Sunday, December 27, 2015

It isn't always Cultural

Camels and Snow.....never put those together before!
Every relationship comes with its hiccups and disconnects. From what I share here, you may infer that Zorig and I never have a disagreement. That is, of course, not true. We are two human beings making a life together and while things are far more often peachy and keen, we do have our moments.

When we have miscommunications, or disconnects (as I like to call them), I have to spend time discerning the heart of the matter. Something I picked up on early from one of my (wise) fellow American Wives is that it isn't ALWAYS cultural. Being in an interracial, or more clearly stated--intercultural marriage or relationship--can cause one to assume that any and all differences stem from the differing cultures. But let's not forget that there are a variety of differences. To get started, I'm a female, he's a male. Next, we are two human beings with a history of unique experiences that have shaped and molded us into who we are. Then we have differing educational backgrounds. Born the same year, age difference doesn't create much difference. However, Z's childhood and youth was spent under the influence of socialism, Mongolia becoming an independent nation in the early 90s. He's lived in the U.S. and in Japan. Before now, I've only ever lived in America (funny to realize that in some ways, my life has been far more sheltered). This of course shapes our outlooks and perspectives. 

Late night shopping outing
Finally, there are the race and culture cards. Race, although it makes us look different from one another, has nothing to do with how we interact or relate to one another. No. It's all about culture. How the cultural and social mores we were raised with make us act and react to things in our daily lives. This impacts our expectations, or lack there of. It influences how we process things, how we speak to others, and what we do in given situations. It provides the structure of our interactions with others and was the model we were given on interacting with and engaging with others. 

I will try to provide a couple of examples of cultural differences:

  • How couples spend time together socializing:
    • In the U.S., couples spend time together--both outside at restaurants, social gatherings, etc, as well as inviting one another into homes for meals and social interaction. There are "girls nights out" and boys gather for fantasy football or poker nights, but couples do gather together.
    • In Mongolia, couples do not often get together with other couples, and rarely do they invite visitors into their homes. Here in Mongolia, the boys go out together, and girls meet up too--almost always outside at restaurants/bars. It's a fairly gender segregated social life.
  • How people manage their time:
    • In the U.S., people are generally run by their calendars and schedules. Plans are made days, weeks, months, sometimes even years out. Shoot, my family has a once-every-5-years-Christmas-extravaganza in Michigan (coming again in 2016!!!). We coordinate children's activities as well as scheduling our own appointments. From everything like massages, to book clubs, to aforementioned girls night out, we have a plan for it all. And often....if we DON'T schedule it, it doesn't happen. 
    • In Mongolia, it's all about the here and now. There is no expectation of a plan for tomorrow, or for the weekend, or for the holiday season. You make it up as you go and a full blown party celebration can be whipped together in a matter of hours, it seems. As a girlfriend recently told me, Mongolians really aren't thinking much past the current beer they may be drinking or meal they may be ingesting. It's just not who they are. 
I'm sure there are plenty of other examples, but those two are significant, I think, and should help you see how different American and Mongolian cultures can be from one another. Those of you that know me.....know that I am a planner and organizer. Therefore, you know that second one is a HUGE challenge. Some of the miscommunications between us stem from me being surprised or caught off guard by newly emerging events. I get frustrated there is no warning or planning. Sometimes I want to take that frustration out on my "boys."'s not like they knew and didn't tell me. The events are truly emerging in the moment (entire school breaks can be changed overnight!). It's normal, everyday life to them; to me, it upsets the plan and doesn't fit into my expectations.

Pollution, like clouds, makes for a nice sunset.
After a recent disconnect caused by an unexpected change of events, I learned something else. Upon trying to apologize for my poor behavior (when I over-reacted), I asked Z for forgiveness. He said he didn't know about forgive, only that he forgets some things. I pressed on and explained the process of forgiveness. He thanked me for the lesson, but said he really doesn't know that feeling. 

Like a regular female, I at first thought he was being difficult. But a fellow foreign teacher encouraged me to ask a Mongolian (female) co-worker about it. What great advice! And I'll be darned......forgiveness is not, it seems, a general practice and/or experience for Mongolians. 

