(This is part 2 of 7 sharing how we try to #celebratecultures in our family’s daily life. Check here to see all posts in the series!)
One of the first questions my future in-laws asked me when we first met was “what kind of food do you like? What are your favorite vegetables?” They wanted to get to know me and my family through understanding our food. (Funny story: at that same first dinner, I was so proud of myself when I used chopsticks and successfully picked up a salted peanut in the middle of the table. Unfortunately, the second time I flung a peanut onto another table!)
I used to think that food was just one part of the puzzle to understand a culture. But the importance that my husband’s culture places on food goes deeper than just a part of their culture, food is a priority! It was really one of the biggest misunderstandings we had in the early part of our marriage. I’ve learned through some funny moments in our first year of marriage how important mealtimes are in the life of a Chinese family.
So I try to focus on being a good xifu/媳婦 daughter in law and learn new Chinese and Taiwanese dishes. I am thankful that it goes both ways too and my husband is an incredible cook! When I commuted into the city for work, my husband made most of the meals. Now that I’m at home with the kids, I’ve taken over most of the cooking on the weekdays.
Ways we Celebrate Mealtimes:
- Hot meals 3x a day if possible: For the most part, it’s important to our family to have warm meals. There are definitely times when takeout and drive thrus are necessary! I am nowhere near my mother in law’s cooking as she used to cook short ribs for her children to take in their school lunches. And often “hot meal” is defined by leftovers from the day before. But we still want to prioritize mealtimes as important times during the day to gather together and not just rush past them.
- Kids are involved in making the food: I try to include my 4 year daughter in cooking during most meals. Right now that includes cleaning vegetables or peeling garlic cloves. It’s a win win because it keeps her busy while I cook! The best part is that when sit down to eat, she is so proud of the food she helped make and it helps her try new foods.
- Dumpling Date Nights: Since my family loves dumplings, I have a mini-goal of making a huge batch of homemade dumplings every month so we have a steady supply in our freezer. It’s pretty time intensive to fold each one but the excitement on all the faces of my husband, my 4-year-old daughter and even my 11-month-old son makes it worth it! My husband joined me on last Saturday night after the kids went to sleep and we made about 150 dumplings. We watched a show and laughed together — it actually turned into a really fun date night in! When we were done, my hubby said he just realized that his parents used to do the same thing. He has memories of his parents watching a Chinese drama while folding dumplings late into the night. So special to accidentally fall into this same tradition!
- Learning through Food: Our family loves lots of other cultures’ cuisines (favs right now include: Vietnamese, Korean, Mexican, Indian and Thai) so we try to talk a little bit about each culture with our daughter when we are eating. If we’re at home we look on a map to find the country. We are learning a couple of words in each language so when we go to a restaurant we can say at least hello and thank you in the language. So far we have 2/5 down…3 more to go!
What about your family? How do you celebrate your family’s culture(s) during mealtimes? Would love to hear more in the comments or over on Instagram!
My mother-in-law and sister-in-law make incredible meals and I’m so thankful I get to learn from them (and eat their food!)
To wrap up my first ‘miniseries’ on Intercultural Marriage (see here for blessings! and challenges!) , I wanted to pass along some of my other favorite blog posts about the topic. But first, because I LOVE graphics, here is an awesome infographic from GOOD and Column Five called on the rise of interracial marriage in America.
Source: Pew Research/CNN – A collaboration between GOOD and Column Five (click to zoom!)
My Favorite Blog Posts about Intercultural Relationships
If you have another article about this or a related topic, let me know in the comments below and I will add it!
In my last post I talked about ways my husband and I found intercultural marriage easier than we expected. Today I’m tackling the inverse — the hard stuff! As I was thinking about this post. all sorts of disclaimers came to mind. I kept procrastinating writing this because 1) I don’t want to generalize or stereotype any experience and 2) it’s hard to balance honesty with privacy. So after some brainstorming on my own, I asked my husband what he would include without showing him my list and both our lists included the same categories below! Always a good sign!
