Does It Matter If My Fiance Is From a Different Culture?

Does it matter if my fiancé is from a different culture?  Yes, (pause) and no. There are many factors involved but you should consider what culture really means.   Why does it matter?  If you can both speak at least one language in common, what does it matter if you grew up in another country and culture? Culture is part of who people ARE, not just the place they grew up.

2 yo Boy standing in field in Ethiopia

I first noticed my future husband because I overheard him talking about chasing baboons off of cliffs where they jumped into the trees below. 

My husband spent most of his growing-up years in Ethiopia where  his parents were missionaries.  His family returned to the United States when my husband was 15.  He left the home he knew (Ethiopia) and all his friends from boarding school to come to a different and confusing culture he didn’t know or understand.  He went from being an extrovert to being quiet and unsure of himself.  Because of the things he saw while in Ethiopia, he is a serious person.  As he says, “When you have seen people, especially babies, starving to death, it changes you.”

Culture is part of who people ARE and how they think, not just the place they have lived and the language they speak or the food that they eat.

Let me give you an example: birthdays.  In my family, birthdays were a big deal.  You did special things on your birthday, you  chose what you ate for dinner, you chose a cake, family came over and sometimes you got a big party with your friends. You received presents, your siblings got un-birthday presents and you played games.  It was your day!  In my husband’s family, birthdays were recognized but it was not a big celebration.  There was a cake after dinner.  The cakes usually had candles reused from previous birthdays and used for all the cakes that year.  If there was a gift, it was a small gift.

My birthday was approaching. Imagine my surprise when my husband was not planning to adopt my family’s practices into our new family.  His viewpoint was: Why all the fuss?  Why spend money on presents? After  a lot of negotiation on my part we were able to come to a middle ground. Whew! Now he likes his un-birthday presents.

Here’s another example: food.  My family generally had fairly plain meals.  Although they were tasty, they usually consisted of meat, potatoes and a vegetable.  My husband loves a broad variety of foods, especially Ethiopian food.  Ethiopian food involves cutting up lots of onions and garlic with tons of spices and cooking it for hours. I couldn’t even cook simple food when we first got married but I learned! Now I cook doro wot (chicken stew) regularly and we all enjoy a good gibsha (feast).  If your future husband likes food from his country, you need to be willing to enjoy it and cook it, too.

Six cooking pots full of different Ethiopian foods

We now have interesting words in our family.  Instead of going to the restroom, we head to the “zooly.”  And you better not be an “inbetenya!” That will get you in trouble! What about when your English words have different meanings for each of you?  Are you bringing something or taking it? Communication is made more difficult in cross cultural situations so you have to do a lot of talking to make sure you are getting each other’s meaning.

Culture is part of who people ARE and how they think, not just the language they can speak. 

Does your family support your marriage? Do you view family and family obligations the same way?

Both of our families were supportive of our marriage.  Like it or not, you really do marry into the family.  My parents have not lived close by during our marriage, but we traveled at least twice a year to see them.

I have never gone to Ethiopia, but that was where my husband’s perspective of family was shaped. Because he spent much of his childhood in a boarding school apart from his parents, my husband wanted to live close by his parents (2 hours) so that we could visit often.  I was willing to make those trips.  It would have been easier many times to stay home and work on our own projects, but this was important to him and it needed to be important to me.

Interestingly, he also spent time separate from his siblings, because the students at the boarding school were divided by gender and age, not family.  His brothers and sister didn’t know each other growing up the same way I knew my sibling. This makes for interesting and sometimes complicated extended family relationships even today.

Do you think about finances the same way?  My husband grew up in a home that met the needs for shelter and food but not extras. He has a different definition of needs and wants than I do. He thinks, If you have one or two pair of shoes, that’s plenty.  If you use a plastic bag, you re-wash it and re-use it several times instead of getting out a new one. Why spend money if you don’t have to?

I grew up in an upper-middle class environment.  We had extras.  I worked some in high school, but I didn’t have to work. I was able to spend the money I earned for what I wanted– and I liked that. I had never heard about re-using a plastic bag before! Thankfully, we took a financial class together when we were first married that helped us get on the same mindset.  If you and your fiancé see this as being an area of concern I would highly recommend taking Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University or a similar program.

Do you have the same long term goals?

My husband and I are both Christians and our goal is to serve the Lord Jesus Christ wherever He puts us.  We are happy because we are together and doing what we feel the Lord is leading us to do.  Being a Christian makes a HUGE difference in how we view life, how we solve problems and how we approach our life together.  God made us and by following His plan found in the Bible, we have a head start on getting along and having a great life together.  If you would be interested in knowing God’s plan for your life, you can read more about it here.

So, does it matter if your fiancé is from a different culture?  Yes, it does. But by adopting the same long term goals, having the support of both families, viewing family obligations the same way, looking at finances in a similar way, and embracing each other’s culture, I think that you can have a wonderful marriage. My husband and I still “bump heads” every now and then about our cultural differences, but we are going strong after 33 years.

If you would like to know more about us, you would enjoy God Trains Hard- Why?  or About Us.

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3 Replies to “Does It Matter If My Fiance Is From a Different Culture?”

  1. This article made me smile. I loved it. My immediate family all loves Ethiopian food, too, and I totally relate to what Elizabeth is saying here, because her husband is my brother.

  2. That’s really interesting! My husband and I are both from the same culture and same part of the country, but grew up with some very different ideas about things like birthdays and shoes in the house. So it might be more a matter of whether two people feel the same way about issues than if they’re the same culture.

    1. You have a good point, Michelle. Even when you are from the same culture you can think very differently about things. Being from different cultures multiplies the need for good communication and lots of flexibility. Thanks for commenting.

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