Top 10 Hardest Things About Bicultural Marriage

Last week I posted about my top ten favorite things about being in a bicultural marriage. To be fair, here are my top ten least favorite things in no particular order. If you’re considering marriage to a foreigner, I hope this list is helpful!

  1. Vacations will almost always be to see family. Unless you’re loaded and/or unemployed, most of your money and vacation time will be dedicated to seeing family. We usually go home to Ohio about once a year. It can be hard to justify spending money to go see a new place when you haven’t seen your parents and sister for a year. Another thorn is my flesh is that in our case, we have to spend a considerable amount of money to go on vacation to Cincinnati, Ohio. I love to visit my family, but Ohio isn’t exactly an exciting travel destination. If we lived in Ohio and went on vacation to see family in Costa Rica, however, I might be singing a different tune.
  1.  Difficulty with jokes and cultural references. In my honest opinion, my family is pretty witty and we joke around about 75 percent of the time. Albin had a hard time keeping up and inserting his own comments for a long time which made him feel outed. I’ve felt the same way with his friends/family so we’ve spent a lot of time educating one another on the millions of puns, sayings, and jokes that exist in each culture. For example, once my sister used the term “throw you under the bus” with Albin. As we were all laughing about how he had just been thrown under the bus, he was still considering why we were talking about him being run over by a bus.
  1.  Truly expressing yourself. Albin speaks English really well and I like to think that I speak Spanish equally as well; however, sometimes it is hard to truly express yourself and have your spouse understand. Expressing your deepest thoughts usually require you using more extensive vocabulary and that can create some misunderstanding or at least not a complete understanding of what you’re trying to get across.
  1.  Being far away for funerals, sicknesses, holidays, etc. Most likely one spouse will be living far away from their family. That part is hard, but Skype is a huge help (My parents skype me every day to watch my daughter do interesting things like smack her lips or roll over). It is almost unbearable, however, to be so far when there are funerals that you can’t get to, extensive illnesses that you can’t help out with, or holidays that you would otherwise enjoy being with your family for. Thanksgiving is always a killer for me because it’s not a thing in CR and my whole extended family gets on Skype while they stuff deep-fried turkey and pumpkin pie into their mouths. Sure I do a Thanksgiving dinner here, but it’s not exactly the same.
  1.  Missing family in general. This has become increasingly harder since the birth of  our daughter. It hurts my heart a little bit to know that my daughter only gets to see my family in person once or twice a year because I want them to be a big part of her life and they want to be a big part of hers. Knowing that you have to get on a long plane ride if you wanted to see them is a bummer most of the time.
  1.  Cultural norms. This is the everyday stuff that you just don’t agree on because you grew up not knowing there were other options (like whether you should eat big lunches or big dinners). One that has been hard for me is a cuota, which is a fee you pay to go to a party, shower, or even a wedding. Oftentimes you are required to pay this fee on top of buying a gift in order to help the host throw the party or finance the wedding. Not only is it hard for me swallow paying to go to someone else’s party, but it is nearly impossible for me to charge a fee for people to come to my parties. Can’t we just do a potluck? No.
  1.  Feeling lonely if you don’t have a community. This has definitely improved for us, but it can be challenging. It can be extremely lonely to not have any friends doing the bicultural marriage thing. Having community in any stage of life is of utmost importance, but this unique circumstance requires it.
  1.  Residency processes and paperwork. Have I mentioned that I hate it? Residency in any country is usually complicated, expensive, and requires a lot of patience. There is a lot of extra paperwork to fill out for every step you take when you’re married to a foreigner. Almost always, there you are required to pay a fee to file the never ending pile of paperwork. Buying a house, paying taxes, getting immigration visas, obtaining permanent residency, proving our child can receive dual citizenship, and obtaining employment are just a few of the processes that have emptied our bank account of thousands of dollars dedicated solely to filing.
  1.  Not having access to certain things (or they’re really expensive). This one doesn’t necessarily require you to be in a bicultural marriage, because this happens when you live almost anywhere overseas. Most likely, however, you or your spouse will be living in a different culture and will miss things you can’t have (probably more than you ever even wanted them when you were living in your own country). For example, Target. Oh how I miss Target. Another example, cheese is expensive here and I love cheese. When I’m in the U.S., I binge on cheese and when I’m in Costa Rica, I agonize in the dairy aisle about whether I should spend $12 on a small block of cheddar. One more: I absolutely love ice cream and I think I shed of tear of joy when a Dairy Queen opened here last year.
  1.  Negative comments. I previously posted a blog about this. People can be very critical of bicultural marriages and relationships. Whether it’s racism, ignorance, concern for your well-being, or just a case of social ineptness, people can say very hurtful things when you decide to do something out of the ordinary. Once you decide to marry a foreigner, be confident in your decision and don’t let negative comments affect your relationship.

