Ever since college, I just kind of assumed that if I ever got married (which I never really believed that I would) that my husband would be foreign. I mostly thought he’d be British or Irish or from some other stoic culture where you can only tell their alive if you hold a mirror under their nose to track their breath. But, life doesn’t work out how you plan and I ended up with the opposite of stoic: Italian. My husband is fairly composed and even quiet most of the time but other times he’s not just passionate, he’s dramatic. If he gets injured, like stubs his toe, it sounds as if someone is being clubbed to death in the other room because of all the screaming. He talks with his hands flailing all over and makes weird Italian jokes that are like strange dad jokes and believes that any slight against us is a planned and calculated attack. For example, the neighbor who recently shoveled the sidewalk but stopped at our house. I was like, “well, he doesn’t know us at all,” and F was like, “oh, no! He’s trying to tell us something. He wants us to know something!” And I’m like, shoveling is now code? For what? That he doesn’t want to spend all day shoveling the sidewalk of the entire neighborhood? Then F stared out the window for a long time mumbling like a crazy person to himself about how that neighbor has a vendetta against us but he doesn’t understand why.
But along with all of his quirks, I get a husband who is family-obsessed, who believes that marriage is a lifelong commitment, and should we have children, will devote every action of his life to them. I also have a best friend who is pretty damn good at making pizza and spiced wine so it’s a pretty big win. However, it’s not always easy.
You’d think that as a kid of a foreign dad, I wouldn’t have been so shocked by just how much culture influences our way of being in the world. But, I’m slow on the uptake, so I’ve spent the last 7 years figuring it out. Culture shapes humor, expectations, reactions, manners, roles, I mean everything. I think that as a kid, I just saw my dad as a dad and assumed that everything that he did was specific to him as an individual. His constant rambling about Cyrus the Great and wanting to read us poetry while we watched Star Wars, for example, just seemed like a weird dad quirk. That is until I grew up and realized that storytelling is a huge part of Persian culture and there are holidays where people literally just sit around to read Persian poetry and talk about myths and philosophy. Since I met F in my late twenties and I lived in Italy, I could see right away the significant cultural differences and ever since we’ve both been sort of navigating these differences together to the best of our abilities. Sometimes poorly, sometimes better than poorly.
I would say the biggest challenge for us is my American individualism and “I don’t care what you think of me,” attitude, and F’s small town in southern Italy’s obsession with Bella Figura coupled with an intense fear of gossip. It doesn’t seem like a big deal but as a creative person, I really can’t be too concerned with appeasing others all the time, but for F, there’s nothing more important than what other people think of you. If we go to a party and I do something idiotic (which I almost always do) I can laugh it off and go, “weeee, I’m an idiot! You all know that about me.” But for F, I’ve just committed social suicide in some way. What will everyone say after we leave and how will this haunt us? It’s as if my tripping over a rug (for example) has brought shame on ten generations of our good name.
But there are smaller things that are a challenge, like the way we greet people or say goodbye. If you’ve spent any time in Italy, you know that a goodbye takes a while. You generally kiss everyone and chat with each person before leaving. In the US where I come from, a gracious “goodbye” to the host and a quick wave of “see ya later friends,” is completely fine. We’ve had huge fights before over this because F will be like, “OMG, YOU DON’T HAVE ANY MANNERS!” and I’m like, “DUDE, PEOPLE DO NOT WANT YOU TO STAND AT THEIR DOORWAY FOR THIRTY MINUTES TO SAY GOODBYE DURING THEIR CHILD’S BDAY PARTY!” The struggle is real.
Other things we’ve argued about to date:
- How honest to be about personal things when meeting new people.
- Why my purse must match my shoes at all times, lest the world end.
- Why we should only buy gifts for people matching to the exact dollar amount that they’ve spent on us. Especially for wedding gifts.
- The many ways in which some random neighbor is out to get us in some very specific way.
- All things related to child-rearing and the level of independence of a child.
In addition to being culturally different, we’re also total opposites in every single way. I only like weird movies and dark comedies (or if I’m PMSing, Rom-Coms). He only like deranged movies where everyone dies in the end. Manchester By The Sea is like his favorite movie that he wants to watch over and over again for reasons I’ll never understand. I like indie music and punk rock. He likes pop and Italian oldies. He dresses like a peacock and I eternally look like a little storm cloud in all black (which I think is CLASSY, FRANCESCO).
Being married is hard enough, being opposites is complicated (though balancing) but being from very different cultures adds even that much more complexity. We argue a lot, we’ve been to couples therapy (which helps a ton) and we spend a freakish amount of time working on ourselves and communication. Especially communication. But in the end, we’ve both grown so much. In some ways, all of the challenges have helped us both to be stronger individuals and more solid as a couple. Nothing sparks growth like someone asking you, “but why don’t you want to kiss all of your friends goodbye after a night of having so much fun together?”
Touche, my love, touche.