We make mistakes because we’re human. How we choose to react to and handle these mistakes, however, builds our character and our relationships for better or for worse. I do not claim to know what is best for all multicultural relationships but the advice I give below are the lessons I have learned over time through my own personal experiences.
Don’t always assume you know what your partner is “really” saying
Words can have many meanings culturally as well as personally. The language we choose to communicate with should be considerate of the other person and sometimes, especially in multicultural relationships, you will have no idea beforehand that something you said, which you thought was harmless, could cause such a negative reaction. People can often be quick to react or feel hurt by certain words or phrases that evoke past negative experiences or feelings. We then cling to those specific elements and forget to listen to understand. We’d rather only listen to respond. This communication breakdown fails to resolve the issue. Without open and clear communication, we stay lost in translation and without compassion, we often fail to give our partners the benefit of the doubt.
As an American woman, I feel the English word “sensitive” can be very loaded and is often negatively used to belittle or to make others appear as weak. However, when my partner once used the Finnish word “herkkä” to describe me, which loosely translate to sensitive in English, my response was unnecessarily explosive because in that moment I could not consider how that word could be anything other than negative or even seen as a positive trait in Finnish language. We both had to exercise a lot of patience and compassion to overcome our misunderstandings and better understand one another.
If you feel upset by what your partner has said to you, it is important to explain how you feel but to also patiently and compassionately listen to their explanation. Maybe they meant something else entirely or even misused a word, particularly in a language that is not their native tongue. The best advice is to assume less and communicate more.
Don’t be unwilling to compromise
All relationships require compromise. In our romanticized modern societies, compromise is often seen as the antithesis to romance. However, as Alain de Botton, a modern philosopher, insists (somewhat tragically) that “choosing whom to commit ourselves to is merely a case of identifying which particular variety of suffering we would like to sacrifice ourselves for.” We, as humans, all have our complexities and we only fully start to understand them when we try to love and live with another complex individual. Often these complexities can be polar opposites.
Compromise is about learning to negotiate inevitable differences with a more kind, forgiving, and even humorous perspective. If we are not flexible in such a way, relationships will eventually break rather than learn to bend.
Don’t lose your curiosity (in your partner)
This advice will apply more to couples who have been together for a long time. Our culture, our upbringing is second nature to us and more often in multicultural relationships we frequently learn what is completely normal to us is often entirely foreign to our partner. In the beginning of any relationship we eagerly listen to our partners stories and want to learn everything about them. However, at some point in the relationship we wrongly assume we have done enough “homework.” We believe we have figured out our partner and have very little more to learn. Nothing could be further from the truth.
We are always learning, and people change over time. The person you know and love now is not the same person you met years ago. This reality is so easy to forget but vital to remember.
After nearly six years together, my partner and I have certainly made our fair share of mistakes, but we always try to follow the advice above. We continuously recommit ourselves to building a relationship we both want to last.
De Botton, A. (2016, May 28). Why you will marry the wrong person. The New York Times.
Retrieved from: nytimes.com/2016/05/29/opinion/sunday/why-you-will-marry-the-wrong-person
I am an American and a recent graduate from the University of Helsinki currently living in Helsinki with my Finnish partner and our lovely dog, Luna.
Mr. Hubby and I are from two worlds. As some of you know, he’s a Finn and I’m South Indian. Though neither is a true representative of what we supposedly represent, (or so we individually believe). But, as the days of being married go by, we seem to be in some kind of match. Neither of us is “sportive”, but each thinks they are the ones being a good sport. But, it seems that we’ve been playing a ping-pong of sorts. Every answer or thought must be replied to by a fitting response launched by other. Not in vengeance or anger, but, the pattern is just how it seems to be — a game that must be played. Not for wins or tournaments, just a pong for a ping.
And through those very same sportive eyes, I find that other married couples also seem to be playing this game, too. It takes a Mr. Husband and a Mrs. Wife to play. No mixed doubles are allowed: you can’t pair up husbands against wives. But, yes, you can have sideline referees. It takes a special couple to play this game.
The net exists, but it gets constructed only when a verbal volley is tossed to the opponent’s side of the table. All verbal tosses can be accompanied by hand or neck gestures. Bystanders and cheerleaders can accompany them with drumbeats, whoops or grunts that can indicate “See, that is exactly what I too was saying. Now, don’t you believe me?”