If you’re considering a bicultural marriage and have questions or doubts, please hit me up. I’ll try to be as honest (and encouraging) as I can be!

 

Marriage Struggles (It’s Not Just You)

[A brief interruption in the First Year Fails series of blogs because this is fresh in my mind.]

A few weeks ago, we were on vacation with my family and we met a woman who was sitting near us at the pool. Somehow we got to talking and she asked where we were from. When she heard Albin was Costa Rican, she said that she was married to a Peruvian. Thinking I had found a kindred spirit, I asked her how being in a bicultural marriage has been for her. She seemed puzzled, so I asked her if it had been challenging for her and her husband. She still wasn’t sure, so I clarified and asked, “You know, like with cultural differences and everything?”

Her response: “No.”

Somehow I always feel a little smaller when someone says that their bicultural marriage hasn’t been difficult. It’s definitely not the first time I’ve received that response, but it always takes some composure to not have a surprised look on my face.

Directly after the initial surprise, the myriad of usual doubts came streaming through my mind:

Am I just dramatic? Am I the only one who struggles with this? Is it a personality issue?

Do Albin and I just suck at marriage?

We chatted for a bit longer and then got back to baking in the sun. I kept thinking about that conversation and came to a conclusion:

She was lying.

Okay, maybe she was being truthful, but it made me feel a lot less like a loser to think that she was lying. I began to contemplate how I was a loser and my marriage was a loser-marriage, and everything I did was loser-ish, which I recognize is a completely unhealthy train of thought, but I promised I would be honest.

Anyway, the next day I checked over my email and received a message from a woman that is married to a Sri-Lankan. It was perfect. She said, and I quote,

“I’ve met a few other white, American women who are married to Sri Lankan guys and literally the first thing I asked them was, “DO YOU HAVE ANY PROBLEMS WITH THE CULTURAL DIFFERENCE IN YOUR MARRIAGE?” just desperately hoping for someone to understand what I’m going through.  To my dismay THREE of these women thought for a second and said, “hm, no, not really.” So anyway, I’m really thankful for your blog and to find someone who understands the challenges that come from marrying someone from a different culture.”

Props to God for his always-perfect timing. What an encouragement it was to continue to be honest about my not-so-perfect marriage. There is something so powerful in knowing that I am not alone in this, that there are others who understand. Bicultural marriage is not impossible, it’s not a constant struggle, and it’s not miserable by any means. It’s a beautiful adventure, but it’s also a unique circumstance that can feel very lonely if you don’t have a support group of people who just get it.

Since starting this blog three months ago, I’ve received a lot of messages and emails from women all over the world who are in bicultural marriages/relationships and who all have one thing in common: they want to know that they aren’t doing this alone.

Well girls, the good news is that we’re not alone. I’ve reached two new (and healthier) conclusions:

First, our Creator sees every detail of our lives and knew we would marry a man from another culture before we even truly knew that other culture existed. He goes before us and behind us. He will not leave us alone.

