Cultural differences; they’re such a big deal that we devote entire blogs to them. And often they are responsible for some of those “bang my head against a wall” experiences; but are they truly impossible to overcome?
Recently, when Mr Li was complaining about how I’m a lazy slob, whose idea of cleaning up is gathering all my clothes in a large pile and chucking them into my walk-in wardrobe, I couldn’t help but feel amused at how banal this little spat seemed. In fact, it was very similar to ones I had had with German ex-boyfriends in the past. And that’s when it hit me; Mr Li and I have somehow managed to pass that initial culture shock and have entered the phase where most of our irritations about each other involve our daily routine on the one hand and political disagreements on the other; things that most mono-cultural couples argue about.
A Rocky Start
This wasn’t always the case. In fact, in retrospect I feel like the first year of our relationship we mostly spent arguing due to cultural differences. Whether it was about the fact that I would tell my girlfriends about our fights and thereby “air our dirty laundry in front of everyone”, or that he would say some things that were highly insensitive in my own culture; for the better part of two years there was no shortage of things to fight about.
Then, around the two-year mark we hit a low point and almost broke up. What saved us? Well, as fate would have it, China did. By coming here, I finally learned how utterly clueless I had been in terms of understanding Chinese culture. Here I was, having studied the language for years, having been surrounded by Chinese friends, and still I realised very quickly that in terms of cultural understanding, I had only scratched the surface. And while right in the beginning of our return I really struggled with some of the changes in behaviour Mr Li exhibited, brought on by a Chinese surrounding, after a while we both managed to settle in and become more comfortable.
Then, Mr Li had the glorious idea of getting involved in Couch Surfing, where he met a few “real Germans” for want of a better word, and our relationship once again progressed to a whole new comfort level.
The reason, I would say, is that both of us started to realise that certain behaviours of our partner were actually culturally influenced, and this realisation meant that, if this was not a deal breaker, we could stop fretting about it and accept that if we wanted to date someone from that culture, this was just part of the package deal.
The other reason however was that in the face of people from our partners’ background we actually noticed how much the other had adapted to our own culture and how accepting and culturally sensitive they had become compared to other, less experienced people from their cultural background.
Most importantly as time went on, we figured out how uniquely fitted we were for each other, and that our relationship worked mainly because we were both stuck somewhere in the middle.
So, yes, cultural differences are something that can put a lot of strain on a relationship, if they are not dealt with; but ultimately if you are willing to put in the effort to understand your partners’ culture (and of course they yours!), and meet them half way, then there will come a day when the worst of your fights is who forgot to turn on the washing machine in the morning,…again. (Yeah, it was me.)
That being said, this is coming from the perspective of a childless woman who is not living with her Chinese in-laws; that, my dears, is a whole other story.