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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Cross-Cultural Caring: One Big Messy Family

This is part 8 of the "Cross-Cultural Caring" series.  The series deals with tips and tricks that you can use to succesfully make a cross-cultural relationship work.

We see it all time on television these glowing ads of happy families smiling and laughing together. However, in reality I think that when you get thrown together with someone in a cross-cultural relationship, the experience is more like the one the Solomon's are having in this episode of 3rd Rock. When the Solomon's first arrive to earth, they begin looking for a one word answer to all their questions about what it means to be human, only to find that there is none. And thus propels their mission even further and deeper in their quest for knowledge and wisdom.

When you bake cookies, the final product is these perfectly round smooth looking cookies that are coming out of the oven. However, the process to get them that way was quite messy. You had to get your hands dirty with batter, eggs, flour and during the process you wind up with these ingredients smeared all over your kitchen and yourself! The end product was smooth however the process was anything but smooth.

Probably my greatest tool for working out the process of this relationship turned out to be my spanish-english dictionary! Imagine a relationship where you not only have to figure out what was actually said, but there is a second level of understanding where you have to pick up emotional cues from someone in another culture. Why did they say what they said? Does it have any cultural significance? What does this phrase tell me about the emotional state of the other party? And even if I get everything right and figured out what they were saying and why, how do I respond? What is the response she is used to or is expecting of someone in this particular culture?

And to make it fair, she goes through the same thing with me. As a North American, I do and say things that none of her Argentines friends or family would ever say or do. So at times she has absolutely no clue how to respond or how to interpret my behavior or even what I am wanting from her in that moment. Everything that she has ever known or taught culturally in terms of social behavior gets voided null when dealing with me.

We basically had to start from scratch and figure out ways to deal with each other as we went along. Sometimes we had to get creative and inventive in dealing with problematic situations. Alot of times we had to guess what the right response might be when reacting to the other person's culture. At times we got it right, at times we got it wrong and had to start all over again. Just another ordinary day in the "kitchen" of two people who love each other and enjoy being part of one big messy family.

Cookies anyone?

Amorous Alpacas

Amorous Alpacas