Second, there are countless couples out there who work through cultural differences every day just like us. Some days are easy and some days are just plain hard, but every day that we choose to love our spouse is a victory.

I hope this encourages you as much as it has encouraged me. Sometimes we don’t want an answer, a solution, or advice; we just want someone to acknowledge the struggle. We realize we will become stronger through these things. We recognize that there is a purpose and that things could definitely be worse. That’s not the point. The point is that if we’re being genuine, we all can say that ANY marriage can be downright hard sometimes. It just is and that’s okay. You’re not alone. If anyone out there needs a kindred spirit, I’ll go ahead and answer the question of whether or not bicultural marriage has been challenging for my husband and me:

Yes.

And that’s okay.

“The LORD is the one who goes ahead of you; He will be with you. He will not fail you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.”

Deuteronomy 31:8, ESV

Al and Mariah

Our Poopies (First Year Fails: Part II)

About five months into the madness, Albin finally convinced me that he absolutely HAD to have a dog. At this point we were still living in our rotting apartment (we’ll get to that another day), so I was more than a little hesitant. Apparently his mother had heartlessly deprived him of his childhood dream of having a dog, so it was a big deal to him. To give you an idea of how much Albin loves dogs, I’ll recount an exact quote from Albin: “Tricia, do you know what I would do if we had a million dollars? I would buy tons of land and save tons of homeless puppies.” He refers to all dogs as puppies, even if they’re all old and crusty. My favorite part is that for a long time, he would always confuse the word and call them “poopies.”

One day, we went to go check out the “poopies” at the local refuge. Albin literally bounced through the gate. There was a gringa volunteer working that day and she saw Albin’s bleeding heart and instantaneously took over. She showed us a kennel where four little poopies were playing. As soon as we got there, Albin says, “Can we get them?” Me: “Like all of them??? Are you kidding me?” The peppy volunteer lady told me that they wouldn’t get very big. Right.

The lady told us how they thought the poopies were only six weeks old and that they hadn’t received proper nutrients since their mother had left them. I could see Albin’s eyes starting to tear up and I knew how it was going to end. We took home two poopies that day. Albin kept looking over his shoulder at the two left behind, but one of us had to be rational. I kid you not, to this day Albin will randomly mention those two poopies we left and ask if I think someone came to adopt them. Yes. Definitely yes, Albin.

poopies

Brand new poopies

We brought the poopies home and that’s when the fun began. What we didn’t spend in buying a dog with a pedigree, we spent in saving the lives of those dogs. They had every sickness possible: deficiencies in everything, bacteria, impetigo, kennel cough, fleas, diarrhea (everywhere), doggy respiratory infections, allergic reactions, distemper, and fungus. At one point, a not-so-professional veterinarian’s assistant told us in a preschool teacher-like voice that Rocky had distemper and he would die. She also mentioned that if Rocky and Luna had ever shared water, Luna would probably die too. Very encouraging. Over the course of three months and millions of vet visits later, I am too embarrassed to say how much money we dished out; however, it was substantial. I may not be as big of a dog person as Al, but we weren’t going to let them die, obviously. Miraculously, both dogs are still alive and well today, and Albin is as pleased as punch (ok, I am too).

But, there was the fungus. We started noticing that Rocky and Luna had little spots all over them.Their hair began to fall out. I was convinced it was the mange, but after an overpriced vet visit, we found out they had a severe case of doggy ringworm. The vet told us that ringworm couldn’t be passed from canines to humans.

Conveniently, she was wrong.

Not too long after, I started itching all over and quickly developed ringworm spots in EIGHT (!) separate locations on my body. The worst was the one right in the socially unacceptable itching location of my pelvic area. It tormented me. I also had a very obvious one on my neck that my co-workers identified and I adamantly denied. Albin also caught the plague and we were ostracized from society for a good period of time. Even more embarrassing was that before I knew about the fungus, two of our dear friends had come to stay with us and when they returned to the U.S., they realized they had it as well. I was mortified and so.over.it.

