs, boob jobs, tummy tucks.
posted by tilde at 4:09 PM on October 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

patience. patience, patience, patience.

my partner is an incredibly patient person, which is really fortunate because I am not so patient, and being in an intercultural relationship demands a lot of patience and understanding. things that I think are obvious or straightforward might not be on his radar, things that he takes for granted or assumes are true for everyone are not on my radar, etc. I would say that at least 50% of our disagreements have been because of misunderstanding the other's perspective or just not being aware of where the other person was coming from. it is a really good learning experience!

be patient with each other.
posted by gursky at 4:24 PM on October 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

As the child of a failed intercultural relationship (hah), here are the things I've seen cause conflict, that seemed culture-based more than personality-based.

1. Money. Every single thing about money, including childcare expenses (which means all the extras that come with middle-class kids, like activities, and, y'know, clothing). If one partner wants to stay at home with young children, how will you make decisions about money when only one person is earning? What sort of expenses are essential, what are non-essential but nice, what are frivolous? Does either one of you have expensive hobbies?

2. Community. How are each of your communities going to react to this relationship? And not just immediate family, who may be fine with things, but extended family and other relatives. And, how does each of you feel about introducing the other to these networks? (Seriously, this sounds ridiculous, but my father was the first person in his community to marry "outside", and while most people I met were fine with it, his own associated guilt/shame/wtf created serious problems with not only my mother, but his children). It may not seem like a big deal right away, but it's a big avenue for problems to come out of, and it can be hard to anticipate both what form those problems will take, and how each of you will react to them.
(Does either of you have distant relatives who may accidentally write out cards to Mr. and Mrs. Gaddafi because they can't spell your spouse's name? No, really, that's happened).
With this, of course, goes all of what the above posters have said about family expectations/involvement.

3. What you expect your kids to look like/be like.
Seriously- kids will sometimes look entirely like one parent, or entirely like the other, or like neither of you. Some people have really weird reactions to having their kids look very little like them. Or completely like them, and nothing like their partner.
(No, really. My desi parent hates that I came out looking... well... desi).
Also: "what do we do if one of our kids has a disability/other problem/just doesn't conform to what we expect?"

And yeah, people will be dicks to you. People will be dicks to your future kids. People will be dicks to your parents. How do you guys plan on reacting to these things?

A lot of what I've pointed out, I think, is stuff you could easily navigate if you're open and honest with each other, but which can cause problems based on how each of your react to these situations.
posted by Cracky at 4:54 PM on October 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Many of these comments are excellent, bringing up so many points that I'd never even thought of. As the product of a mixed cultural/ethnic/national relationship myself, I really have to emphasize what Cracky said above. My brother and I do not look anything alike. We have completely different skin tones to the point where he looks very obviously "white" and I look very obviously "latin." I get people talking to me in Spanish--a language I don't speak--all the time, and he doesn't. People never assume that we are siblings, and when they find out we are, they ask which one of us is adopted. So, yeah, when it comes to the kids, it can be total genetic randomness. Which I tend to think is great, since, you know, more variation is awesome, but your kids, if they don't strongly resemble the dominant ethnic group, may grow up hearing "What are you?" all the time as I did. It didn't harm me in any way, in fact, I have my makeup down to about a sentence. Perhaps this mainly has to do with the area I live in being mostly white, and people's rude attempts to find out which category of non-white they can fit you into.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 5:38 PM on October 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

How to properly address parents and grandparents.
posted by mhoye at 5:53 PM on October 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Something else to think about is even basic cultural things like medicine, especially if you have kids. It may sound strange, but for example, I have a friend from the US who married a man from Russia. They just had a baby, and apparently there were all sorts of issues about medicine, when to see the doctor, what doctors should be seen, etc. I never would have thought about that as an issue, but I think how you see even things like medicine can depend on your cultural background. Think (and talk!) about how you will compromise on stuff like that (especially if you plan to have kids).
posted by McPuppington the Third at 5:56 PM on October 4, 2012

(And, more generally, how to show the correct amount of respect for people in different social settings. But the parents and grandparents ones are the high-stakes ones, in my opinion.)
posted by mhoye at 5:57 PM on October 4, 2012

