When I turned 20, my mum had a big talk with me, a talk regarding my upcoming romance and marriage. “Find a good boy who really understands you. Foreigners? Not suggested.” As I felt quite amused about my mum’s restriction on my choice of future husband, she continued with a very serious look. ”You’d never truly understand a person from a different country. Cultural clashes will drive you crazy --- different languages, customs, values and beliefs, even diets. Everything that first appeared exotic and charming may later become cultural barriers. Trust me, honey. Don’t risk it.”
I never really thought about problems in intercultural marriage until recently I had a conversation with my American teacher Cyrus, who married a Chinese lady in Beijing five years ago. According to him, cultural clash is a year-round house guest in their family. From a simple cuisine on the dinner table to a million-yuan decision of buying a condo, everything in life can reflect their cultural difference. Did the day-to-day clash drive him crazy like my mum anticipated? Cyrus said the key to their peacefully living together is to always think and ask a little more. To many, this advice almost sounds like a cliché. But for a couple from completely different cultures, it’s an effective solution that they learnt the hard way. Only when every confusing sentence is asked to be explained, and every unfamiliar encounter discussed, can true harmony be achieved in Cyrus’ marriage. Whenever he feels irritated or baffled by his wife, he thinks a bit further about their different cultural backgrounds. “Could her silence mean dissatisfaction?” “Should I be more implicit in expressing refusal?” In Cyrus’ exact words, he didn’t just marry a 28-year-old Chinese lady, but a 5000-year-old culture, beautiful yet very sophisticated
Cyrus’ marriage inspired me to ponder on intercultural communication. Within an intercultural family, neither party attempts to dominate nor gets assimilated to the other. Instead what spouses want is to stay in a happy and stable relationship together. Similarly, what diverse cultures seek for also isn’t a life-or-death struggle, but to friendly co-exist without sacrificing their own uniqueness. As Samuel Huntington wrote in The Clash of Civilizations?” We will be modern, but WE won’t be YOU.”
The right way to move from cultural clash to cultural co-existence is exactly what Cyrus reflects on his intercultural marriage: think, ask, and try harder. Try harder to overcome the tendency of egocentrism but to respect cultural diversity. Try harder to avoid imposing our own decision on others but to communicate constructively. Try harder to find out the problem-solving access to a win-win outcome.
Cultural clash is inevitable and constant. Just like my teacher Cyrus, he could never escape from disagreement with his beloved Chinese wife. In the era of globalization, to wane or wax, our fate is associated. To transcend differences, only when we identify with one another, only when we recognize shared objectives, only when we work hard towards the goals, cam harmonious coexistence be attained not only in a small family, but the big world.