Saturday, 24 July 2010

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How to survive and thrive in a cross-cultural marriage?


This is based on my 10 years of experience, in the Danish-Singaporean-Chinese context.

Stage 1:

You were in the honeymoon period. You find everything about your boyfriend/spouse’s culture so endearing, sweet, cute, adorable and simply iiiiressistable! You treat the Danish herring with tomato sauce in a jar with love and care like some prized delicacy such as the Chinese shark fin soup. You eat the Danish brown bread like your favourite chocolates. You could eat them everyday. You recite all the Danish words you know every night before you go to bed without fail and even in your dreams. This only lasted six months.

Stage 2:

Then you get into a period of negativity, where you became highly critical of your spouse’s culture. You smiled and said politely “Yes, we have chocolates in Singapore”, when an ignorant Dane asked you whether you could find chocolate in Singapore. But in your heart, you thought, “What does she think man? Does she think that Singapore is some undeveloped place like planet Mars!!!” And you wished to give that person such a hard kick that could send him/her flying all the way to Mars for good! You started to write a guide on your beloved country for your spouse’s countrymen, but you got so emotionally carried away that you wrote a 20 pages long essay which nobody has the time to read. Your spouse sympathized with you and started investing in buying tourist guidebooks on Singapore and China and sending them round to his family and friends, so that they could get to know the modern and sophisticated Singapore, where you came from. You started to boycott everything Danish. You went on an about turn and refused to learn Danish. You criticized everything about your spouse’s country, from the marco down to the micro… political system, health care, education system, hospitals, supermarkets, food, etc. You romanticized about your wonderful and faraway homeland Singapore… and you want to leave your spouse’s country for good. It can be a very miserable period for your spouse and you. One moment it is ok for you to stay, the next moment, you want to take the next flight out. It makes long term planning difficult and even impossible… should you buy a property that could tie you down or should you try to live out of a suitcase to increase mobility? Some people get forever stuck in this period and never get out of it.

Stage 3:

Then you get into a period of nonchalance or indifference. The thing about this stage is that you survive… but you never really thrive and grow. Some people also get forever stuck in this period and never get out of it.

Then one day in 2004 God shook me out of stage 2. I began to go on an about turn again, and with sheer determination and pure hard work; and with much tears, sweat and blood that only God and my Significant Other could see; I went on to pass the Danish Language PD3 exam, Singapore-style, with the highest possible grade 12 for both oral and written Danish. But passing exam with flying colours is one thing, making the language to come alive in everyday life is another thing altogether… which will be my struggle for the rest of my life...

Stage 4:

Then you begin to truly celebrate your spouse’s culture as part of your own and truly accept the short-falls of both your spouse’s and your culture. You start to develop a sense of humour that you never knew existed. You start to poke fun affectionately at the strengths and weaknesses of both cultures, Danish and Singaporean-Chinese. You no longer get annoyed when Danes ask you whether you can find chocolates in Singapore... after all some ignorant Singaporeans also think that Denmark is Holland and that Danes speak Dutch instead of Danish.

Having the unique opportunity to look at both cultures through the optic lenses of a cross cultural marriage that God puts you in, you find yourself beginning to unconsciously acting as a mediator for the two or three countries, namely Denmark, Singapore and China. You begin to pour your heart out by writing posts in Facebook or other blogs.

You tackle the cultural challenges in everyday life with vigour from a business case perspective, from an academic perspective, from a romantic perspective, from a loving perspective, from a pragmatic perspective. You hold on to your roots, embrace the good and discard the bad in all your cultural experiences. For those cultural ones which are trickier, you try to find an acceptable balance in treading the Danish-Singaporean-Chinese cultural tightrope and develop strategies and action plans towards them as each of them presents itself.

You will still make mistakes in this stage 4 process, but hopefully people will be understanding and forgiving towards your mistakes as you do your best to tread the path of a cross-cultural marriage and grow towards maturity.

The Bible says in Ruth 1:16:

"But Ruth replied, "Don't urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people..."" - Ruth 1:16

1 comment:

  1. Hi Elaine,
    I just came across your blog and its so interesting to hear your story. I believe mine mirrors yours. I am also a Ph.d student at CBS and engaged to a Swede..I think I am around stage 2 right now. I am American Chinese, but your blog gives me hope there is light at the end of the tunnel... :)

    -M

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