Archived Story

Intercultural marriage is an exploration

Published 10:17am Friday, December 20, 2013

Column: Things I Tell My Wife, by Matthew Knutson

“They’re called snow plows,” I reminded my wife.

Most husbands don’t have to remind their spouse what the large trucks are that have been frequenting our street the past several days. My wonderfully-African wife may have lived in the Midwest since 2007, but for some reason certain words and phrases like “snowplow” just escape her mind. Maybe it’s filled to capacity with other languages, or maybe she’s just naturally adorable. She’d been frequently referring to snowplows as “pavers” that “shave the street.”

The bitter cold north central Iowa snow greatly contrasts the hot climate of Kenya where my wife attended high school. Embracing the cold is one clear piece of evidence of Sera’s true love for me. Because our backgrounds are so diverse, these situations occur fairly frequently. Being in an intercultural marriage, we don’t have to look too far to notice differences in our lives leading up to where we are today.

While intercultural marriage hasn’t ever been illegal to my knowledge, interracial marriage certainly has been. In fact, interracial marriage didn’t become legal in all 50 states until 1967. That’s less than 50 years ago. It’s still something the American culture is getting used to seeing, which is sometimes hard for me to grasp.

The complexities of an intercultural marriage are also hard for me to understand at times. I didn’t even really consider labeling our marriage as intercultural until Sera’s sister suggested writing about it. Google seems to think it’s quite difficult to be in one since the first few search results that came up in relation to intercultural marriages used the phrases “coping strategies” and “making it work.” I hope I don’t ever find the need to read that part of the Internet.

After glancing through some other articles, it’s clear that either my marriage to Sera is not very intercultural or they’re filled with generalities. In all likelihood, it’s a mixture of both.

Because my wife is considered a “Third Culture Kid,” meaning that she moved to another culture with her family (several, actually), her identity is already not found in just one easily defined culture. I’m certain social scientists have studied marriages of mixed race within one country and marriages of mixed cultures within one country, but when you add in various cultures that can represent just one person in a marriage, it’s pretty much a mixed bag that can’t be easily analyzed. I entered our marriage looking at it from that perspective, meaning I smartly have very little assumptions on how Sera defines her culture. I think she approaches viewing my culture the same way, even though I’m much simpler to define.

An example of this would be timeliness. Since being married, Sera’s adapted quite well to being on time for events, but that wasn’t always the case. Being late, or “taking your time to enjoy life” as my wife defines it, is definitely a cultural characteristic for people from Madagascar (and Kenya and likely most African countries), but I’ve always viewed this as an attribute of Sera, not a cultural one.

In my opinion, this is a pretty healthy way to look at culture. We embrace where we are from and participate in each others cultural traditions, but we don’t define the other person by that concept. When looking at another person’s culture, I find it best for it to be revealed to you instead of making assumptions. Culture and stereotypes can be two sides of the same coin; culture being positive and stereotypes often being negative. By understanding that we don’t have to fall into stereotypes of our cultures, my wife and I are defining each other as people, not organized traditions and customs.

Our marriage is a blessing because we don’t have to make a conscious effort to think like this; it just happens. In fact, I didn’t even realize it just happened until analyzing it just now.

My wife may never love the cold and snow that brings the snowplows up and down the street this time of year. It’s simply not a part of what defines her, but there are plenty of other things that do. Discovering those defining qualities are what shape her into Sera, not just the country she’s from and cultures she has experienced.

 

Matthew Knutson is a marketing specialist at Waldorf College in Forest City, Iowa. Find him online at thingsitellmywife.tumblr.com.