With awareness and sensitivity, a cross-cultural relationship can thrive.
In the popular film ‘French Kiss’, Meg Ryan plays Kate, a Canadian whose fiancé travels to Paris—and falls in love with a French “goddess” named Juliet. Kate books a flight to the City of Love to win him back. But before the plane even takes off, her fate becomes intertwined with a brusque and unkempt French thief named Luc (Kevin Kline), when he places a stolen diamond necklace in her bag to avoid customs on arrival.
Luc comments on her apparent fear of flying, and Kate replies with disdain, “You’re French aren’t you? I don’t know what they taught you in France, but rude and interesting are not the same thing.” Later in the story, Kate has begun to warm to French culture, in spite of herself. Eating a breakfast of cheese and bread, she says, “Did you know there are 452 official cheeses in this country? Isn’t that amazing?”
“You prefer one cheese,” he snaps, “and one cheeseburger to put it on and one restaurant to eat it in?” True to the genre’s form, by the movie’s end, Kate and Luc are in love. Cultural tensions vanish, and they live happily ever after. Maybe.
In an increasingly mobile global society, people inevitably fall in love across cultural boundaries. Romance provides a lot of heat beneath the fabled “melting pot.” But creating a lifelong partnership with anyone requires us to harmonize personal differences in values, beliefs and expectations. Those differences can multiply exponentially when we do not share a common heritage with our potential partner.
That isn’t an insurmountable barrier to lasting love, but it imposes the need to really understand what makes the other person tick. In other words, before crossing the border, find out where the landmines are buried.
Here are three places to look:
Language. Words often mangle meaning under the best of conditions. Saying what you really think and feel in a foreign language can be positively disastrous. It is possible, but only if you are both committed to patiently avoiding snap judgments and assumptions.
Gender roles. Here’s an example: Eddie married a Korean woman while stationed overseas. Unlike American girls, she’d been raised to treat her husband as the “lord” of the household—a pleasant surprise for Eddie. However, she expected complete control of the day-to-day family finances, according to Korean custom. They eventually forged a hybrid arrangement, but not without a lot of communication and tolerance. It’s best to avoid assumptions and spell everything out in advance.
Ethics and morality. Not all beliefs about right and wrong are universal. Definitions of honesty, integrity, and even fidelity may vary from one culture to another. Becoming familiar with your partner’s native value system can prevent painful confusion down the road.
There is no reason to run from a cross-cultural relationship. Far from it! Just take plenty of time to understand your differences and carefully compensate for them.
Share any of your cross-cultural dating or relationship experiences here!