Citizenship and residency. Expectations of how long the woman forgoes employment after having a child.
posted by WeekendJen at 5:58 PM on October 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Language will be in issue. Not between the two of you, but between the couple and the in-laws. My parents (who do speak English) think it's OK to speak a language my wife doesn't understand around her, which effectively locks her out of the conversation. This obviously drives her batshitinsane.
posted by Runes at 7:51 PM on October 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

Whatever your cultural or spiritual orientation is today, it's possible that as you get older the traditions of your childhood will exert a pull you may not feel now. It's not a bad thing, but it is a very true thing and hard to fathom when you're in your 20s -- that you could yearn for certain traditions as you age.
posted by thinkpiece at 8:21 PM on October 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

Aside from the cultural/religious issues, it sounds like you're super international. Brace yourself for bouts of homesickness - esp when you start thinking about kids (and have them). How will you handle this? How often will you visit home? Do you take turns? Do you all go? What about the kids? Do you pay for flights for your mom to visit you? What if there's an emergency "back home" - do you do, or not? What if one of you wants to move "home" - and what if you hate it in that country (or can't work, or don't speak the language, or...)?
Have you been to each other's home countries? Eeeps.

I'm American, living with my Australian husband in Australia... I was pretty chill with the overseas until we "settled" in Sydney. I'm still working through it...

I *highly* recommend each of you setting up an "emergency homesick" fund. Just knowing you COULD go home to visit, if you wanted to, helps. Also, setting up a "travel fund" in general... so that you can help family members visit you (like, my mom's broke and I'll probably buy her a plane ticket to visit when we have a baby).
posted by jrobin276 at 9:51 PM on October 4, 2012 [3 favorites]

I am european and my husband south asian and we are both liberal, nonreligious, educated urbanites. The biggest issue we've found is family, sure everybody is polite and nice but occasionally a totally left field opinion will crop up on one side or the other that is hurtful or annoying or whatever. You need to have a team approach to responding to those. People from either "community" who are not as educated and worldly saying or assuming hateful or embarrassing or stupid stuff - I have a million examples of this one, but a funny one is having a guy working in a south asian grocery think I was a health inspector rather than just tagging along with my husband while he bought some chicken; but you've probably dealt with some of that already. How much time you each want to spend around people from home.

Where to live is an obvious one but at some point also family responsibilities - care of elderly relatives, how much help to give family members, how to split up paltry vacation time to allow you to attend his niece's christening and see your mother because you haven't in two years and blah blah blah. (You can end up never taking vacation time to, you know, relax). How much time is acceptable for family members to stay with you on holidays, what sort of host you are expected to be per your home cultures. Financial planning is different from your american peers - you may not know for many years where you want to retire, and travel and perhaps family support will be taking a dent out of your income that they don't spend.

What people are saying above about others "being dicks" can be true but more common is the double-take - "that's your spouse??" or "oh I pictured him very differently!" - which gets old. One morbid issue that came up recently with married friends from different countries who were making wills was wishes regarding funerals and burial etc; which country we would like to be buried and what sort of ceremony and so on is something I have never discussed with my spouse because it's not exactly something that comes up, but if he was mauled by a lion on the way from the subway tomorrow I would actually not know how he would like me to proceed.
posted by jamesonandwater at 9:54 PM on October 4, 2012

Sometimes the opinions of people from within your own cultures can be the hardest thing to deal with, generally when it's from one of the cultures you're not part of and they're trying to tear down something they see as blocking the other person from their "true" culture.

I think others are saying a similar thing, but I think it's worth repeating, because it's what tore apart several relationships I was in, a couple of which were very serious. Some member of my S.O.'s dominant cultural association would freak out about our being together, and they would do anything (!!!) to get us apart. It was entirely too stressful, but that's partially because the S.O.s didn't have the spine to resist that type of input, even though they originally thought they would.

The other thing I've seen is people reverting to a portion of their culture that is a deal-breaker for the relationship and had seemed impossible to both while dating (or even during the first several years of marriage). Religion is the thing that comes up most often, but sometimes it's ways of raising children or expectations about household responsibilities. Always very shocking to the party suddenly facing "a different person".

