This morning I stumbled on an interesting blog conversation (here and here) going on about intercultural marriage, more precisely the American wives in intercultural marriages adopting the culture of their husbands. Here’s my 20 dinars on the subject.
My approach is to adapt only as much as I need to survive while there, but hardly ever bring it back home. Of course the language is a must (I need to improve my French, relearn Standard Arabic, learn Dardja), learning to cook the dishes is a good (and delicious) thing, dress conservatively, faire la bise in greeting (trust me this is hard for a mostly German like me to do). This is what I call cultural sensitivity. But once I’m back home, I don’t have to pretend I’m someone I’m not, or is it expected of me.
Though I know people here who are married to Arab men, I don’t feel like I have to join in the “I’m more Arab than you” games that can sometimes be played. In fact, I don’t think it can be played. It assumes that there is one monolith Arab culture, which is completely false. That is why I cringe at Pan-Arabism that is being promoted by certain groups. It is one group of Arabs (mostly Gulf Arabs) dictating what is truly Arab culture while putting down others (especially those in Morocco, Algeria, & Tunisia). But I digress.
I certainly don’t feel the need to join in the games. I’m not sure 100% why these games are played but I think it’s in part the lack of appreciating one own’s identity and culture. There is a phenomenon in linguistics that the farther away you go from your home, the stronger & more pronounced the dialect of the language becomes. You think you don’t have an accent, but the Southerners, New Englanders, etc. do, which is not the case. Everyone has an accent, even us Midwesterners have an accent, though we don’t perceive it ourselves (it’s become normalized). The same can be said about culture. We don’t think we have a culture because it’s normalized, but everyone does have a culture. So what if it’s a meat & potatoes culture, it’s still a culture, it’s what we were raised in, why not be proud of that? Why do we necessarily need a hummus & falafel culture, or a channah masala culture, or a couscous & tagine culture? Yes, they may be delicious, and it’s ok to have it occasionally, but why totally drop one culture for another? This is echoed by Lucky Fatima in her post:
With white people in particular, many of us believe that we have no culture. We are ‘normal’ and other people are ‘cultural.’ Well, live abroad or get married to a foreign man and we learn really quickly that of course we have a culture when we have something to compare it to. Anyway, this whiteness as a cultural blank-slate phenomenon is an aspect of our culture that pushes some people to mistakenly see other human beings from foreign cultures as exotic and spicy and we see imitating them as a way to spice up our white bread with mayonnaise lives. That is objectifying and ultimately racist. (LuckyFatima)
So are some of us getting involved in intercultural relationships for the person we are apparently in love with, or are we in love with the culture?
Clearly, there is no one way to be in an in intercultural relationship, but as someone who strains against being defined by my husband’s ethnicity, I find it troubling that someone would choose to be so, well, devoured by it. When people do that, it makes me wonder if they dated and married their husbands for the men they are, or if they were infatuated with an idea of the culture. (The Big, Bad, Blonde Bahu Blog)
I think she made a great point, sometimes I wonder about that myself.
For me, it’s not expected I have to act Algerian or Arab. In fact, I think DH would slap sense into me if I tried. I can be culturally sensitive without losing my identity and culture in the process.
And while I’m on the subject, and it may seem I’m digressing again, but I’m not. I consider it the same thing: in as much as I don’t like to act Arab/Algerian because I’m married to one, I also don’t like to act like I’m so Algerian enough that I can speak freely on the politics of the country. As you may or may not know there have been some protests going on and off due to the economic situation in the country the past month (check out here and here). Some married-to-Algerians have expressed their hopes that what happened to Tunisia would happen in Algeria. I’m sorry, but I strongly believe that the political future of the country should solely be decided by the actual citizens of the country. Just because I’m married to an Algerian does not give me the right in expressing opinions on the political situation there, especially with my in-laws lives & livelihood on the line. I certainly don’t want to wish chaos & instability on anyone, especially family. Anyways, for me to do so would reinforce the idea that Americans/Westerners interfere with another country’s politics, which I want to avoid at all costs.