family

Family, friends and the open invitation

Posted on March 1, 2009. Filed under: American culture, celebrations, cross cultural, cross cultural miscommunication, family, hispanic culture, time | Tags: , , , , , |

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you know that my husband is Dominican. I’m very familiar with Hispanic culture, although understanding it doesn’t always make it easier to put up with things that really go against my American ways.

The whole time thing makes me nuts. For Americans, time controls the event. Events have a starting time and and ending time, and often these are scheduled in advance.  For Hispanics, the event controls time.  Yes, I know the dinner invitation said 7:30, but my wife always takes forever getting ready, and then a good friend called whom I haven’t spoken to in a while, then I felt like taking a nap, and that’s why I’m here at 10:15. Oh, and by the way, I brought my cousin, his son and a friend they had visiting from back home.

At first, I used to get angry. What’s so hard about being here on time? Why can’t you at least give me the heads up that you want to bring extra people? To be fair though, I’m sure my Dominican friends and family thought I was insane when I said my daughter’s birthday party was from 1:30-3:00 (she was 5).

So now I just enjoy the role of Gringa Fria when it suits me. I’m THE AMERICAN WIFE. If you don’t confirm with at least 24 hours notice, I’m counting you out. If I’m expecting 6, I cook for 6. Even if 11 show up. You can share.

Maybe that’s why our house isn’t the most popular place for Dominican get togethers….

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An extended First Family in the White House

Posted on February 4, 2009. Filed under: American culture, diversity, family, race, women | Tags: , , , , |

How cool is it that President Obama brought his mother-in-law to live in the White House, making our First Family an extended one. The First Grandma has played a key role in raising Malia and Sasha, and was vital to family stability during the primaries, when both parents were often on the road.

Extended families are the norm outside of Western culture, and even in the US, African-, Hispanic-, and Asian-American families very often have an extended family structure.

The Western model of the nuclear family as the ideal  is an outgrowth of a number of factors, including the Industrial Revolution,  emphasis on individualism, and the growth of government services  to replace those traditionally provided by the family.

Extended families lessen the workload for the mother and make child and elder care much easier. It offers children various adult role models and sources of love, and can lessen the tension often found in the overworked parents in today’s nuclear family structure.

How empowering for extended families in the US to see themselves in the First Family. They are no longer the other type of family–the ones who aren’t Ozzie and Harriet.

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Where do you draw the line?

Posted on January 30, 2009. Filed under: Asian culture, cross cultural conflict, education, family, Japanese culture | Tags: , , , , , |

We all know about “when in Rome, do as the Romans do”.  Culturally sensitive people will try to fit in and not offend members of the culture they are visiting. For me, this included wearing long sleeves and long pants in Malaysia, even when it was hot, hot, hot. I’d rather be too hot than insulting. I wasn’t comfortable, but it was something I would put up with.

But where do you draw the line? When do you say, no, I can’t abide by that part of your culture. It goes against my deepest beliefs, and I just won’t do it.

I was delivering a workshop on Communication Strategies for Asians Doing Busines in the US, and we were discussing the importance of selling yourself in American culture. You need to be comfortable, I pointed out, discussing your strengths without self-deprecation. What’s great about you? Speak up. In US business culture, it’s not bragging if it is an honest assessment of yourself presented in the proper context. (for example, a job interview or request for a raise)  You need to know your strengths and be able to talk about them openly and with conviction.

This trait is so valued, I said, that school children are taught about it in the context of developing self esteem. I then showed them a worksheet my daughter had in school.  It was a fill in the blanks worksheet:

The best thing about me is _________

I’m really good at ___________

I’m proud that I can ____________.

and so on.

One Japanese gentleman in the workshop, who had been sent by his company for a 3-year rotation in the US, said that his daughter had brought home a similar worksheet from her school. He and his wife were so upset, that  soon after they pulled her from the school and put her in a Japanese school instead. His explanation was this: He didn’t want his daughter (who was 6) to develop these types of American values. At first, he thought it would be a great opportunity for her to attend an American school, perfect her English skills and learn about a new culture. But he worried that when they returned to Japan when she was 9 that she would bring these values back with her. She would face all sorts of problems. These were not the values he wanted for his daughter.  Talking about how great you were is where he drew the line.

Learn more about navigating the American school system here.

Have you ever been in an intercultural situation where you said, no, I can’t support that.  This goes too much against my beliefs. What happened to make you draw the line?

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