Somehow, we all survived and I didn’t ship those dogs back to the refuge. Fortunately, they have immune systems of steel now. They’re still scavengers at heart so they eat whatever animal’s crap they find laying around and lick poisonous frogs, but somehow they always survive.

Luna has some anxiety problems, so she is afraid of anything that moves on its own or makes noise. A plastic bag being blown around the yard is enough to make her hide in the bushes for hours. She also hates mowers, vacuum cleaners, hair dryers, blenders, Mariah’s plastic pool, billowing curtains, the stroller, the printer, open refrigerator doors, crinkly paper, tinfoil, and anything that falls.

Luna hiding

Luna hiding in the bushes while I was vacuuming the house

Rocky is a special case as well. If I truly believed in Karma, I would believe that God was punishing him for his deeds in his past life. He has no teeth, no balls, and no tail; no teeth, because he apparently didn’t get enough calcium when he was a puppy. He only has a few little snaggleteeth here and there, so he swallows everything without chewing. He is the most selfish dog on the planet, so if that means he has to swallow a six inch rawhide bone so Luna won’t steal it, he will. This also means that his tongue isn’t held in his mouth by any teeth, so it is just hanging out the side. We made the decision for him to have no balls, but we should all be thankful he wasn’t allowed to procreate. The missing tail is a mystery. Luna is his sister and she has a tail, so we don’t know why he doesn’t. We affectionately refer to his stump as the “mullet chunk.” It has short hair in the front and then a long tuft hanging off of it like a little chunky mullet. I think it must tickle his little butthole because he’s always chasing after it in circles. He is ridiculous, but makes me laugh every day.

Rocky Tongue

Notice Rocky’s Tongue

The Mullet Chunk

The Mullet Chunk

At the end of the day, I suppose the hundreds of dollars that we spent on saving their lives were worth it. Luna loves us with an undying devotion and is clearly thankful we saved her life. Rocky has no conscience and would never let us know he is thankful for anything unless it was a rack of ribs; but I know God gave him to us for comic relief. Even though Rocky’s sole purpose in life is to sneak into Mariah’s room to smell her dirty diaper bin and then run around the yard with my freshly re-planted baby avocado trees in his mouth, I really do love him. He and Luna just add yet another random dimension to this already crazy thing we call our family, and I wouldn’t change it for the world.

Rocky guarding a green bean he scavenged off of the floor

Rocky guarding a green bean he scavenged off of the floor

Luna guarding Mariah

Luna guarding Mariah… at least one of them has their priorities straight

 

Our Non-Honeymoon (First Year Fails: Part I)

I decided that following my last post about the miscarriage we had after our first month of marriage,  I’m going to post a series of blogs about our first year of marriage. You may think I’m being dramatic when I say that our first year was an epic fail; but in this case, I’m not being dramatic. The only two things that didn’t fail: God (because He doesn’t), and our actual marriage commitment (oh, but it came close). Our honeymoon, my residency, our health, our communication, our living situation, our dogs (at first), our Nissan Sentra, my job– they were all a mess. Some of those circumstances were comical (or at least they are now) and some of them were devastating blows to our marriage. Either way, by the time we got to our first anniversary, we felt like we’d been married for ten years. During that time, people who didn’t know us well would continually give us the provocative eyebrow raise and make references about how we were in the “honeymoon period,” but really had no idea that we were barely surviving that special sexy season. Then they would say, “Just wait until year seven, then it really gets difficult.” I think we died inside just a little bit every time we heard that.

