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Sharing a Bed (without sharing a culture)

written by M.E. Evans December 27, 2017

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.

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10 comments

Janis December 27, 2017 at 7:08 am

Enjoyed reading this so much. Sounds like a fun life adventure. God bless you and Francesco

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M.E. Evans December 27, 2017 at 7:33 am

Thank you so much, Janis.

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Juliet December 27, 2017 at 7:59 am

you both sound brilliant, I’m married to an englishman – all I can say after nearly 29years of marriage to him is that I am a total saint. I’d happily help you shovel your footpath – or at least I’d get as far as the front door and then worry it was too icy and start crying with fear, then I’d bring over a bottle of gin instead. Yeah, we are possibly the crazy neighbours you’d avoid – sorry about that, but you’re safe unless you move to Scotland

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Erica Holst December 27, 2017 at 9:44 am

My husband is from Puglia, where we live. I can only say I truly relate to everything you say! How did you get him to go to therapy? What would the neighbors say!?!? 🙂

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Questa Dolce Vita (@questadolcevita) December 27, 2017 at 10:24 am

Sorry if this comment is a repeat. It froze on me the first time. Amyways….LOVED EVERYTHING ABOUT THIS.

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Anja December 27, 2017 at 11:32 am

I giggled while I read this post. The American culture is so different from Italian culture.

I was married to an Indian. His family expected me to be Indian. I had to tell them, I’m American and it doesn’t matter how many saris you put me in…. still American! Saris don’t magically make me Indian.

My ex-husband’s family spoke British English due to being from the former British colony of India. I spoke American English and that caused translation problems. I had to remember my British English vocabulary from my British grandfather because my ex wasn’t going to speak American English no matter how long he lived in America.

Cultural differences can be funny and frustrating at the same time. They do tend to amuse others. My former sister-in-law once watch her brother and I talk and commented, neither of you understood each other in that conversation because you’re speaking different English. Yep! That’s exactly what happened!

I’ve seen a New Yorker marry a Texan and even they couldn’t understand each other because the cultural differences were so vast. Culture frames how you see and react to the world. Your sense of humor is based on your cultural references. Culture plays a bigger role than you realize until you’re in a cross cultural marriage and that’s when you finally get it. I didn’t understand what a big sticking point culture would be until I was already married.

I once got into an argument with my ex due to different understandings of vocabulary. He told me to go get his slippers. I told him, you don’t have any slippers. He blew up and said, I have 6 pair! I said, noooo, I know everything you own and you don’t have any slippers.

He said, my slippers are in the bedroom cupboard. I said, okay, first of all… there are cupboards in the kitchen and bathroom, but none in the bedroom. Second, you don’t own any slippers!

He marched into the bedroom and threw open the walk-in closet with great flourish and shouted, THIS is a cupboard! I said, nooooo, that’s a walk-in closet. It’s a closet!

Then he picked up flip flops and said, these are slippers! I said, noooo those are flip flops of sandals. Slippers you wear with pajamas and you don’t wear them outside of the house.

He said, if there’s a strap at the back it’s a sandal. If there’s no strap at the back (slip on) it’s a slipper! By that time the entire neighborhood could hear us. Then he said, you stupid American! Yeah, he took it too far. He went there.

I said, this isn’t India. I’m not some illiterate peasant from a small village. You can’t speak me to me that way. I’m not going to walk 10 steps behind you. If you wanted that why marry a white American who’s independent and supporting you and your entire family????? Yeah, okay I was dumb to marry someone so poor and get stuck supporting an entire family that wasn’t my own.

The interesting thing is that my ex became more backwards, more ultra conservative, more Indian than the most conservative Indian once he got married. He went deep into his culture and I didn’t expect that to happen. Prior to marriage he couldn’t have cared less about his culture. After marriage he was a “super Indian” and I was pretty miserable. He became violent, excessively dominant, controlling and just generally a pain in my ass. I’m not sure what clicks in a person’s head when they marry, but they can revert to the most conservative and old world version of their culture instead of the modern version and that’s confusing.

My dad reverted to his old world European roots when he married my mom. Maybe it happens much more often than I’m aware of??? My dad acts like he lives in Europe from 300 years ago where females have no value and he’s a bitter pill to swallow.

I just want to left alone in peace and nobody mess with me. Leave me alone in my happy place. Thank you very much! Don’t mess with me. I won’t mess with you. Live and let live. Let’s all just get along. I don’t want to fight with anyone. It’s too stressful for me.

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Kat December 27, 2017 at 9:14 pm

Hilarious and so accurate as me being an Anglo Aussie whose partner’s heritage is Italian. Once again, reading your latest post has helped brighten up my day! Thank you!

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Yvonne December 27, 2017 at 10:00 pm

I chuckled all through this post.

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John December 28, 2017 at 5:40 am

Excellent post! My situation is similar, but my Italian wife lived for twelve years in London. So, she arrived with some shattered cultural norms… But she is still preoccupied with other’s opinions of her and conspiracy theories about people who have something against her.

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Tony December 28, 2017 at 5:42 am

A great post indeed! I just have to say, I think it would be a lot of fun to be your friends and to see some of these interactions firsthand! 🙂

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