Mixed-whatever couples and mixed-whatever kids are about as common as dive bars in NorthEast Minneapolis...translation: super common. Through the magic of the the internet, affordable airfare, students studying abroad, and yes, immigration, people from all over the world are increasingly deciding to spend their lives with others who have seriously different backgrounds than their own. This includes me. This includes Tristin.
As I get into this, I'll point out that many could compare Tristin and I to couples who are much more fundamentally different and/or have more social stigmas still placed against them. Totally. Tristin's first language is English (more British English), my first language is English. He grew up Catholic, I grew up Catholic (both pretty much over it). Communication barriers and religious values tend to be divisive in growing relationships so for us, it was pretty easy to lay a solid groundwork of friendship and whatever happened after that.
Not getting to travel outside of rural Minnesota as a kid, and never being popular with the hometown boys (and girls, let's just be honest), being in a relationship with someone (an Asian!) who I only saw on T.V. before getting into late high school was ...different. Six years later, I've come up with a super fun pro and con list about these relationships.
Ample small talk wherever you go!
Example: "So are you both from around here?" -Local obviously trying to sound oblivious
"Yep, I'm from southern Minnesota" -Valerie
"Oh, cool" -Local (then looks curiously hard at Tristin)
"No, I'm actually from Malaysia." -Tristin
"Oh, REALLY? What is it like there? How long have you been here? Oh that long, you don't even have an accent! Hey, do you know anyone who was on those planes?!" -Local
People assume you're going to have kids.
"Oh my god. You are going to have gorgeous children!" -Most people say this when they learn we are a couple.
(At first I thought it was just because of my adorably striking features, but Tristin informed me otherwise. Sure. Okay.)
Feeling almost like local where you aren't.
I realize this isn't true for all intercultural couples or couples of varied sexual orientation in all parts of the world. This is my experience in St. Paul/Minneapolis and KL.
I get to go into the divey Asian restaurants without feeling incredibly out of place. If I have any special orders, the servers look disgustingly at Tristin with a "You brought this white girl here and she orders that?!" look. I've also been given a local's eating tour of Malaysia- somewhere I would have never gone had I not met the guy.
Tristin gets to experience fancy bars and establishments (sarcasm) and all the places in rural Minnesota with more of a sense of belonging ie. getting the tour of things he never would have visited and meeting family and friends all over the state. He's gotten a local's home tour of most everything Minnesota.
It's still a novel concept that a white girl is with an Asian guy.
Yep, it's usually the other way around. I get it. Sometimes, servers assume we aren't together and give us separate checks. Other people seem surprised we are a couple. It's cool. But white girls, what's up?
So many more foods!
Growing up, I ate baked chicken and some sort of potato for dinner every night. The most exotic food I experienced was Main Jiang, the downtown Chinese food place. Through his worldly experiences, I've tried foods I had no idea existed. If it were me alone, I would probably still just be eating chicken nuggets, canned soup and cereal for dinner (not all in the same night though).
Tristin has become well-versed in the fine art of eating five foot-long bratwursts, loves spaetzle and most of all, loves the bar and hotdish recipes that can only be made by a true Minnesotan.
Most references to 90's nostalgia are null and void.
Did you watch ever watch Hey Dude?
Oh I totally loved the Gullah Gullah Island theme song, remember how it goes?
Did you wear neon socks?!
You know Allegra from Allegra's Window? I always thought her hair looked like colored Cheetos.
Where'd you send your Flat Stanley to in grade school?
Oh yea, you know.. The Halloween blizzard of '91! Now THAT was crazy.
What Are You Afraid of the Dark episode scared you the most?
You get to learn so many fun things!
Valerie learns from Tristin:
Carpark = parking lot
Food. So much in this world.
Slippers = Sandals (what!)
Some Malay that I've already forgotten other than... makan = eat
Tristin learns from Valerie:
How to snowboard
How to shovel snow
How to use a weed wacker
How to mow the lawn
How to plant a garden
How to say words with the TH sound
How to effectively navigate Minnesota Nice
The immigration process.
First there are the circumstances to get OPT, and then it's finding an employer who will sponsor your H-1 visa. Then comes the green card process including: forms that stack about a cat high, tax information from three years back, medical examinations at specific civil surgeons that aren't covered by insurance, friends/family writing to prove you're a couple, and paying about $3,000 to submit the forms. Lame.
It's probably not cultural appropriation if you're just sharing traditions.
There will always be disconnects.
Some things won't be explainable or understandable no matter how many times you try to reword them.
You won't get how each other's family works. It will take you a really long time to understand things you've taken for granted for most of your life.
There will be times you're around people speaking about things you have no concept of or speaking in language you don't understand.
Even if you speak the same first language, you'll still have communication barriers. In beginning, Tristin would tell me to do something, rather than asking. To the regular Minnesotan ear, that sounds really harsh.
"Go close the door." -Tristin
"Sure, but you don't have to be mean about it. ASK me."- Valerie
"Wait.. what?" -Tristin
Minnesota correction: Hey, want to close that door for me? Think the door should be closed? Much nicer. There are options here, even though a Minnesotan probably wouldn't say no.
In reality, most facets of intercultural relationships are pretty much the same as same-cultural (is this a term?) relationships. There might be a bigger learning curve and weirder situations that you never imagined you'd deal with, but in all relationships you have to navigate different kinds of friends, different families and different communication styles. You'll be pushed to see things about your own culture that don't make sense while finding out what about your background is really important to you. The key to making these relationships work is just knowing when to sit back, shrug your shoulders and go with it.
Share your experiences in the comments below!