I had assumed that forgiveness was a universal. Seems not so. Though I'd guess that Mongolians who have converted to some form of Christianity have learned what forgiveness is and how to offer and receive it, it is NOT part of their everyday culture. Also if they've lived abroad for any amount of time, they may know about forgiveness. I like to be careful and not make sweeping generalizations--so please know that like any general statement, it's not an absolute. I am not Mongolian and am left to learn from Zorig, Enji, and my host of growing Mongolian friends and co-workers. I thank them for their willingness to share with and to educate me on this new world and culture. 

So no, Zorig and I's disagreements aren't always about our cultural differences. In this instance, the disagreement wasn't cultural (more about my poor over-reaction), but the resolution process was most certainly cultural. Asking for forgiveness from someone that doesn't relate to the feeling or process makes it a hollow experience. I can offer it, but there isn't the completion of the cycle. Instead I wait for time to pass, for him to forget or let go of it, usually a matter of hours, perhaps a day or a little more, and then we are back to good. 

Oh, I can try and teach him about forgiveness, sure. But through the process I'm learning how to behave differently, so as to not be in need of asking for it in the first place. But, we are human. Our relationship is yet new and we are still fitting all the pieces together. Most important, we both have patience and the commitment to communicate and sort things out. Who a couple of years maybe I won't even notice how fast plans have changed and will be a ghost of the girl that handed her mother an itinerary of events when she arrived to visit. As I know, one can never be sure what will happen next in this life. Especially if you open yourself up to possibility and are willing to move through the growing pains that come with honest change. And remember, assumption serves no one. 


  1. What a great blog. Early in my first marriage after a particularly terrible incident. I stopped using the word "Forgive" and decided to use the word "Accept". It helped me release so much anger. The thoughts that I had were, "How am I able to "forgive"? It will never go away, words will never be unsaid, deeds undone. They will always hang around. I accepted that the argument/deed happened, and accepted that I still wanted to be with this person and continue our lives together. I was able to let it go. Z accepted your behavior, you accept his - and once it's over... It's over! Miss you my dear friend, happy New Year!

  2. Michelle, how interesting what a word can do. This makes perfect sense to me and it is exactly what we are doing. Thankfully neither of us has ever said any of those hurtful, mean things that one wishes to be unsaid, but can't. I hope we never go there......but only time will tell. Thanks for this sharing--I get it! Love and miss you too.

  3. Thankyou for these interesting thoughts! I know this spontanuosity from Mongolian friends. I always thought I like that concept of e.g. just coming over for a visit but then I experienced coming for a planned visit and people were not at home several times (just take the key hidden somewhere near the entrance door and make yourself at home there till the friends and residents return - no need to even apologize) and had to realize it indeed can be challenging. If it comes to spontanuosity, my husband acts more German than I, having grown up on a farm with people coming and going as they happened to do or like and things to be done as people were available/weather fine etc... My husband also says after arguments that he just needs time to forget. Which can be never, actually. As uncomfortable this is, as unhappy I am with the Christian concept of forgiving because this implies the concept of guilt to exist. I cannot or do not want to believe in the existence of guilt. Somehow at last everyone has his or her reasons to act in one way or another, so there could only be understanding and going with it or understanding but "sorry, not for me". Maybe the Mongolian way of thinking originally has similar arguments, perhaps influenced by Bhuddism?

  4. Often, when people ask us about cultural differences and I think about it and compare our relationship with the same-nationality-relationships of our friends, there seems to be no difference. Just everybody is different, everybody has his\her own family which always is a complete world or cosmos in itself. This is what I thought for about 13 years, but then my in-laws came for a one month visit this february and now I'm wondering if there in fact are things such as cultural differences..

    1. Hello J. I LOVE this phrase of yours, "everybody has his/her own family which always is a complete world or cosmos in itself." Wow. SO TRUE. The individuals we become are molded by SO many diverse influences and experiences. :) Thanks for saying it so beautifully.