Lest you fret that this series of blogs will be entirely negative, this first entry is pretty light and comical, mostly because it was RIGHT after we got married. I can also say that even though a lot of crappy things happened our first year, we did survive, and we’re stronger for it. We’ve struggled immensely, fought hard, and loved well. We’ve come to know each other in amazing ways and have a profound respect for each other now that we’ve seen how the other responds to difficulty. Most importantly, we’ve learned that Christ is the center of our marriage and have come to understand that He is the only reason any marriage is truly successful. I hope these posts are encouraging to any of you who aren’t living a Facebook photo-worthy marriage or feel like you missed the boat on the good old honeymoon period …

Albin was able to get two weeks off for our wedding. He flew to Cincinnati, we got married six days later, flew back to Costa Rica three days later, bought a bed and settled into our apartment for one night, and then spent the next night at my suegra’s (mother-in-law’s) house for our excursión the next day. Excursión sounds so much more exotic than it really is. Basically, appliances are expensive in Costa Rica since they have an import tax placed on them. To get around the import tax, there is a tax-free zone, called “Golfito,” in the southern part of the country. It’s very common to go to Golfito  through an excursión, which is when a company with a bus takes care of your transportation and lodging for your trip. Each person is allowed to spend $1,000 in Golfito per year, so my suegra and Albin’s abuela (grandma) went with us so we could divide up our money to buy our big appliances (found out later that everyone is allowed to spend $2,000 per year, which means suegra and abuela didn’t need to go after all). Back to the story.

We spent the night at my suegra’s and slept in abuela’s single bed (this was the 5th night of marriage, mind you) the night before our expedition. At 5 a.m. we got to the bus stop and a large and in-charge Tica woman named Doña Adelita welcomed a big group of us. We arrived in Golfito in six hours with no problem. We were greeted by a wall of humid heat the minute we got off the bus. By now you know about my sweating problem, so you can imagine. Doña Adelita got up and gave us the “rules.” That day we had three hours to make all of our purchases. We would leave promptly after three hours and head for the border of Panama, where we would spend the night in their “accommodations” and have a chance to shop at the border crossing (i.e. seediest place in the Western Hemisphere). The following day we would return and have two hours to pick up our purchases and get them ready to be shipped back home (it was a rule).

I don’t know how to even describe how this all went down. If you remember the game show “Supermarket Sweep,” then you’ll have an idea. We literally had to run from place to place, comparing prices, bargaining, and buying in 100 degree heat. It was so stressful. Three hours may seem like a lot until you realize you have to compare, bargain, and buy your washer, dryer, oven, microwave, fridge, pots, pans, toaster, blender, Crockpot, and television–all in different stores. On top of that, add in suegra and abuela giving their opinions and telling us what to do, Albin trying to translate everything since I was lost in life, and the lack of sleep due to just getting married. Just imagine me panting and sweating with a deer-in-headlights look on my face as all that bartering and opinionating is going on in Spanish. In literally no time, Doña Adelita was blowing her foghorn and saying it was time to go. Right now.

We shuffled onto the bus headed for the border. Absolute chaos at the border. We eventually arrived at our accommodations which weren’t anything comparable to a hotel, motel, or Holiday Inn. It was an 8×8’ room and it was ghetto. My suegra and abuela graciously took the bunk beds so we newly-weds could take the double bed (6th night of marriage), locked the door tight, and tried to justify in our heads that all of this was completely normal.

The next morning, Doña Adelita rolled up at 5 a.m. and we went back to the free zone to pick up our items. I swear it was hotter than the day before. We secured all of our items and got all of the receipts in order to go through what is essentially a customs line. As we neared the front of the line, Albin started frantically shuffling through the receipts. He couldn’t find the one from the washer and we wouldn’t be allowed out with our new washer without the receipt. Utter panic ensued. We lost our place in the long line and went running to every store trying to find the receipt. So. Much. Sweat.

As abuela guarded our purchases, we ran around rabidly trying to ignore Doña Adelita’s loudspeaker notifying us that we were about to miss the bus. At the last minute, we found that blessed golden ticket at one of the stores and ran back to the line, begging Doña Adelita not to leave us. She had mercy on us and we were able to get our appliances on the shipping truck.

