Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Living in a Dual-Cultural World: Belonging

Belonging.  It's a feeling we all strive for.  And in a 'normal' situation (if ever a thing existed) it is hard enough.  But you add a different culture to the mix and it makes it a little more tricky.

A fellow North-American-wife-of-a-Brazilian mentioned this in the comments when I put up the original post.  "Sometimes it can be bittersweet as you don't feel you fully fit in on either side."  Yes, this is a true aspect of it that I didn't talk about/think about last time.  The truth is it is easier for me.  I live in my country, around my family, speak my language, and eat my food.  I dabble my toes in the Brazilian life for a couple minutes here or a couple of months there.  And yes, there are times when I realize I do not belong.

Like when I try to communicate with someone at the store and it comes out "cute", when really I want to be able to fully express myself and taken seriously.  Or even here in the States at a Brazilian get-together and they laugh at jokes that make no sense to me yet do not understand my reference to Gilligan... (hey, Dude was wearing a red polo and a sailor hat, what was I supposed to say?).  Mostly simple things, but things that remind you that the people you are surrounded by do not have the same understanding as you.

It can be something as basic as mentioning  how much I love brownies or chocolate chip cookies -- and I am met with blank stares.

Yet I have the easy side of it.  I just pull out some ingredients and show what these 'cookie-things' are all about.  And then I step back into my world one month later/ten minutes later, and chalk it up to a fun cultural experience.

Making cookies with the family.  And yes, I visited Costco before we traveled ;)
My husband, on the other hand, lives in this constantly.  Sure, he speaks English and likes the food here, and yes, I do make him beans and rice every once in awhile. But there is more to it than that.  When you have spent the first 27 years of your life in one world and then change it in for another there is bound to be complications along the way.

I asked him about this the other day.  "It's hard," he said, "because my friends today cannot understand my past, or what makes me me.  And yet my family and friends that I have had my entire life cannot understand my life today and what I am living.  So I don't fully fit in in either place anymore."  As far as I can tell, this is the truth for any ex-pat.  It was true for me while living in Palau and Ebeye, it is true for Americans living in Brazil, it is true for a Brit living in Hong Kong. And it can be a hard truth.

Brazilian man and American grandpa enjoying checkers at the Cracker Barrel

However, it doesn't mean it is a bad truth.  He is happy where he is today.  And he works to build the bridge between the two worlds he inhabits, while I work hard along beside him to help make that happen.  Skype is well used in this house.  Plane tickets are purchased for us to go there or for them (those who can) to come here. Friendships are made based off of common interests today instead of what happened yesterday. Some of his closest friends today are American; some of my best girlfriends are Brazilian.  Trips are made the market in town that sells Guarana Antartica and then we head out for In n' Out.  We keep our mind open to new things. And in the end we remember this: we don't need to always belong out there, as long as we belong in here.   Because here, in our little family of two, we both fully belong.

Really, isn't that what marriage is all about anway?

(Original post for Living in a Dual Cultural World)



  1. this is a really sweet post, Tiffany.
    I'm sure it gets very complicated having families an ocean apart.
    I love your last few sentences: you belong together, and that's all that matters in the end!

  2. Love this!! I´ve been thinking and talking a lot about this recently, and it´s very true - but often hard to explain to anyone else. I think one of the important things to note is that just because it´s hard, doesn´t mean you are unhappy! And each person/couple figures out the best way for them to reconcile the different sides to them.
    ´And in the end we remember this: we don't need to always belong out there, as long as we belong in here. Because here, in our little family of two, we both fully belong. ´ = love this a thousand times over!! So so so true.

    1. I think it is one of those things that nobody will ever understand unless they have experienced it. Which is why I appreciate this blog world that connects those of us that live this! Although we may not be able to share the emotions face to face, it is important to know we are not alone in it.

      Like you said, just because it is hard does not mean we are unhappy. WE ARE THE HAPPIEST! Whether or not this is a part of our life is small compared to how much GOOD there is!

  3. Aww, this so true. I feel like what you and your husband are experiencing are going to become more common in the future. In a way it's like assimilation.


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