In this first brief missive, only a few types of special serve moves and play patterns will be discussed herewith, as follows.
The “No reply” Move
When one partner is asked a question in the first ping, a “No answer” can be the return pong. This is by far the most versatile. Depending on the type of culture, the return pong can have multiple interpretations. These can vary from: It’s your work woman, do what you need to do. Or, Why do you have to ask me each time, you already know my answer on this one. The repartee pong can be clarified.
Clarifying a No-reply
Danger occurs if, the return pong is along the lines of “<unintelligible consonant>+oh” . In Finnish, a Joo (pronounced Yoh) meaning yes, can sound just like the English “No”, especially when heard from the precincts of a kitchen with the veritable South Indian pressure cooker singing in its own steam, going hush-hush-shooooh. A steamy debate can ensue if the exact unintelligible consonant in question is not clarified before any action is acted upon. Most often the steamy debate coincides with the last shoooh of the steamy pressure cooker. Bring on full-tropical summer in Finland!
Types of interaction
Of course, the levels of interaction can be interpreted either from suave, silent Nordic and Scandinavian streams, or from highly expressive Italian or Greek realms. A no-reply can be a weighty response. Indifference. A great insult. To balance this great insult, nothing is better than a volley of words, with actions and many exclamations, effectively demonstrated by hands, waving fingers, shaking heads and wild gesticulations. To keep the bliss in the air, it is advised to occasionally at least grunt a response. A blocked sinus and a whopping large handkerchief when wielded in an accurate position, accompanied by clearing of such passages can also be considered a good response. The noise effects when echoed from the false-ceiling-ed bathroom can accentuate the effect. An effective Tamilian word, known throughout South India, Dei, when used with a warning tone and when breathed out at sufficient volume is also known to have the same balancing effect.
A draw is reached when both sides agree to a truce and then begin again, this time unannounced and with the launch of another service mode. A draw can also be called forth by the losing side. It need not be acknowledged. But, it can be indicated and initiated by the enaction of pauses and breaks.
Pauses and Breaks
During the break, choice treats can be served. When one side is winning, it is imperative to serve the specialties that are specially unliked by the other. The factors that affect the un-likability of such treats can range from various aspects of smell, the color, the lack of garish colors on the packaging, the extra-sugar that is an inherent property of the treat, or it could be truly minimalist, plain, black and uninteresting as sticks of special Finnish salmiakki (liquorice). Specially salted for added effect. To enhance the minimalist effect, such humble sticks can have deceptive white centers. A total ying-yangcomplement. The production and offering of such humble treat sticks is also known to have a ripple effect: it can cause sideline cheerleaders to quickly take sides. True loyalty can thus be even tested. Partners will know who is on whose side.
The effect of family ties on serves
Family strings or ties or the lack of such thereof can drastically tilt the stakes in this game. This can take all forms and shapes and affect a so-called winning volley. A serve that was going well and did not hitherto receive a balancing repartee can be dramatically impacted by a single tie. If one partner is ponged about someone’s cousin who visits once too often, another tie can be pulled out, literally out of the closet and used to draw the game. What is so special about that single piece of material. Especially if it was given to the Mister by his uncle as the first gift when young Mister, umm… Master’s voice… first cracked or some equally cracked reason. The offensive object — if it is garishly colored and hangs as the first visible thing in the shared cupboard — can be used to dramatically alter the ping-pong game. Pull it out and say, “What about this tie, it has been just pupating.” If it has any shred of strings left, pull at it and give it a good tug. It can pull at lost heart-strings and then remind the offender that an often-visiting cousin brings back precious memories of one’s almost lost homeland. Never mind that the cousin is the nephew of the niece of one’s cousin by marriage from the father of one’s maternal great-grandmother. But, that is precisely how all ties are to be maintained- frequency is the name, even if it stares at you from the cupboard. Best not to discuss other such familial-and familiar ghosts that hang in other closests.
Acing the game
Mr. Hubby and I, well, we seem to have reached the supreme ace level at this special ping-pong. As many seem to know, this Missus talks in her sleep. Recently, Mr. Hubby reported waking up one morning with his digestive system warning of a noisy start to the day. It needed to release some air. And just when the air was voluminously and ceremoniously being let out, Missus said in her sleep, “The elephant is trumpeting.”
I wonder who else has reached similar levels of expertise at this special game of ping-pong?
Written by: Mary Ann
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