Back on the bus, I passed out immediately and slept for about two hours. Up until this point, the bus was air-conditioned and was the only respite from the unbearable humidity. Naturally, the air-conditioner was overworked and went out. The windows of the bus were airtight (due to it normally being a bus with AC), so there was no air flow. We started stripping. Then the bus driver had the brilliant idea to turn on a movie to distract us. It was reminiscent of Saw III. Between the gore in the movie, the boiling bus, and the curvy mountain road, someone was bound to get sick. Of course it was the lady next to us. She started throwing up and you can imagine how that went seeing as the windows wouldn’t open. People were moaning the whole way home.

The good news is that we made it home. There was a problem with the shipping truck and we didn’t receive our appliances for four days, which wasn’t a huge problem at first since we slept for two days straight. Things started to become dire when our clothes from the excursion started rotting and smelling up our apartment along with the food that couldn’t be kept cold due to no refrigerator. Oh, and did I mention it was Christmas? We went to Denny’s for Christmas breakfast. Sigh.

Moral of the story: Go on a real honeymoon.  Seriously, I know there was the whole thing about not having enough money, or time off work or needing the appliances, but we TOTALLY regret not having a honeymoon.

 

Familia

I think it is appropriate that one of my first blogs is about family since marriage is a merging of families. In my case, two VERY distinct families. I’m realizing that I was a little disillusioned about how this whole thing was going to work out. In my head, it was going to be a mix between My Big Fat Greek Wedding and Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights.  However, it didn’t take me long to realize that Windex isn’t a cure-all, and that not all Latino families have steamy dance parties at family get-togethers.

I’m not really sure what Albin expected life with my family to be like, but I do remember his look of despair during a hundred-person party my mom threw during his first few days in Ohio. People kept coming up to him and slowly, but loudly, greeting him (since you should obviously speak as loudly and slowly as possible when you think someone doesn’t understand you). Though he often answered them with excellent English, many quickly split from the conversation thinking he didn’t speak any English beyond the basic introduction. He was a good sport, but I remember him going to bed with a headache that night and I can’t imagine why.

Albins mom and gma = stone cold Steve Austin in all of our wedding photos

Albin’s mom and gma= stone cold Steve Austin in all of our wedding photos

The whole family transition has been hard, humbling, and hilarious. Some examples:

– It took me years to convince my suegra (mother-in-law) that North Americans can actually cook and contribute something to a family dinner other than two liters or a bag of chips. One day I brought chicken salad sandwiches and pasta salad to a picnic and it blew her mind. She’s been making it ever since. Crushed it.

– It’s taken me years to prove that I speak and understand Spanish, despite the fact that my gringo accent will never completely disappear. Speaking of language, Albin refuses to use the word “beach” in front of my family because the first time he said it, they laughed for days thinking that he said, “I love the b#$@h.” He sounds incredibly proper now when he asks, “Will we go to the sea today?”

– It’s taken my family years to learn that Costa Rica and Puerto Rico are different, and even more time to learn that Costa Rica is not an island where everyone speaks Mexican. 

– I remember when we first got married, I told a certain family member that we would have a shower when we got back to Costa Rica (referring to a wedding shower). This unnamed family member got a huge look of relief on her face and mentioned that she had worried about how I was going to stay clean in a country without showers. .

Costa Rica lives, eats, and breathes fútbol (soccer) and thinks baseball is borrriinnnggg, while my family is all baseball and thought that soccer is what you played in elementary school if you weren’t good at anything else (ouch). My dad was a professional baseball player and everyone in my family (including my grandma) has been basically able to throw and hit a ball since birth. When Albin first came to meet my extended family at a grill-out, obviously a “friendly” game of whiffle ball started up. Albin is athletic, but I think that was the first time he has ever swung a bat. While my 8 year old cousin was hitting homeruns over the barn, Albin was struggling to make contact. Then my uncle, who is a professional softball player, suggested Albin use one of those big, fat, kid whiffle ball bats. Even then, the struggle was real. After too many strikes, I finally yelled “My goodness, just let him kick it and get out of the inning!”

