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Auntie Seraphic & Wondering About Guys from Other Cultures

Tuesday, July 30, 2013
Dear Auntie Seraphic

Do you know what advice to give women contemplating relationships with men from other countries and cultures? Obviously, there might be a language barrier to contend with, but I'm wondering if there might be other things to consider.  

Wondering about Guys from Other Cultures

Dear Wondering,

I am married to a man from a different country and culture, and although I rolled my eyes around after a priest told us (a Scot and a Canadian of mixed, but largely Scottish, background) we might experience serious cultural difference, he was to a certain extent correct. 

The most important things to consider when contemplating romance with a man not of your culture are whether he or his family are racist against your ethnic group and/or nationality, his culture's attitude towards women and his culture's attitude toward marriage. The only way you can find these things out is to read up on the subject, keep your eyes peeled and your ears open, and ask.

What many women who are brought up to be anti-racist don't understand is that most other people in the world are NOT brought up to be anti-racist. (Asia and Africa are intensely racist continents.) Possibly the vast majority of men in the world find women of other races and cultures sexual curiosities, either to be used or to be ignored, but certainly not to be brought home to mom and dad. Of course, a minority of men are the exception to this, and indeed a man of mixed heritage may certainly be drawn to a woman of his mother's ethnic group.

If you are a white American with a mixed, Anglo-Saxon or just plumb forgotten ethnic background, you have to be wary of those individuals who explicitly blame white Americans for their or their ancestors' suffering, no matter how justified that might be.  (If you have to apologize all the time for stuff you never did, it's not going to be a good relationship.) You have to be strong enough to stand up to people who think they have the right to disrespect you just because you are are a white American who did not share in their (or their ancestors') experience. 
I hope this is helpful.

Grace and peace,

But I should have added to this that if my reader is a white American, she should also examine any notions she may have grown up with about the culture of her suitor/crush object and ponder her family's ideas, too, and whether they all need a good mental clearing-out and restocking.

She should also determine if she is uncomfortable with any real, not imaginary or extinct, aspect of the man's culture. In some cultures, for example, son's wives are directly subordinate to their mothers-in-law; in others, sons' wives are indirectly subordinate. 

She should also admit if she finds him hot just because he is "different" or because women of her culture habitually turn men of his culture into sex objects. There's a reason why the surviving Boston Bomber has a swooning teenage fan club and the Oklahoma Bomber did not. I am sure Edward Said* would have had something to say.

If you are a white girl who found it hilarious that on The Big Bang Theory, Raj's parents threatened to disown him if he kept dating a white girl, you have never dated a South Asian guy. And I once knew a heartbroken divorced WASP whose parents walked out of My Big Fat Greek Wedding because of its portrayal of a WASP groom's parents. And there is a saying (and song) "Shiksas are for practice" which is supposed to be hilarious but isn't if you're Catholic and grew up where I did. 

Seraphic's Dad: You should marry a dentist.

Seraphic (saying the unsayable after 20 years): You always say that, and yet we live at X and Y. 

On the other hand, I also know a variety of immigrants who suffered from nasty names and stereotypes when they emigrated to the USA and Canada, even as late as the 1990s. This experience has left some of them protective of their primary ethnic identity and a few very resentful of anyone who reminds them of their petty persecutors. Meanwhile, there are any number of people who hold it as a primary value to marry someone of their own ethnic group, in part because of the history of that group. As I've mentioned before, I was once quietly and tastefully discouraged by a handsome Armenian who quite frankly said he needed to marry another Armenian. Well, having grown up at X and Y, I totally understood the concept. And knowing how difficult mixed marriages can be, I respect it, too.

Racism and racist sexism are real. However, profound cultural differences are real, too. If you don't like your boyfriend's mother, and she doesn't like you, but she and your boyfriend are from a culture where wives are subordinate to mothers-in-law, it would not be a good idea to marry your boyfriend. Or, if your boyfriend comes from a culture where language trumps every other consideration (e.g. French-Canadian), it might be a very good idea to learn that language as well as you possibly can.

Update: For the record, Scotland constantly surprises me, and I am glad I didn't have many preconceived notions of Scotland because I feel a sense of loss every time one gets overturned. For example, Scottish republicanism blows my mind because my 75% Scottish mother is a monarchist and Scottish-Canadians of the 20th century were all very rah-rah King and Empire. Fortunately, my husband is not a republican. But he is definitely not Canadian either.

*By the way, I do not take Said's ideas without a spoonful of salt. The Ottoman Empire was very nasty and imperialist, as is Wahaabism today, and in a Turkish restaurant in Edinburgh, Calvinist Cath and I discovered a painting celebrating the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in which the slain Christians were depicted as apes. Don't talk to me about "otherness", Edward, unless you are willing to admit it cuts both ways.