4 things I have learnt from marrying outside my culture

1. Communication really is key

A typical buzzword that appears everywhere relationships are mentioned – ranging from work relationships to intimate relationships – this one is always brandished about. In any intimate relationship, communication is hugely important but when it comes to a cross cultural one it is completely intensified. In most relationships you communicate with each other to share your thoughts, expectations, fears worries etc – in the case of a cross cultural marriage however you become a representative for the context, expectations, norms, and considerations of your culture especially when it comes to wedding planning. This can be difficult as wedding planning provides a heightened version of everything – stress, panic, gluttony, indulgence – it is like a Pandora’s box of everything wonderful and terrifying at the same time (mostly terrifying to be honest). So in the midst of all this, finding a way to ensure both cultures are respected and upheld, communication is key to figure out just what on earth that entails.

Both of us being British to the core means we were essentially clueless on wedding related cultural norms and expectations which ended up frustrating family members and is a sure way for miscommunication and avoidable misunderstandings. If I were to do it all again I would make sure everything is communicated upfront and openly from the get go – must haves, nice to haves, desirables, no go areas and then proceed from there. Wedding planning is only one small segment of course (though doesn’t feel like it at the time) – communication throughout the marriage is key for any real chance of success.

2. Not everyone will be OK with it…

The world is made up of billions of people all with hugely different families, backgrounds, childhoods, life experience, ambitions, dreams, hopes and fears making us all incredibly complex and unique individuals of this chaotic world. Finding that one person who you decide you want to spend every single day for the rest of your life with and bind yourself to inexplicably is no easy task – so when you find that person, from which ever corner of the universe or tone of their skin or spoken mother tongue – surely they are worth holding on to? Everything else is just white noise and irrelevant details, right? Well not according to some.

My experience of family members both very close and distant who have not only been unsupportive of my cross cultural marriage but downright offended, angered and incensed has left me bewildered. Time is finite and life is unpredictable – who has time to hold on to such ignorance, hatred and racism? Quite a few people apparently. I’ve experienced the irony that even marriage – a union based on love and respect can result in scathing hostilities, rejected wedding invitations and severed ties. It has been strange to see favorite family members whom I idolized as a child turn into hostile strangers and vessels of intolerance.

3. You can become your own architects

London is one of the most unique and diverse cities in the world and growing up here provides a smorgasbord of culture which would be hard to replicate anywhere else in the world. Being a second generation Brit it would be accurate to say my culture is more diluted than that of my parents – and the same applies to my husband, but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Every culture has a wealth of good, but also its bad points – from contradictions to needless limitations – why not take all the good and leave the bad- from all the cultures that are intertwined in our own lives? In my own marriage – from the Middle East, to London, to Uganda to India to Tanzania – how much good is there in that which we can cultivate and merge into a beautiful mosaic of culture and values for our own family. The idea that we can become architects for our own little family unit of do’s and don’ts, cultural preferences, linguistic ability, values and norms and all the colors, tastes and sounds that brings with it is so exciting (but with great power comes great responsibility).

4. Learning and teaching is the best part…

Anyone who knows me knows I absolutely love my food. My whole life I have been cultivating my favorite places and tastes and flavors – from plush restaurants to holes in the wall type joints in random industrial estates (mostly the latter). I did not anticipate the satisfaction and joy I would experience by bringing this to someone else – introducing my husband to my favorite sha’by (street/street food) Arabic food joints in back alleys which he had never tasted. Watching him rashly declare za’tar as his favorite ingredient ever, or look on smugly as he falls in love with my mums dolma (how can anyone resist dolma?) or become indignant at the thought of eating kebab without sumac is so fulfilling (and slightly comical).

As a foodie who loves all types of cuisine I’ve also been surprised to find myself navigating through a new world of tastes and flavors previously unknown to me – Muragi – an East African street food curry made up of coconut milk and kidney beans is now a high ranking favorite dish of mine. I positively squeal with joy at the sight of tandoori mogo. Tamarind chutney, kachumba salad, raita, sumbaru (cabbage pickle, yes – CABBAGE, I know) have elevated my (already disproportionate) love of condiments to such heightened levels that I fear an intervention may be necessary. I love doughnuts but then I discovered Kichori – Indian savory doughnuts filled with lentils that render me speechless, especially when dipped into aforementioned tamarind chutney.

With food and its regional back stories – masgouf fish from the rivers of Iraq and the pride of the country, watermelon and cheese because – well just because it’s summer and how can you not? (unfortunately yet to convince my husband of this – some things can’t be learnt it seems), East African ugali – food that goes far and is cheap as a staple for the poor – exploring food together (my genuine true love) I’ve learnt and taught a lot (and piled on the pounds for good measure). It is not just food either, it is music and language too. Hearing the words you roll off your tongue so easily from another’s perspective for the first time and realizing how funny/ridiculous/odd it sounds is priceless. Muthaqafa (intellectual girl in Arabic) when spoken harshly and quickly sounds like a swear word in English (silly but true). Muragi and Mandazi (Tanzanian dishes) sound like opposing African leaders (the forces of Mandazi have retreated, Muragi will be seeking reelection). As we continue to venture into each others worlds we find more and more undiscovered gems, from bizarre words to amazing food and it makes me think that there is a lot of learning and teaching people are missing out on when they only stick to the familiar.

In Holy Quran states:

“O mankind! We have created you from a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know one another”

Quran 49:13

What can be better than getting to know all the different nations and tribes we have been blessed with?

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