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Cross-Cultural Communication skills is a relatively new term, referring to the ability to recognize cultural differences and similarities when dealing with someone from another culture and ability to recognize features of own behavior which are affected by culture.

 

2007.11.28

The test of the cross-cultural marriage

Filed under: Vita — Moshu @ 13:35 (UTC)

I live in a “cross-cultural” relationship: we both were born outside of Canada, we met here and as lingua franca we speak English at home although none of us is a native English-speaker. You could call it an intercultural marriage or a multilingual marriage — doesn’t matter. The point is that you need to express your most intimate feelings and thoughts in a second (third, fourth) langauge. Most of the time we manage it quite well.

We both have some background in the main topic of this blog — cross-cultural communication (CCC). In a way, we could even say that we got together thanks to this specific topic: she was giving a lecture as a doctor for some health care providers and because it was related to issues dealing with patients from a different cultural background… somehow I ended up being a “guest speaker” in the middle of her lecture. Then we started to work together on a new, more focused seminar — and the rest is history.

Even if we don’t communicate perfectly all the time, we have the ability and the resources to review our mistakes, to learn from them and, eventually, share our experiences. Yes, we do very well in this CCC department. Until…

… well, until something unexpected happens. As a breast cancer diagnosis. Suddenly our life and especially her life is overwhelmed by the elementary human instinct: the fear of death. No matter how good the survival chances are, you have to live with this sinister shadow above you. The usual daily chit-chat is replaced with dialogues dictated by fear, anxiety, helplessness, frustration, hope and scare. The ultimate test for your cross-cultural communication skills: you need to express your most basic instincts and thoughts that are difficult to verbalize even in your mother tongue no matter how well you can handle it. And now you have to do it in a foreign language. Will my caring sentence or phrase that was meant to be as tender and supportive as it is possible “survive” the double translation? From my mother tongue to English and then from English into her mother tongue?

Why, aren’t you thinking in English when you speak English, you may ask. Most of the time we do. (Although we have developed a kind of our own pidgin with words borrowed both from her and my mother tongue, especially for food, cooking techniques and meals not known around here — and for cursing.) However, when the emotions go this high or, in other words, you have to dig this deep into your feelings… everybody tends to revert back to their mother tongue — at least when trying to find a name for that strange new fear or emotion.

Somehow not only the new learned culture and the second (nth) language comes off but also the “educated”, intellectual part of your brain stops working. We are back to the bare basic instincts: survival and fear of death, elementary anger toward the whole world (why I? why us? why she? why not anybody else?) – and the hope that everything will be OK at the end. I am learning to eloquently speak about hope in English. She tries to listen… Then I try again the next day. And again. I don’t really care about this whole cross-cultural thing theory anymore. I just want to be sure that the message, the main message, namely that I am here for her – gets through. Yet, they say that about 77% of the human communication is non-verbal.

Can I instill the hope and express the caring just like that… wordlessly?

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13 Responses to “The test of the cross-cultural marriage”

  1. Eric Roth says:

    May your wife’s cancer disappear, your love become even stronger, and you both create many new magical, cross-cultural memories together. Your poignant essay moved me.

    You didn’t have to share such a painful personal story, but I learned from your struggle to find the words – in English. Thank you for providing this rare glimpse documenting the need for and limits of mere words.

    Shalom.

  2. Moshu says:

    Thank you, Eric.

    Peace to you, too.

  3. Joni says:

    My best friend and web design partner is from another culture, he lives in S.E. Europe. But as quite a few Europeans, speaks several languages, among them English, and quite well, I might add. So well that I sometimes forget it’s his fourth or fifth language. I’m trying to learn his language and it’s tough. I told him that if we ever met and were having an argument, that the rule should be that I swear at him in HIS native tongue and that he swears at me in English. Maybe that would keep the fights down to zero?

    I’ve always wanted to learn another language, so this is my third. (Spanish being second, since my husband is fluent.)

    And I hope that this writing finds your wife on the road to recovery. I love the story of how you met and it truly is a testament to the fact that love .. is not bound by words .. but by feelings, a heart bond. You seem to have that. Cherish it.

    Pozdrav!

    Joni

  4. Moshu says:

    Zdravo!

    Thanks for stopping by and for your best wishes.
    Btw, she is from SE Europe, while I am more a product of CEE (Central Eastern).

  5. Holly Kay says:

    What a touching post. I love your description of your communication with your wife. My husband and I have the same type of pidgeon language. We speak in Russian, not native for either of us. (He is from the former USSR, though, and I am from the US.)

    It is interesting to read your words which I have thought many times–the intelligent side goes bye bye, and you just focus on communicating. And the grammar and words can get really sloppy, especially in times of crisis.

    But on a more serious note, I hope your wife and you will be blessed with strength and a lot of support during this trying time. Please let us know how she is doing.

  6. Moshu says:

    Hey Holly,

    Thanks for visiting and for the your kind words. It is a good feeling to discover that even unknown people care and think about us. Thank you!

  7. Interesting story Moshu but sorry to hear the health situation of your wife. Hope and pray, a miracle will happen and her cancer will be gone in no time. Despite of the trials you have, your love to each other is strongly there and i can sense that it even strengthen your relationship. With cross-cultural marriage, I think whatever test you’ll have, you’ll be able to overcome as long as love, respect and faith are there. Just always remember that amidst all trials we all face in life, there is one great GOD to see us through every storm, to hold our hands or carry us when the trudge seems unbearable.

    -Joanne

  8. Dr. Rolade Berthier says:

    I can identify with cultural and communication issues raised in this story. I am a Filipino-born Australian married to a French man, and we speak only English at home (among ourselves including our two sons). Cross-cultural relationships are complex and challenging. US Pres. elect, Mr Barack Obama, is a successful product of this relationship. My book on the subject is available in Australian bookstores and online from its publisher, http://www.zeus-publications.com. You can preview this book when you visit its website and click on “New and Recent Releases” Cross-Cultural Liaison: An Inconvenient Love? by Dr. R. Berthier

    Regards,
    Rolade

  9. Moshu says:

    Thanks for stopping by and letting me know about your book!

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