Growing up in a cross-cultural home has led to many exciting and diverse experiences.
It’s also given me the chance to witness first hand the struggles and joys that all parents face and the added ones of those who come from different cultures.
My parents are bicultural. And, not only do they come from different countries, but they also have opposite personalities.
My father is American and my mother is Swiss, and throughout my childhood, I witnessed that however long my parents have been together (going on 26 years), some cultural differences never fade.
They are engrained in one’s mind and tattooed on one’s heart.
Picking somebody to accompany you through life is serious enough, let alone if you come from different corners of the globe.
Some elements of your significant others’ culture might be incomprehensible, but try and find it within you to react positively and supportively, or at least neutrally when they emerge.
You might find some other traits hard to wrap your head around, but they are either too insignificant or not a deciding factor, so you accept them.
And, as I hope for most relationships, there will be things that you'll enjoy and might even fall in love with about the other culture, and you'll wonder how you ever lived without the presence of those traditions.
These five vital cultural differences could make or break a relationship depending on how you choose to react, accept, or adopt them:
Language is probably the biggest barrier of all.
A mother tongue is irreplaceable. It not only allows you to express yourself in the deepest, freest way possible, but it also feels like home.
If ever I am in a cross-cultural relationship (who am I kidding, it’s inevitable considering I’m a cross-breed), I will try my utmost to learn his native language (though I have to admit, I hope to God I already know it).
Learning the other person’s language will allow for deeper appreciation from your lover, and make him or her feel more comfortable and at home in your presence.
Even if your accent is appalling and your grammar is lacking, let me tell you, your partner will most definitely appreciate the effort.
This goes hand-in-hand with language (now that I think about it, ALL of the remaining points go with language).
Every culture, every country and even every city has its own humor. Humor is largely based on aspects of a specific culture as well as historical, current developments and trends in a culture.
The way people express themselves is also a major part of humor: body language, interactions and facial expressions.
American humor, for example, is often loud and booming, more exaggerated than typical dry, sardonic English humor (which can be also exaggerated, but in a completely different way).
Have you ever wondered why Americans can come across as loud in restaurants? The humor is loud, the laughter is loud… it’s all beginning to make sense.
Since humor is a key factor in compatibility and chemistry, let your partner explain his or her jokes and laugh at his or her jokes, even though he or she might blow right over you.
Otherwise, a good fake laugh will get you pretty far. You’ll find yourself adopting the humor before you know it.
Be fair and accepting. Even though you might not enjoy going to America every year or feeling the need to be part of a big Swiss family celebration, DO IT ANYWAY. (If you haven’t yet noticed, this serves as a mighty hint to my parents, if they ever read this).
You appreciate your partner, so it only seems natural to appreciate his or her foreign customs, background and country. I mean, those are, for the most part, exactly what shaped the beautiful person with whom you’re lucky enough to spend your life.
Don’t complain about always going to the same places or having to deal with the same annoying brother-in-law. Your spouse can’t do anything about it, so simply accept it.
Don’t make somebody let go of something he or she holds so closely. Compromise is vital in making any relationship work. Otherwise, one person has dominance, and dominance is never healthy.
A relationship is a two-way street.
If your relationship is serious and kids are a plausible prospect, I highly recommend you discuss it before.
Obviously, all couples should do this, but a cross-cultural couple has endless topics to cover besides baby names and nursery colors.
Where will you raise your children? With what cultural traditions will your raise your child?
Questions and decisions about child rearing, how to discipline your child, what religious traditions you intend to practice and many other culturally-related questions become relevant all of a sudden.
What language will you speak with your baby? Where will the child go to school? To college? In which country?
The list is endless. Again, compromise. Always remember that in the end, it isn’t about one of you getting your way, it’s about what’s best for your kid.
You might just learn something that you never knew from your spouse about raising a child. It’s the little things that count (no pun intended).
This is a subject that spans across everything: foods, festivities and Friday night plans.
However, this is the easiest one to adopt because these days, traditions are generally most relevant when planning celebrations or holidays.
It turns out that my mother loves classic American musicals, making barbeques on warm summer nights and roasting marshmallows over hot coals.
And, my dad couldn’t be a bigger fan of cheese and wine, so what better way to celebrate than a typical Swiss fondue?
It goes without saying that Swiss chocolate is a huge plus in itself. My parents have also adopted celebrating Swedish holidays and traditions (since living there) like mid-summer in June and picking mushrooms in the autumn.
Traditions can enrich and embellish life and the more of them there are, the more reasons to celebrate. Who could ask for better?
Experiencing life with your significant other from across borders and oceans is a celebration of boundless love.
If you’re in a cross-cultural relationship right now or contemplating one, I wish you all the luck in the world. It’s one hell of a fight, but also one of the most enriching experiences that will change your life in every way.
Without it, you might never have learned to appreciate Toblerone chocolate or s’mores the way you do now. It’s worth the risk.