Cultural hiccups amid marital bliss

Wearing áo dài’s for Tết (Vietnamese New Year)
  • Wearing áo dài’s for Tết (Vietnamese New Year)

It is first important to understand that my husband and I are not only from different cultures; we also had very different childhoods. I’m Australian and grew up in a small middle-class town in Queensland, a beautiful part of the democratic country I’m proud to call home. I spent my childhood playing a lot of sports, catching butterflies, having sleepovers, going to the beach, playing with my cousins at my grandparents’ house, and riding my bike around town. My husband, on the other hand, grew up in a small, remote, and impoverished town in Quang Ninh province (near Ha Long Bay) in communist north Vietnam. He spent his childhood riding buffalo, chasing his brothers through rice fields, and rolling old, used tires down dirt roads. It’s impossible for me to fully imagine — even after spending three years living in the developing world — all the ways our lives have been different.

In these posts, I will never intend to suggest one culture is better or more “correct” than the other. I’ve learned a lot from my husband, his family, and the Asian culture in general, especially now that I’m a parent. And I would hope my Western perspective has given my husband some pause for thought, too.

Even after several years together, I’m still unable to predict when we’ll hit cultural obstacles. The best way forward when these obstacles arise is to keep an open mind. As first-time parents, this has been easy; we’ve been open to trying anything that will work.  And it’s not uncommon for us to completely change course because of a suggestion from the Vietnamese side of the family. Sometimes this will be to placate some tradition concerning “good luck.” Other times I think, honestly, it’s just to show that side of the family that we value their suggestions and advice.

About two weeks after our daughter was born, she was sleeping really well in her crib — not through the night, but sleeping soundly between feeds. I had every reason to expect she’d continue to sleep well in her crib. I was raised sleeping in my own crib and then my own bed in my own room — and many Western families have and continue to take this approach. As far as I’m concerned Crying It Out (CIO) had no significant (or otherwise) impact on my character and I felt comfortable taking that approach with our own children.

But when my mother-in-law heard Ava was sleeping in her own bed, her response was: “But she must be so lonely!” I hadn’t considered that. When my husband suggested we try co-sleeping, I didn’t resist.  This, it turns out, wasn’t a minor decision. Almost 18 months along, we are still co-sleeping, and while I actually really enjoy the bond this has nurtured, there are nights — when Ava seems to nurse all night long and tosses and turns regularly — that I wonder if I’ll be so quick to embrace the co-sleeping arrangement with a second child.

Another fun example was when we moved into our new house. While my husband isn’t at all traditional, some members of his family are, and we both like to err on the side of caution anyway in terms of bringing “good luck” to the family. So, even though my husband had pushed for us to move into the new house on a Saturday (which would give us plenty of time to move and clean the old apartment before the new tenant arrived the following day), after a conversation with his brother, it was decided we would move on Sunday (a “good luck” day) — and it was an exceptionally long and exhausting day. I also had to call our realtor and ask him not to step foot in the house before my husband arrived, as tradition dictates he be the first one in the house to perform a blessing ritual (setting up the shrine, lighting incense, and throwing some salt around the property).

We want to raise Ava to respect both cultures and traditions and so I find these cultural hiccups to be amusing and educational, for all of us.

[Post edited for length]

Post Title: Notes from inside a cross-cultural marriage. Lesson #1: Rolling with the punches (or, dealing with the unexpected)

Post Date: November 2014

Blog: With Heart on Sleeve

Author: Casey McCarthy | From: San Diego | Blogging since: 2008

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