Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Cultural Stuff

Okay, so TOMORROW is American Thanksgiving Day. Thanks to my fellow non-Americans for your greetings to the Americans, to the married Americans' votes of support for the Single Americans and to the Single Americans who signed up for the annual Singles Thanksgiving Survival Game. Make sure you get your tallies to me either just before you go to bed tomorrow night or first thing on Friday morning, so I can post them before I go to bed on Friday night. (I'm on Greenwich Mean Time.) If you play the Orthogals' Single Clichés Bingo, too, take a photo of your card and send it in. Don't forget: the more your relations comment on your single state, the greater your chance of winning. But no cheating by wearing a grey tracksuit to dinner, etc. If a remark is addressed to all the Singles at the table, every participating Single gets a point.

If you manage to write down the more amusing of the comments word-for-word (keep pen, paper and bingo board hidden in the nearest bathroom), that would be awesome, too.

Thoughts of American Thanksgiving and its centrality in American life, even in these days of Obamacare and support for mass illegal immigration and the "Knock Out Game" and all kinds of hair-raising things that are none of my Canadian business, lead to thoughts about the importance of shared cultural stuff in marriage.

For some people, national or ethnic traditions are not a core value. As I live in the UK, I do not celebrate any Canadian holidays except Hallowe'en, which I recognize by carving a pumpkin and putting it in the window. I used to have a Hallowe'en party (with Canadian Thanksgiving food), but this proved impractical and led to squabbles with my Scottish husband, who could not understand my attachment to the most suspect of my national holidays when I gave up Dominion Day without turning a hair. The annual squabble ended, though, last year when we were in Poland, where the priests all think Hallowe'en is satanic and the people have much nicer, totally Catholic All Saints celebrations. So now I just carve a pumpkin (or squash) because if I didn't I would DIE.

My ethnic Christmas traditions are just as important as Mr. Jack O'Lantern, and every year I rise from my couch and bake the Christmas cake and wrap it in brandy-soaked cheesecloth because what kind of woman would I be if I didn't, eh? Three weeks later I get off the couch again and start baking Christmas cookies according to my mother's recipes and then on Christmas Eve itself, I am on the phone to my mother to review the Traditional Christmas Morning Bun situation. Then on Christmas Day I make exactly the same dinner my mother does and afterwards collapse, half-dead, into bed.

B.A., whose ideal Christmas would involve Midnight Mass and then a romantic getaway in the snowy Highland countryside, watches all this activity in trepidation and keeps his head down because although I saw reason about Hallowe'en, I will never, ever see reason about Christmas baking, which must be done or I am a failure as a woman and Christmas will be ruined.

Fortunately it has not escaped his notice that English Christmas conquered Scotland a long time ago, and the shops are full of Christmas cake, and the mammies or grannies of his fellow Brits make Christmas cake or Christmas pudding, and bake endless cookies, and cook ginormous Christmas dinners. Christmas food obsession is very British, so my attitude, if rather noisy-colonial, is also British and therefore normal.

Meanwhile, my mother's mother, her mother, her mother, and her mother, stretching back through the centuries, were all Scots of the east coast (very different from the west coast), and B.A.'s mother, her mother, her mother, and so on, were also all Scots of the east coast. Which seems to mean that I automatically make all the right remarks to all the east coast Scottish platitudes and understand that it is sinful to pay £80 for a dress in the High Street when I can get one for £8 in the charity shop. I'm told people on the west coast think it a matter of pride to spend a lot of money on something, but this is surely just anti-Glasgow propaganda.

What is the point of all this navel-gazing? Well, I am pondering the fact that even though I married a fellow across the ocean, we seem to be culturally compatible because although we don't share the same NATIONAL culture, we share the same ethnic culture. If B.A. gets all very Scottish patriarch, I recall stories of my grandfather behaving like that. Naturally it makes me cranky to think that I have married my grandfather (or, somtimes, his father), but at least it feels familiar and [east coast Scottish platitude].

