- Enthusiasm: Americans are overly enthusiastic. We don't just get happy, we feel elated. We don't just talk, we talk loud enough so that the people in the next state can hear us. We don't just feel sad, we get downright depressed. The Dutch don't seem to get riled up about much of anything. If my husband comes home from work with news that he closed an assignment, I go into acrobatics and cheers. If I tell him I got an article published or scored another Little Broadway class, all I get is "That's nice, sweetie." And though he's sincere about it, I'm so used to hearing "nice" in the dismissive, I'm-not-really-paying-attention American way. But his "That's nice, sweetie" is the Dutch equivalent of the American back-flips and pom-pom waving. Likewise, my husband feels that the fireworks I display over things belittles the accomplishment.
- Unintentional hurtful words: My husband speaks brilliant English. Completely accent free and with an excellent vocabulary and grammar. It is so easy for me to forget that he's not a native English speaker. But he's not, and as such, English words don't have the same meaning to him. I liken it to when you learn curse words in another language. My mother teaches French and, at some point or another, her students inevitably learn the word "merde." They can use it in whatever context they like as much as they like without getting into trouble because it's not a 'real' curse word. At least, not in English. Often, my husband uses words and language when joking around that, to him are funny and light. But to me they are offensive. I know without a single doubt that the situation would be reversed if our relationship was in Dutch (yes, I am extremely guilty of slinging around offensive Dutch), but as we communicate pretty much exclusively in English, I notice it much more. As a result, we're both making a conscious effort to leave anything that might be considered offensive in either language out.
- Holidays: Another big difference is the way holidays are celebrated. Again, we Americans like to do things big and that includes our holidays. The constant Christmas music, the extravagance with gifts, that gushy make-me-gag Christmas spirit, the Christmas specials on TV, lights and decorations everywhere... My husband is still trying to get used to it all and not feel extraordinarily stressed out! And Easter is not traditionally a family holiday in the Netherlands like it is in the US. I found it so strange (and still do) that we spend every Easter weekend with friends as opposed to family.
- Watching the cultures merge: My husband's wish list includes a pick-up truck. I've become skilled at finding space for my bike in any overcrowded bike parking lot and can zip in and out of cars, other fietsen, and pedestrians on an overloaded bike with the best of 'em. He's taken Halloween and run with it, decorating the apartment and hallway with more ghoulish decorations than a haunted house, and striving to find the costume to outdo all costumes each year. I've gone nuts with Sinterklaas, insisting on attending intochts and handing out kruidnoten, chocolate letters, taai taai and Zwarte Pieten by the armful! And, though our main language of communication is English, the amount of Dutch that sprinkles our conversations is nothing if not amusing.
Yes, there are hardships and misunderstandings, but there is no such thing as a boring day in the Jansen house! Our relationship continues to grow stronger with each passing day, not only in spite of, but BECAUSE of those cultural differences.
What differences have you noticed in your bi-cultural relationship?
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