Those are the two things I'd be the most wary of and get the most talking done about.
posted by batmonkey at 11:44 PM on October 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Later on you're going to worry about your aging parents. Who will look after them if you both live in a different country.
posted by devnull at 2:11 AM on October 5, 2012

One thing that still trips me up is that there is a definite lack of a common cultural background. Any reference to something you grew up with might not be recognized. It seems like a small thing, but the tenth time you really want to explain why something resonates with you won't feel the same as the hundredth time. Likewise,you or your partners willingness to listen, your patience for that explanation? It's one thing to feel the need to explain, it's another entirely to have to listen to a five or ten minute story about a tv show one person grew up with, and so on. There is a definite gap between Mrs. Ghidorah and I when it comes to pretty much every form of culture before we met each other. No matter how much I loved something growing up, it's highly unlikely she had ever heard of it, and the same in reverse.

You dont mentionlang difference in language, but that can be a massive challenge, too. More from a perspective of an international relationship with different languages involved, be aware of the language ability and commitment to becoming more fluent. It's like trying to change someone, it doesn't work out well. Are you happy with the level of communication you have now? Will you always be? Are you committed to becoming more conversant in your partner's language? If you aren't, do you seriously expect them to put in the effort if you won't? Will you always be satisfied being able to communicate wih the person you love at the level you have? Romantic language isn't usually covered in first year textbooks.
posted by Ghidorah at 7:11 AM on October 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Quick note about child language that I learned from my spanish-speaking parents.
The keys to language acquisition in children are immersion and consistency. Your children will be immersed in English just by living in the United States. If you immerse them in another or even two more languages at home, they will pick them up. If your husband always speaks to your child in Russian, you always speak to him/her in Hindi, and visitors always speak in English, they will come out of it trilingual.

Example: My aunt was born and raised in Brazil, to Colombian parents, and went to an American school in Rio de Jainero. She is and was fluent in English, Spanish, and Portuguese from age five.
posted by nickhb at 8:00 AM on October 5, 2012

My background: my husband is Eastern European and I'm Latin American. We both have very liberal views on everything, and this has been a pain in the ass for his family. His atheism has been a smallish issue with mine.

I really recommend that you try to learn Russian. The opportunity of speaking his native language can do wonders for comfort in hard or melancholic times. Speaking his language will also put you in a less vulnerable position when you visit his family. It's hard to depend on second hand accounts of conversations when you are surrounded by your husband's relatives. Particularly because at the beginning they will probably be talking about you. Not to mention how in case of an emergency where you need to call his family, or if you need to go to Russia for any reason and he can't come with you a basic command of the language can do wonders. If your family's first language is not English, then he could try to learn it, too.

Because of the particularities of a couple like this, you are periodically going to meet people who are unfamiliar or actively dislike your culture or his, or both. This means you have to be a loyal team, as in NEVER openly criticize his culture/country/family to third parties. We call it couple PR. Even if you are livid and cannot freaking believe how Russian people are about subject X, keep it to yourself and if you need to rant, then maybe tell your best friend/a sister/your therapist. If it is something that affects your relationship, you should bring it up to each other because chances are the other person hasn't even realized that something they do the way they have always done could annoy or offend you. You guys come from completely different backgrounds, so you have to learn to be very verbal about stuff. Don't assume anything.

Also, since it sounds like he is the one away from both family and home, make sure you pay special attention to him feeling melancholic or missing his country (in my experience, it gets tiring to always be "the foreigner", and it can be a little isolating, even if you speak the local language). To help a little with this, you can maybe learn to make a couple of his favourite dishes or listen to his favourite bands from back home together.

Good luck!
posted by Tarumba at 10:48 AM on October 5, 2012 [3 favorites]

One more thing, ask each other if they are planning to support their parents financially or even have them move in when they are no longer able to live by themselves. this is an obligation in many cultures.

In my case we both know we will start sending a monthly sum to both sets of parents as soon as they are officially seniors, and will take them in our home if they are lonely or unhappy. Our American friends can't wrap their heads around this!
posted by Tarumba at 11:02 AM on October 5, 2012

I am European married to Arab. We've known each other for almost 30 years and been married almost 25. Several years ago, my spouse became surprisingly conservative and directive about gender roles, contrary to their actions and words of the previous 20 years or more. My spouse's current rhetoric is in step with their cultural traditions, buried deep but deep rooted.

Also, my spouse's parents have recently come to live in our town, and since then, Spouse spends five evenings a week there. It's exactly what is expected in their culture.

I guess I would reflect on the most stereotypical gripes about the other person's culture. Even if they aren't like that now, ask yourself if you can handle them reverting to that, possibly after you have children to consider.
posted by Abuissak at 1:41 PM on October 9, 2012

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