Love is nice and communication is important. Bickering in marriage is normal and added cultural differences can inspire small roadblocks on the path to marital bliss. Fortunately, I love France and my husband loves the US. It’s a good start, an important start. However, even the most experienced bicultural couple will encounter unforeseen challenges. Here is a list of 5 small things that we did not realize we were impressively passionate about:
1) Climate control… Not climate change, that we have reached an underwhelming consensus about, but climate control… The good ol’ American HVAC system. A couple of things play into this squabble. One being that I come from the perspective of a homeowner and my husband from that of a renter. He has literally never had a thermostat, let alone one right outside his bedroom door. In the US, HVAC systems are pricey and vital to the maintenance of a home. If it gets too cold a pipe bursts and if we open a window with the unit running we could overpower it. It’s expensive to replace and even potentially dangerous if not maintained properly. To my French husband, this is a completely bizarre concept. Opening windows is to a French person as swimming is to a fish. It’s nature. It’s hygienic physically and emotionally. French people talk about air all of the time and live a life with a smaller boundary separating inside life from outside life… In the US we tend to maintain a comfortable interior temperature all year long. Also, when an American showers, they turn on a vent… A French person probably cracks a window. My husband has finally taken to heart that we shouldn’t change the thermostat from 80 to 65 in rapid swings, so he has decided that 74 degrees Farenheit is the apporopriate temperature for our habitat. Despite being happy that he has embraced the American mentality, I much prefer 72 degrees. This difference has resulted in our middle of the night covert operations to adjust the thermostat back and forth by two degrees.
2) The second part of the issue with the thermostat leads into our second problem which is: How does one get sick? Specifically, how does one catch the common cold? He finds that 72 degrees is cold enough to make us sick. My American sensibilities tend to tell me that sickness comes from germs. You know, those microscopic things that can be viral or bacterial… I have seen one too many animations of particles entering through the nose in science class to just let this go. My explanation of the “American version” of catching a cold is confronted by many French people with disbelief, horror, hysteria… “You mean to tell me that if I climb onto my scooter with my neck uncovered and drive home that I won’t get a sore throat?” “Why yes, that is precisely what I mean?” *roaring laughter ensues*. It’s one of those moments that despite our best efforts to be cosmopolitan we are struck with a great pang of cultural superiority and remember that we have work to do.
3) Alright, so you know that romantic moment when you decide to brush your teeth alongside your partner? You make faces, mutter nonsense, rub shoulders and smile… It’s lovely. Have you tried that with anyone from your sister country? Americans often brush their teeth with cold water… Honestly, maybe they don’t, but my family does and I hadn’t encountered anyone different until my husband and I took part of this loving, quotidian ritual. “Hot water? For your teeth? But it doesn’t feel as clean?” I say. Thankfully, we have two sinks in our bathroom and can maintain some civility before we go HAM on our significant other’s motherland.
4) “Are you giving our toddler an orange before bed!” exclaims my darling Frenchman. “Yes, she’s ready for dessert.” This one is tricky… every French person that I have encountered since this incident has the same response to me giving an orange to my daughter at night. “How do you expect that she will sleep?” Excuse me? I think. After much googling I show my husband that vitamin C does not have any anti-fatigue properties. He takes over the computer and goes to google.fr. ‘Les proprieties de la vitamine c’ he types. I sigh and internally thank the heavens that he’s handsome because I mean this is just science, right? Google.fr lets me know that the French scientific community agrees with my husband. Huuuuuh? My husband chuckles and discounts American medicine because he believes they don’t tell you about vitamin C because Big Pharma wants to sell more vitamin B12 supplements. Uggggggggggh, again I’m ready to go to bat for my country, but I relax because of the whole “pick your battles” thing. Later, we dine with a French friend and mention the misunderstanding. He tells me that if he eats and orange at night he wouldn’t be able to sleep. Yes, you would. I think to myself.
5) My husband has a great quality. He makes the bed for us every day. How wonderful he is. But oooh, do I feel my ethnocentricity running deep when I see the new top sheet I just purchased has been discarded. The top sheet is important! It separates you from the comforter and helps keep it clean. It covers you when you are too warm, but still need something on you. It is essential, okay? Essential. To my husband, it is the Chinese finger trap of bedding. It tangles, it’s unnecessary and it doesn’t serve a purpose. My blood pressure rises as I type. My patience melts away along with my self-control. I fall onto my back upon the top sheet-less bed in despair, “How sweet thee is to make thy bed my lovely beau full of generosity, but would you instead, keep that top sheet before this heart bursts and I fall dead?”
This, of course, is all in good fun even if it does insight mini panic attacks. It’s just important to me to share because being married to someone of another culture is incredibly eye-opening. It makes us realize how deep our culture runs. Even things that we take for granted such as medicine and nutrition are cultural. The intimacy of a couple highlights this well and these are small grievances, of course. In fact, I do think that they are healthy as they launch us into a pattern of self-reflection. I maintain that anything that makes us ask ourselves “Why do we do things the way that we do?” is good for humanity.
Another fortunate aspect of this bicultural union is that we are equipped with accents and passionate, clumsy language mistakes that charm each other. It is hard not to laugh when someone you love is heavily pronouncing the “B” on “dumb” over and over.