The poor old Canadian parish priest we bullied savagely during our pre-marriage interviews warned us that we might experience some cultural clashes, and he turned out to be right. Fourth generation Canadians of British descent are as American as we are British, a sort of hybrid, like our spelling. However, despite our arguments about self-promotion (e.g. sneaky British self-deprecation versus honest American boasting), B.A. and I understand each other pretty well. Of course it's more important that we share the same core values of Christ and His Church, but on the other hand, when it comes to the little things of daily life, the social interactions, the shopping, the cup of tea for the visitor, the farewell to the bus driver, the shared unspoken assumptions mean a lot, too.


Iota said...

I'm probably ruining the impact of this post a little bit but I just have to ask:

> a sort of hybrid, like our spelling.

I know what American spelling looks like, I know what British spelling looks like (and I prefer that one). I don't pay attention to how other people spell, as long as I can read it. So I probably haven't noticed: can you enlighten me about the peculiarity of Canadian spelling?

NS said...

Hybrid spelling: the schools and professionals use Oxford spelling with Webster punctuation. The media use Webster spelling, Webster punctuation and the Oxford comma. The shop owner's Use apostrophe's as decoration. Inner Child uses the Molesworth speling and mabe a period

Seraphic said...

I would be honoUred to do so, as long as I am not expected to rationaliZe or analyZe the differences.

Canadian spelling is coloUrful in that it retains the U in flavoUr and such other words ending in -oUr, while changing British -ySe or -iSe to American -yZe or -iZe.

We also retain the British second L in such worlds as jewellery and traveller.

I write this blog in Canadian spelling, but I have chosen to write my articles for the Ignatius Press Novels blog in American spelling as Ignatius Press is in the USA.

Seraphic said...


Heather in Toronto said...

We also retain the British -re in words like theatre, metre, centre, etc instead of the American center, meter, theater.

But we call (and spell) it aluminum, not aluminium.

We cash a cheque, not a check.

But the sport referred to as football is usually the bashing into each other with lots of padding kind, not the runny-kicky kind (which is usually called soccer).

Oh, and the distinction is between (real) hockey and field hockey. Not between "hockey" and ice hockey.

And it's pronounced zed. Not zee. This is a matter of great importance.

Okay, now I'm veering out of the realm of Canadian spelling and into the realm of Canadian English. I'll stop now.

Seraphic said...

Heather,it's all good!

Sheila said...

Cultural differences can be very important. My mother tells me that one of the things that has made her marriage a success, despite being incompatible with my dad in most respects I can think of, is their shared culture. They are both military brats, and that means a lot. It's a huge part of each of their identity, encompassing things like political views and parenting practices.

My husband and I are both homeschooled, and that works in a similar way. It's affected each of our worldview a lot and leads us to find we agree on topics we never talked about before.

Culture has a huge effect on parenting choices, and since parenting choices can be a HUGE cause for conflict, it's important. You can walk into marriage thinking you see eye to eye on everything, and then you find out that while you could *never* raise a hand against a child, your husband thinks children need spanking to grow up right, and ... well, it can be shattering. A good relationship can work out these issues, and ours has (after quite a few arguments), but many break up over these very issues. When you love your spouse more than anything, it's all easy. But when you suddenly have an innocent baby whom you *also* love more than anything, there can be a good deal of grief.

Imagine how you would feel, if you've been brought up to think circumcision is child abuse, and your spouse believes it's a vital part of his culture and absolutely can't be questioned. Or if you always expected to cosleep with your babies and your mother-in-law tells you you are a failure because the baby is six weeks old and you haven't yet sleep-trained him.

Shared culture helps with this. But even if you do share culture, at some point in a serious relationship, these things should be mentioned. You don't know if you'll have kids with this person, but before you put yourself in a position where you might, it is wise to ask them how they were brought up and if they think this was "the right way."

Anonymous said...

First, I want to say how thankful I am to you, Auntie, for your ministry and counsel, and thanks to the encouragement of fellow readers. This American gal's day will be spent with a friend volunteering at a retirement/nursing home, as both Friend and I are far from families. I won't be participating in the games, mainly because there isn't a square for the I-am-dating-but-Thanksgiving-dinner-with-the-parents-came-too-soon" speech. [of which I am very thankful to have to give if necessary, of course. :) ]

I have to say I agree with Sheila a lot. Expressing wishes of how I hope to act in the future and hearing my guy's is something I want to incorporate into relationships. Thankfully, Holy Spirit promptings or guardian angel guidance has led me to date men with similar cultures/viewpoints...but just haven't worked out for other reasons. Of course, my upbringing and culture means there are things I want to change for my children (American public schools have some of the most ridiculous rules, not to mention questionable ideologies), so that'd be important to mention to potential future hubby.

