“Which language do you use when you are having a fight?” This question is constantly asked to John and me, as John speaks fairly good Chinese and I can speak English.
“Well, we fight in English because if we speak Chinese, Charlene would have to translate everything into English so that I could fully understand her and talk back,” John explained.
Misunderstanding is usually not caused by language barriers but false interpretations from separate cultural stances.
In a cross-cultural relationship, it is common to make assumptions based on your own beliefs, habits and traditions. Conflicts occur more often at the beginning of relationships.
The first time we visited my parents for Chinese New Year, everything went smoothly at our family dinner. I introduced John to our family tradition: watching the Spring Festival Gala together until midnight and lighting fireworks for the new year.
After several performances, John went to fetch his computer and started to play a game on it. I felt very much offended. I had already enforced the importance of the holiday. I started sending him furious WeChat messages.
WeChat became our silent battlefield in order to not ruin my parents’ evening.
“I don’t really understand those skits. My Chinese isn’t that good. The actors are using dialects!” John said.
I quickly texted back, “You are making bad comments on some of the performances. Apparently, you don’t enjoy them either. I could’ve explained for you if you told me you don’t understand. The most important thing is that we spend time together, watching the show or trashing it. You are physically here, but you are not with us!”
“Well, now that it’s not about the show, why don’t we play cards with your parents while we keep an eye on what is happening on TV?” John suggested.
Why didn’t I think of that? My family has been watching the show for over 30 years. I didn’t even realize when this ritual became a shackle that has stopped us from realizing what actually matters: spending time together.
However, when more family members are involved, the level of difficulty can escalate. When Jaden was born, my mother-in-law traveled thousands of miles to Dongguan to meet her highly anticipated grandson.
After I gave birth to Jaden in the hospital, John told me that my mother-in-law felt rather sad and upset. In Chinese culture, the new mother should be deprived of any annoyance except the newborn baby.
In the end, we solved the mystery. My mother-in-law was too polite—as she is a hardcore Canadian—to ask my mother’s permission to hold Jaden. My own mother was also being polite, thinking she shouldn’t ask a guest to change dirty diapers or to hold a baby with messy milk vomit.
It is inevitable to avoid conflicts in a cross—cultural relationship or any relationship. Always make sure to respect each other’s differences and live with them peacefully.