Growing up on a farm in northwest Iowa, I pictured myself someday marrying a tall, Dutch boy—he would probably play the guitar and be able to talk with my dad about farming. His family would have been solid in their faith for generations and we would get along splendidly. Considering the people I was surrounded by, this very likely could have happened. Little did I know that I would meet and fall in love with a dark, Cambodian-American. Vandenn’s family escaped the Khmer Rouge in 1979 and after spending time in refugee camps in Thailand, they were re-located in Dallas. His parents divorced just months later, leaving his mom in a new country with four young kids. Needless to say, Vandenn and I had very different upbringings.
On August 5, 2006, we got married, never having spent more than 2 weeks at a time together. We had dated long distance after meeting at a conference for teachers in our organization. He came to Mongolia to propose to me nine months after we met. We got married less than a year later.
Going into marriage, I had thought that since Vandenn had been raised mostly in America, that we couldn’t really be that different. Ha!
It wasn’t until we got married that I realized how Asian he truly is! Dealing with his family was truly a culture shock experience for me. Their home wafted with the smells of Khmer food, while a loud Thai drama dubbed in Khmer or karaoke played on the TV. A meal often turned into an event where anyone could come over and drop by. There didn’t seem to be any schedule, and the rule of thumb seemed to be to start things after 8pm. Alcohol would be consumed and pretty soon my mother-in-law would be trying to light an uncle’s farts on fire with a lighter or she would teasingly chase someone around with a butcher knife.
This was NOT how life was done in my family. We showed up for dinner promptly at 5:30, sat down to eat at an orderly table, maybe played a game of Phase 10 or Dominoes, and then we went home, usually around 9pm. Extra people did not just stop by, unless they were invited. No loud music played, and there definitely was NO drinking! My mom wouldn’t dream of chasing someone around with a large knife that could also be used to hack down branches off trees in the backyard.
Where my family was schedules and order, Vandenn’s family was spontaneity and endless hospitality. I grew up with words of affection and gentleness—in his, they comment on how dark or dumb or how fat you are.
And the thing is, I have come to love it. I have seen that behind the apparent harsh words, there is a deep love and commitment for each other. I have learned from them how to welcome anyone into my home and be generous with food and resources and time. I have learned that the way my family does things, isn’t the only way, and honestly, my kids are blessed to have two very different families. Over the past nine years, Vandenn and I have learned to laugh over the differences and appreciate what the other brings to the table.
A couple of summers ago when were visiting Vandenn’s family, I looked out the window and saw my mother-in-law hanging homemade sausages outside in her backyard. I stood there, smiling, thankful that God had seen fit to bring me into this family.
How are you better from having your “culture” (in whatever sense) clashed with?