“I really had to let that go, because Ismael was never like that.”
Today the couple has made changes: she’s content to be the main breadwinner and primary caregiver when they’re both home, and he stays with the baby during the day. “You would never see a father doing that where Ismael
comes from,” Bangoura explains. “It’s considered woman’s work.”
Cultural differences may be readily apparent when it comes to balancing finances and raising children, but opposing national identities can also affect the way couples relate to each other on a very subtle level, says Dugan Romano, author of Intercultural Marriage: Promises & Pitfalls.
“We are socialized from the day we are born to expect certain ways of relating to others,” she says. “When these ways differ, there can be problems and misunderstandings.”
I’ve experienced this firsthand—particularly in the way my husband and I each deal with conflict. I come from a post-’70s northeastern American culture, where men and women are pretty comfortable talking about their feelings. But in Richard’s traditional northern English culture (think The Full Monty), a man who cries in front of his wife or admits to seeing a shrink is considered effeminate.
In the beginning, whenever we had a significant disagreement, I wanted to talk things through right away. Richard’s response was to clam up and hope that things would blow over. I resented his silence, and he resented having to bare his soul in countless 3 a.m. discussions.
It took months of patiently working through our differences before we both adapted. He’s now a lot more communicative, and I try to give things a little more room. Living in the English countryside has helped me understand that for a man from Batley, West Yorkshire, Rich is downright touchy-feely.
Tackling differences at home is one thing, but dealing withthem in public is another. I’ve found that many Brits tolerate unpleasant situations stoically, even cheerfully—an off shoot of the “stiff upper lip” that served the English population well during the years of wartime rationing. But today, this tendency has people averting their eyes from everything from bad service in a restaurant to an incident of vandalism on a packed commuter train.
By contrast, I’m your typical mouthy New Yorker. This almost led to my undoing just after I moved to England.