dadandme

Take your daughter to work day…

Despite self-esteem crushing moments like that, the family transition has been beautiful. Both of our families have had their eyes opened to a new culture and new people. It’s been fun to see my family start watching and cheering for the Costa Rican national soccer team as they did awesome (holla!) in the last world cup. I’ve loved watching my mother-in-law and mom have whole conversations speaking cave man and using gestures. It’s been wonderful to have family and friends come to explore beautiful Costa Rica. I loved finding Albin’s grandma staring at our frozen pool out back and being amazed at that much water being frozen. You should have seen her face when I took her to our park, which had a huge frozen lake.

Once again, I know this isn’t just a bicultural marriage thing. When you get married, you marry a whole family, and it can be complicated whether they speak another language or not. My guess is that every suegra from every culture gives her opinion whether it was asked for or not…I know my mom shares hers with Albin quite willingly and that Albin’s mom will give hers, with no questions asked (especially when she not only disagrees with family salsa nights, but dancing in general…tear). It’s all good though, and I’m enjoying how things have “evolved” over the last four years. It may not seem like a big deal, but hearing a baseball game on TV at our house in Costa Rica or a fútbol game on at my parent’s house in Ohio shows just how far we’ve come. And that is music to my ears.

Al and Ana

He is Not the Enemy

The other day when I went to my suegra’s (MIL) house, one of Albin’s aunts was there without her newish husband. He’s from Italy and she’s a Tica and they’ve been in CR visiting for a month. Things were weird but I wasn’t about to ask what was going on. I have my own drama to deal with.

Later on in the week, we heard the full story. Specifics aren’t important, but basically the Italian’s son came to CR to visit and had some difficulty at a border crossing with a Costa Rican official regarding a requirement for crossing into Panama. Said Italians proceeded to get frustrated and newish husband made a pointed comment referring to “Latin American inefficiency” to said Latin American aunt. Said pointed comment hating on Latin Americans was not appreciated by Latin American aunt. If you’re married to someone from another country and you’ve ever even remotely been snubbed by your significant other by demeaning your country, I’m sure you can guess how fast things went downhill after that. Don’t worry, they worked it out and they’re fine now.

As I was sitting there listening to Albin’s mom, grandma, and another aunt describe the situation and totally throw the “newish husband” under the bus for his uncalled-for and immature behavior, I couldn’t help but smile.

I TOTALLY get it.

I had a moment to myself and then decided to stick up for that hot-blooded Italian. If I had a dollar for every time I took out my frustration of Latino ways on my Latino husband, we’d be loaded. Sure, his comment was uncalled-for; obviously the immigration inefficiency is not the aunt’s fault; clearly the situation could have been handled differently. I’m not saying he’s right at all, but just that I understand. How many times have I been stuck in San Jose traffic for hours and come home raging against Costa Rican infrastructure and all things Costa Rica to my Costa Rican husband? How many times have I made rude comments to Albin knowing that I’m cutting down his culture and “inadvertently” cutting him down as well?

It is so easy to blame the other person. It is so easy to take out your frustration on your mate because they’re there and they embody the culture to you. Somewhere around our second year of marriage, I realized that I was making Albin the enemy. When something in his culture didn’t meet my expectations, I would take it out on him. I’m not perfect and obviously, it seems that sometimes I can just be downright mean. I’m almost embarrassed to write this out, but I want to be painfully honest about the things that I’ve learned so that maybe someone else won’t have to struggle as much as we did. Once I realized this unhealthy pattern, I found a lot of freedom. I recognized that CR traffic was my enemy (lol), not Albin. I had to humble myself and ask for forgiveness for letting my frustration get the best of me and for belittling his country, and subsequently, him. Then I had to find ways to fight against my negativity towards whatever “my enemy” was. Let’s just say I’ve listened to millions of hours of audio books while stuck in my car.

