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What nobody tells you about multicultural marriage

Ok, so you have been dating this good-looking Brazilian for a while, whose exotic accent with rolling R’s and tendency to add a letter E to the beginning of words that start with S makes you fall head over heels.  The day that he finally kneels to propose to you (guys still do kneel, right?) has arrived.

You feel that the challenges of the relationship are totally worth it.  Like speaking Portuguese with his parents when your level is that of a 2-year-old girl, or trying to remember Spanish from your high school classes (because after all, Spanish is the same as Portuguese, isn’t it?).

It is one of the best moments of your life, even if he proposed at McDonalds in Times Square.  Knowing that someone else outside your family is willing to spend the rest of his life (or maybe a little less) with you, it’s certainly one of those moments where your ego wants to do a victory dance.  And that heightened period of self-esteem lasts until you actually start with the wedding preparations.  Where are we even going to have the wedding? In your country, in my country, or the city we live in?  That first question triggers a never-ending list.

At that point you realized all the talks about a life together you both had when you started dating need to be clarified this time for good, because once you become “Mrs. Da Silva”, there is no return.  No more conversations that end abruptly because no one wants to compromise.

It’s not easy; nobody said it was, because when you marry someone from another country, language, culture, religion or all of the above, the issue is more complicated than deciding if you are moving to the suburbs or converting the closet into a nursery room in order to stay in the city (The struggle in New York is real!)

Since no one else might discuss this with you out loud, I will explain what you can expect after tying the knot in two different ceremonies (assuming you had previously chosen to have two separate weddings to accommodate both halves of the family).

Family matters. Well, that sounds good, right? But what I really mean by family goes beyond your new love-nest.  It is his family and yours.  It is very true that when we get married, we are also marrying each other’s families.  You will meet them for special occasions, and if you live in their country, you will probably see them more than your own family.  The best way to experience a new culture is by having an open mind.  As you are welcome to the new family, you should try to make the most of it by enjoying all those little (or no so little) things that you are not used to.  Ready to learn some samba moves?

Misunderstandings happen… pretty much every day. It’s normal to have some problems when you live with someone that you see every morning and night (hopefully at least one of you doesn’t work from home), but if that person is your-not-so fluent in your language spouse, arguments can appear all of a sudden because you said “sheet” and he understood “shi…”.  Well, the point is that sometimes the problem is not WHAT is said, but HOW it is said.  Intonation is an essential part of English, but for other languages it is not so important. For example, you can speak Spanish without moving your mouth the way you do in English because it’s a flat language.  That lack of stress in some syllables or words in a sentence by someone who is not an English speaker can be confused with angriness and apathy or be misunderstood with other words. 

Religion will be part of all the decisions you make, like it or not.  Even if the only religion you both profess is Netflix, if your families practice one, you’ll see how both of you start considering to raise your kids the same way each of you were raised, and making plans to visit your families on holidays, although there are religious holidays you have not held before.  Hanukkah with your family? Christmas with his? Why not get the best of both worlds?  No one would refuse double celebrations.  How cool would that be?

Choosing names for kids is not just about how nice they are.  It’s also about the fact that both families can pronounce the names! There are few names that are the same in every language, but this is an opportunity to get creative. Your kid will appreciate the effort you put into this.  Or he can always be George in one country, and Jorge in the other.

Vacation trips are going to be mostly to see his parents on the other side of the world.  This is not necessarily a bad thing, unless you are a wanderlust spirit who has a travel bucket list to complete before you are 35.  But what a great chance to finally master your Portuguese!

At the end, a multicultural marriage means you have more decisions to make.  However, I assure you it will be a fun voyage, despite normal problems due to the initial cultural shock.  It will bring more satisfaction to the relationship because of all the new things you both are experiencing, and the effort you are putting in to make it work.  Above all, love is what really counts.  (And your future bilingual children, who could, someday, work for the United Nations).

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