- Food: Before our marriage, I knew we would have differences in our experiences with food, but I never knew the extent to which those differences would matter! I will never forget one of our first major arguments of our young marriage 9 years ago. I came home from work and made soup from scratch with bread and salad on the side. I served it with great pride and smiled when my new husband said it was delicious. Then he asked, “what’s for the dinner?” I burst into tears because in my family soup and salad was often the main dinner. His mother, on the other hand, routinely makes 2 or 3 different meat dishes always with noodles or rice and vegetables. In my family, we didn’t focus as much on the food part of dinner as much as the conversation. It was the opposite for in my husband’s Taiwanese American family where the delicious food played a central role. In fact, I was surprised at his house with the lack of conversation during dinner. They were all focused on eating or talking just about the food! It’s obvious that communication is key. After the Soup Incident we talked about what our expectations for a meal included. (And honestly my hubby started cooking more!) and we talked more during dinner time!
- Health and Medicine: I mentioned in the earlier post that my husband and I have different experiences and cultural views on medicine. This has been a positive in our marriage because I have learned so much about a brand-new category. It has also brought some surprising challenges that we work through intentionally. I have found that for me when it comes to my health or my children, I can become very defensive about any suggestions or comments. It is a personal subject and I have learned patience and perspective in listening to my husband or his family’s comments. I know that they have our best interests at heart. I used to feel offended at an auntie’s suggestions for my family but my husband encouraged me that it is a way that they show they care. Now after 9 years of marriage and living in Taiwan for a year, I find myself doing the same and offering unsolicited comments and suggestion to my girlfriends!
- Role of Extended Family: Like the first category about food, the role of our extended families is something that I was aware was a cultural difference in our marriage but I don’t think I fully understood at the beginning. I grew up in a very close immediate family. We moved nearly every year overseas and across the States. As my mom would say, the only thing that stays the same is God and your family. We visited extended family including grandparents every couple years in the summer. My husband’s family is, again, the opposite! His grandparents lived with him his entire life. He had aunts and uncles and cousins also live in the home at various parts of his childhood. And as the eldest son of 3 children, the expectation is that his parents will live with us if they want, someday! (Although full disclosure my sister in law cooks much better Chinese food so they may pick her!) I thought these differences growing up would be a burden in our marriage but it has really been a positive. It has been a challenge that we have had to communicate clearly.
I would love to hear about your experiences in an intercultural marriage as well! Positives and challenges alike!
Our wedding favors: Chinese hong bao 紅包 with European candies representing our multicultural marriage!
During college, my boyfriend and I (now husband of 9 years!) attended an interracial dating seminar. I called my Dad that weekend and excitedly told him about the seminar. My Dad interrupted me and said, “Wait, why did you go? You’re not in an interracial relationship. He is Taiwanese American and you are Dutch American!”
I explained that while our citizenship may be the same, our experiences and cultures were very different. After a couple specific examples, my dad started to realized more and more what my husband and I were learning about each other!
While there are lots of unique challenges with intercultural relationships, I wanted to first write a post about the ways we’ve found intercultural or interracial marriage to be easier than we expected. Not better or worse than monocultural marriage, just easier. (I’ll next post a post about ways we’ve been challenged!)
**I would love to hear from those of you from intercultural or interracial marriages. Do you relate to our “findings” or have different experiences?**
- We start with the assumption that there will be differences. All relationships have differences between the two partners because everyone is unique. Everyone comes with a unique set of experiences, cultural norms, and ways to relate to the world. In an intercultural or interracial marriage, we just assume we will have differences. We know we grew up very differently so when a disagreement arises we can quickly pinpoint if its a matter of a different approach to something. I’ve seen some friends and family in monocultural relationships assume that the other person has the same approach to an issue as they do. They may have very different ways of looking at an issue but they don’t realize that at the beginning.
- A wonderful bonus to falling in love with a person from another culture is the joy of learning intimately about their culture. You may have seen this diagram of culture depicted as an iceberg where the visible parts of culture are above the surface (I.e. Language, food, holidays). But the majority of the cultural markers are below the surface such as expectations, family roles, biases, beliefs and assumptions. It’s easier to ask questions in a loving intercultural partnership because you are coming from a place of genuine interest and curiosity.
- There is an openness to try new things and new approaches. Both my husband and I are first born knowitalls. But through our experience in an intercultural marriage, we’ve taken a very open approach to working through issues. For example, my mom is a registered nurse and I never had any experience with traditional Chinese medicine, accupuncture or herbal methods. My husband on the other hand is the opposite, and my MIL will fill capsules with powders from the Chinese herbalist and use medicinal teas before he grabs the Tylenol. If I wasn’t in a relationship with my husband, I don’t think I would ever had found the incredible benefits of TCM. However I still have my medicine cabinet 🙂