So, after explaining all this to Al’s family; they were quiet, but I’m pretty sure I saw some understanding in their eyes. They’ve seen us go through this process and they’ve seen a lot of my ugliness. They’ve also seen me grow, learn, and become more flexible. The best thing I saw in their eyes was grace. They might not quite understand why I am the way I am or why I’ve struggled in the ways that I have, but they see me trying hard and they respect it.

Moral of the story? Your spouse is not the enemy. Rather than verbally vomit all over your beloved because of something they literally have no control over, speak life over them. I promise it will make everyone involved feel a lot better.

The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit. Proverbs 18:21

The wise woman builds her house, but with her own hands the foolish one tears hers down. Proverbs 14:1

Has this happened to anyone else? I’d love to hear about it.

 

It all started with a tuna sandwich…

A tuna sandwich.

About two weeks into our marriage, I was playing the dutiful wife and packed Albin an excellent lunch for work. It was comprised of a huge tuna sandwich, salad, probably a piece of fruit, and a snack. When he came home that afternoon he was scavenging through the fridge almost immediately. I casually asked if he liked his lunch and received a meek “sí” in response. Confused, I asked if he didn’t like tuna. He said that he enjoyed his lunch, but that he still felt a little hungry after a lunch that small.  I assured him that we would have a big dinner, but he didn’t seem nearly as enthused about that as I was. I began feeling slightly irritated that I even went to the trouble of making him a lunch if he wasn’t going to appreciate it.  Sensing my frustration, he slipped out onto the thin ice of stating how one’s culture does things. He said, “In Costa Rica, we are used to eating large lunches and smaller dinners.”

In my mind that was absurd. But we tried the whole “big lunch, small dinner” thing because I was going to overcome this whole living in a different culture thing. It was honestly like I had a Sunday afternoon food coma every. single. day. After eating my heavy lunch packed with carbs and topped off with loads of beans I was either out cold at my desk by 2:00 p.m. or locked up in the faculty bathroom learning about the side effects that black beans had on my “only ate baked beans once a year on July 4th” guts.

And from there we hit a stalemate. It became a thing for us. A little crack in our united front.  It was silly really; but while we laughed it off, it was a foreshadowing of our future of compromise and understanding that is inevitable for a bicultural marriage to succeed.

The issue with bringing two cultures together is that there are a lot of things. You’re bringing together two completely different outlooks on language, cuisine, relationships, government, etc. etc. etc., and it is a challenge. In a sense, all marriages are bicultural. No matter where each person comes from, the two bring very distinct opinions, stories, and beliefs about almost EVERYTHING. Maybe every marriage comes to a point where “living on love” crashes into the reality that you have to do life with someone that challenges what you thought was the “right” way of doing things. Despite the fact that my husband is a great man and I love him dearly, it is tough to swallow that my way isn’t always his way. When I first learned Spanish, I remember thinking that Hispanics said everything backwards. I mean why would you say “River Big” instead of “Big River?” When I finally opened my mind to accept that they weren’t speaking “backwards” and that their way of speaking made sense too, Spanish started to click and became a new normal. That’s what I want for our marriage. Realizing that no one has it backwards will help our relationship “click” and become our new normal.

As I said in my “About Me” page, I really feel a calling to talk about marriage between two people from distinct cultures. When we first got married, I started searching for information about bicultural marriages- stories, or self-help books or basically ANYTHING that could help me feel less alone; but there was an overwhelming lack of material.  I want to get the conversation started. I want to hear from others in the same situation who are fighting for their bicultural marriages. I want to know other people have to alternate having gallo pinto (Costa Rican beans and rice) and Honey Bunches of Oats for breakfast to keep the peace. Basically, I want to know we’re not alone, and that despite the struggle, there is a special kind of victory when compromise is found between two cultures.

So here it goes. I hope that as I tell my story of triumphs and trials, I’ll find community, support and guidance from others who are living what I am living.  This is my story, please feel free to share yours.

jump