If you have only shared some quality time on dates then holidays may be quite an experience for you. It means you spend more time together, which is great but can also cause strain and quarrels between yourself and partner. You may not have noticed how messed up he can be until this time. For intercultural partners this may be an eye opener into some of those intolerable cultural habits.
Cate is a Kenyan living and studying in the U.S. Her boyfriend Kelly is a native. They met some two years ago during an international conference. It has been great between them. They are both highly educated and very much aware of their intercultural differences. Come end last year, they decided to have a tour of the high profiled African country and spend the holiday at Cate’s home.
Despite the favorable factors their relationship enjoys, aware of the challenges holidays can pose, Cate’s greatest fear ahead of the visit was that the relationship wouldn’t last through the duration. Her parents can be very difficult. They have never liked the idea of getting involved with a white. In fact, before she left she was cautioned against getting into any relationship with any ‘mzungu.’
Fortunately for her the visit turned out one of the best experiences she’s ever had. Kelly bonded so well with the family. At some point she found him in the kitchen learning how to make Ugali. It seemed he was quite at home, even more he did when he couldn’t stop talking about a picture he saw on the wall, one of president Obama’s, where he carries a sac on his back, sandals on feet.
Dinner was a time to look out for. The conversations were both interesting and educative. Cate’s parents found Kelly very open in his communication. He told them whenever he found anything strange. He sought explanations whenever he didn’t understand a thing. He asked about anything and everything. Even though he found some dishes strange he seemed to enjoy them. What now?
Other than communication, Cate says giving is power. She says selflessness is a very useful tool in getting to be accepted in a new family. Like the old adage goes, charity begins at home, it did in her case. Considering the end year holiday was a season to show love and care, Cate sought to soften the spot for her intercultural relationship by carrying a few things the father couldn’t resist.
The effect of this was that the family, including a few distant relatives, got the feeling the mzungu did value them and that made it easy for them during the introductory stage. The holiday allowed the partners spend some quality time not just as themselves but with the family as well. Cate says this was also important in getting the family to accept Kelly. It was important they knew him, for who he is not through any stereotypic constructions. He learnt a lot too and his fears were calmed.
As for how communication helped improve her relationship with Kelly and his relations with her family, Cate says she is fortunate because Kelly already understood that it would need more than verbally speaking to positively interact with everyone else. Folks are very keen when it comes to family relations. Everything matters. Such details as facial expressions, hand gestures, tone of voice, and choice of words as well as composure and other forms of body language are analyzed.
To strengthen the relations further, Kelly often sought to have a one-on-one time communication with nuclear family members and by this he found a friend in Cate’s father. The old ‘mzee’ often spent time alone in a tiny round mud-walled and grass-thatched hut at the center of the home that is dedicated only for him. Usually he allowed in very few people in the hut. Kelly got the chance.
He got a culture scare however when he was told he couldn’t interact too closely with the mother in law to be. Unlike he’s used to back in the U.S, he was warned against looking directly into the eyes of Cate’s mother while they communicated. The culture here is quite reserved in this regard and doing the reverse meant more than disrespect. Except for a handshake, he couldn’t touch her.
A few more ideas Cate says can help boost an intercultural relationship include solving conflicts as soon as they occurred and not hiding anything and this she says involves honesty, respect and fairness. She also says a perfect holiday for intercultural partners or otherwise is one where the partners create intimate time for each other, away from everyone else and the electronic devices.