But I do try to be aware that conditions could change and the hoped-for parenting styles and choices may not be where we ultimately land. So I'm trying to figure out how NCB and I can best learn how well we communicate, compromise, and adapt. Any ideas on how to do that when big/serious events/issues don't seem to arise during the relationship? Most of the young marrieds I know have never had to face issues like aging parents, serious illness, death, etc., which cultural differences could mean you handle them differently, so I don't understand (but would like to) how they retain confidence that they will eventually be able to confront such things when they happen. Thoughts?

Seraphic said...

Well, these are good topic to discuss in the abstract. For example, you can discuss how your respective parents cared for THEIR aging parents and whether you agreed with their decisions, and what you would do. You could talk about how your families deal with illness and death, and what you think of all that.

I don't remember talking about any of this before I got married, although my mother used to say "Your son's your son until he takes a wife/Your daughter's your daughter for the rest of her life" which I would bet the grocery money is an east coast Scottish platitude and why it's usually I who buys my mother-in-law's Mothering Sunday card. My mother used to say that with such lip-smacking relish, too, as if she were planning on grounding me on my fiftieth birthday or telling me 42 is not too old for a spanking.

Anonymous said...

Well, as someone who's been contemplating multi-cultural marriage an awful lot lately - I really don't know what to think. Of course compatibility is important. But I kind of find religious and overall worldview compatability the core of the matter. These are, obviously, very much influenced by culture, but only to a certain extent. I do believe it is perfectly possible to share your core bielefs with someone who comes from a different background - even a COMPLETELY different one. For one thing, you can be really surprised with how much two cultures seemingly alien to each other actually have in common. Then, it's important just what the individual people in question have in common. As you always say, Auntie Seraphic - it all depends on what is truly important to someone personally. But I think even if both the spouses are strongly connected to their respective roots and value tradition, it is still perfectly possible to create a harmonious life together and a stable home. I personally think religion (or - you've once put it better in a seperate post, but let's call it - outlook on life) and opinions about parenting and family are the points on which there has to be an actual agreement, and the rest can be sorted out. It's not like there's 100% compatibility in ANY relationship - on the contrary, it's the differences that fascinate us in others, right? So maybe the eternal mystery can sometimes actually add to the married life...
Of course, once there's kids there's also a whole new issue of what culture THEY subscribe to. But that's a bit different problem.
You've scratched on a fascinating aspect on its own - linguistic differences. Do you think there can function a marriage in which both the spouses are using a language foreign to both of them to communicate with each other? That seems to raise many interesting issues. Can people learn a foreign language so well to actually express their innermost thoughts and feelings and create intimacy with the closest person in ther life? Can they truly understand and raise their children with that sort of an issue? I might add that I personally know of at least one such marriage that seems to function in blissful harmony and with all signs of success. And I think in the era of widespread multiculturalism and migration it's not uncommon. But it does seem pretty challenging...

- Philopator

Seraphic said...

Oh dear. This is really tough especially if, Philopater, you are Polish in the UK contemplating marrying another migrant living in the UK, as I suspect you are. If you were an American of Polish descent thinking about marrying an American of Mexican descent, you'd both be Americans, living in the USA.

However, if you are a Pole living in the UK, contemplating marrying someone foreign both to your new country and to your old country, that is a very serious difference, especially if they are not a fellow European. I mean, if you're Polish and they're Czech, that's not huge. However, if you are Polish and they are a Pakistani convert to Christianity, that is HUGE.

And nobody will ever hear me say "Love conquers all" because total overwhelming, erotic love lasts three years, tops. What you are left with, if you are lucky, is mutual affection, respect and loyalty. I recommend caution, care and, above all, each meeting the other's family and seeing the other in his and her native milieu.

Marriage is hard, and most of us get only one shot at it.