17 November 2015

I'm a Glutton for [Cross-Cultural] Punishment

I guess it was not enough that I live and work cross-culturally, so I had to go and marry a man that not only is of a different nationality, he comes from multiple cultures as well!

You see, Maiguida grew up in Niger, but his family is actually European.  So while he ate with a knife and fork at home, he's a complete natural when it comes to the Nigerien tradition of sharing a common plate and using one's right hand to consume a meal.

He is comfortable holding his wife's hand in public . . . and also walking down the street, hand-in-hand with a man.  Because in the West, hand holding is a romantic act, but in Niger it is reserved for close friends of the same gender.

And while he is a natural cultural-chameleon, there has been one very surprising cross-cultural nuance that we have come to discover about each other in the short time we've been married.  And we're struggling to get past it.

My first cross-culture experience came when I was not-yet-10-years-old.  My family moved from New York City to Lynchburg, Virginia.  

Those of you from the US have just gasped . . . for the rest of you, let me say that while we are one country, we are many MANY cultures!  Each region is unique when it comes to food, folk art, couture, music and dance.  Don't believe me, the addition of California avocado to some NewOrleans jumbalaya . . . or trying to breakdance to KennyChesney (I even had to google 'country music' to get a name to use) . . . or trying to purchase NativeAmerican dream-catchers off the back of a truck in Detroit.  

That is what CULTURE SHOCK looks like!!  And that's what we, as a family, experienced once we crossed the MasonDixon Line.

Then I moved to Ohio for university and began taking international opportunities as they arose.  Little did I know that those exposures to new ways of doing and thinking would mold me into who I am now: one half of a cross-cultural marriage.

Before getting hitched I heard over and over again, from those with more experience on the subject, just how hard marriage is.  The need to communicate and adapt.  The complexities of blending two families-of-origin.  The struggle to put the other first.

Then there are the added difficulties of cross-cultural marriage.  We were advised to discuss our cultural view of roles and expectations of each a husband and wife.  We were given books that talk at length on differing perspectives on conflict resolution, participation of extended family and money management.

Maybe we haven't been married long enough yet, but so far, this stuff hasn't been a big deal.  If it comes up, we talk through it.

But there is this one thing.  This one cultural difference that we had a bit of a back-and-forth over.  One little difference of opinion that we've just had to "agree to disagree" about:

Dennis the Menace

On our honeymoon we visited the only palace on US soil, but before we did, we stopped for a latte at a local coffee shop.  As we sat sipping, I picked up a stray section of a newspaper that had been forgotten on the table by a previous patron.  I worked through the crossword while Maiguida glanced over the comic strips.

"WHAT IS THIS??"

His outburst jolted me from my wordplay.

"WHAT HAVE YOU PEOPLE DONE TO DENNIS??"

"What are you talking about?"  I leaned over my cup of coffee to look at the newsprint, trying to get a clue as to what my new husband was referring to.

"DENNIS THE MENACE.  WHY IS HE BLONDE?  AND WHAT IS HE WEARING??"

"What are you talking about?  He's always been blonde."

"NO!!!  DENNIS THE MENACE HAS BLACK HAIR!"

"WHAAAAAAAT?!?!?"  I squawked back at him

"AND HE WEARS A BLACK AND RED STRIPED SHIRT!  THIS BLONDE KID IS IN OVERALLS!  WHAT IS THAT ABOUT?!?!"

"Well, I don't know who YOU think Dennis the Menace is, but that little blonde boy is Dennis the Menace!"

After this discussion went on long enough, we decided it was best to settle the debate with a good old fashioned duel.  So we pulled out our phones and headed to Google.

This is what we found:
American Dennis
British Dennis


Turns out the American version came first . . . so technically, I'm right.  But in the name of marital-compromise, we'll call it a tie.  

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