As a social worker, being attuned to different cultural beliefs and practices has always been on my mind. I have seen my field move from a focus on cultural sensitivity to the notion of cultural competence – and now to what makes more sense – cultural responsiveness. This concept acknowledges that it is totally impossible to “master” knowledge about any given culture – or more importantly the individual culture of any given person. During these early years of my marriage, this concept has been a presence for me on the road trip through my cross-cultural marriage, even though I still hold some skeptical feelings for all of it on many levels – much of which is being worked out in the writing of this blog over the years.
One great resource on cultural responsiveness was prepared in California (for a disability services audience, but I think it applies here too). I have pirated and edited some of their central tenets that apply to cross-cultural marriage, below:
· Be aware of your own cultural background.
This is basic, but it gets back to the old tenet that you have to know yourself before moving outwards. From the California guide: “Think about it in terms of the values, beliefs, and customs of your culture and how these influence your attitude and behavior. Understanding one’s own culture is important because of the tendency to regard one’s own cultural group as the center of everything and the standard to which all others are compared. For example, take a look at the importance of punctuality as a part of your
culture. Being “right on time” in some cultures may mean that one may arrive
drastically before or after the appointed time.”
· Convince yourself that just because someone else’s customs and beliefs
are different from yours, there are no right or wrong cultural beliefs.
From the California guide: “All beliefs and customs can be correct in the culture in which it occurs. In an individualized approach to planning, customs and beliefs should not be
discounted as incorrect or improper. They should be discussed.”
· Learn about the culture that your partner is from – but beware stereotypes and catch-all advice.
Again, this is basic. You can’t read enough non-fiction, news and fiction about the culture your partner is from – or watch TV, find YouTube videos, etc. Beware stereotypes and work on “triangulating” your resources. Learn about your partner’s country, history, language, politics, soap operas, cuisine, sports, etc.
· Become educated in cultural beliefs of the country your partner comes from.
Moving beyond just learning about culture – try to learn about the beliefs your partner, her/his family and friends and others may hold. From the California guide “This will broaden your ability to anticipate their reactions, including their reactions to your actions.”
· Develop and use vocabulary of greetings and key phrases in your partner’s home language.
Once again, basic. From the California guide: “This can serve as an “ice breaker” and may make people feel more comfortable with you. It shows that you, at least, have taken time to enter into their world.”
· Discover commonalities of experiences.
From the California guide: Use these experiences to establish a “bond.” This will help you relate to people as individuals rather than as people from country X.