More on Weathering Those Cross-Cultural Differences in Your Relationship

IMG_20160227_165522I’ve been happily married for over a decade to someone from another country and culture. And like many folks in my shoes, sometimes I forget how far I’ve come from the early days in my relationship…from those arguments, misunderstandings, and stumbles to where John and I are now.

I was reminded of this after seeing the following comment:

I took the chance to read once more your post on cultural differences in intercultural relationships, especially today since I am back to South France after a week spent in Tokyo; I was there for work, commuting everyday from my boyfriend’s place (he is from Inner Mongolia, now living and working in Japan).

It was a hard week, under many aspects. I will quit my present job and move to Japan in August this year, and we already made plans for the future, everything is almost set, but last week we often discussed over each other’s “domestic” habits.

I wanted to ask if you, or your husband, ever felt that the other, sometimes, does not think/understand that there is always “another side of the coin” speaking of how things should be done or viewed. I feel this way, now, but also believe some time together, only the two of us, and at a normal rhythm, is what we need.

Oh, believe me, I’ve been there.

When my husband and I first started living with each other full time in Shanghai, we definitely had our share of ups and downs:

Like the weather, relationships have their own rapid fluctuations — as I have discovered in this month. In only a few minutes, your congenial conversation might end with the thundering echo of a slamming door, just as ours did a few weeks ago, when John and I were sitting on the bed after eating dinner. I bolted down the street to my yoga class, hoping the asanas would help to cloud over the events of the evening. But in the end my eyes let out a deluge of tears. And, to my surprise, when I came out of the gym, there was John sitting on the steps, ready to clear the skies with an apologetic embrace.

This wasn’t the only inclement moment this month. Frankly, not a week has gone by without some petty quarrel — and it has brought me into a strange fog of anxiety and depression.

I should have seen it coming. We’ve both been burdened with a potentially explosive combination of ingredients: John with his thesis and test preparation; me with applying for John’s green card and my work. Throw into that your standard communication gaps between men and women plus cultural misunderstandings, and you’ve got a volatile combination that even the sturdiest chemistry lab hood couldn’t protect you from.

Ironically, I least expected cultural differences to get in the way of my relationship with John. When you’re in love with someone from another culture, when you treat them as your equal, it’s easy to forget that you learned different ways to respond to problems, and different ways to communicate.

Whenever people start living together full time, I think there’s always going to be an adjustment period for everyone. You’re seeing more of that person, right down to those everyday home behaviors you didn’t really see before (like how they deal with chores at home). But when you add cultural differences into the mix, you’re dealing with a whole lot more.

As I wrote above, sometimes I didn’t even think about the cultural differences — when I probably should have acknowledged them more. John and I had different expectations for a lot of things we had initially overlooked, such as how to tackle and resolve conflicts. Tempers flared and sometimes we said things we shouldn’t have. (Ouch.)

Honestly, I think it took us a few years to work out those “kinks” in our relationship and really get to a place where we understood each other. Where we were willing to listen and adjust how we responded to each other. Where we could, as the commenter referenced above, acknowledge that there was more than one way to do things. (For example, John learned how I liked to be talked to during an argument, while I learned to tone down my anger and control my temper.)

Getting to that point takes time, patience and a willingness to make things better. And sometimes it doesn’t happen through conversations alone. Early on in our relationship, I remember how watching American movies and TV with John actually deepened his understanding of my own habits. (Like how I love to spontaneously dance around the house whenever I hear a great song. 😉 ).

To all of the cross-cultural and international couples just starting out, I wish you lots of understanding in your journey to marital bliss. John and I weathered those hardships starting out in our marriage…I know you can too. 🙂

How Could I Forget About the Cultural Differences in My Intercultural Marriage?

116The other day, someone asked me during an interview, “Tell me about some cultural differences between you and your husband.”

You would have thought I had a million things to say on the topic. After all, that’s a big part of what I blog about – the cultural differences between interracial and international couples in China.

But in fact, I couldn’t come up with a single decent example! (Crazy, I know.)

I mentioned what I thought were a couple of good ones – from differences in diet (I’m a vegan, he’s not) to those explosive arguments that my husband and I weathered early on in our relationship. Instead, the woman talking with me laughed in a lighthearted way – the kind of laughter that tells you that you’ve veered off course. “But those are personality differences, not cultural!” she said.

My face started to flush red. Had I just completely bombed this conversation? There I was, mentally lashing myself, wondering why I hadn’t prepared examples for this very important topic ahead of time?

Afterwards, I couldn’t help replaying the whole conversation in my mind – especially the part about cultural differences. Was it just nerves that made me forget?

But then I considered the most frustrating cultural differences in my marriage. You know, the “big fat Chinese wedding” Johns family insisted we have, which completed exploded all my dreams of having a small ceremony at their whitewashed rural family home. Or the way John’s relatives can’t stop pestering us about when we’re going to have a baby.

That’s when I realized why I had stumbled all over that question. The most obvious cultural clashes in my marriage weren’t between me and John. They were between me and his family.

When you think about it, it’s not surprising. John and I have been married for over 10 years. Yep, there’s more than a decade of marital experience between us – and if you’ve made it as far as we have, you’ve already worked through the major kinks in your relationship, including the cultural stuff. Cultural clashes? That’s like ancient history to us. I can’t even remember the last time we fought over anything cultural. Seriously.


John’s family, however, is another story. I’ve written about challenges with weddings, things relatives say to us, pressure to have kids and more. And here’s the really interesting part – John feels that sometimes certain relatives don’t 100 percent understand him either.

John likes to say I know him better than anyone else in the world, even many close friends here in China. And you know what? I feel the same about him. He really gets me like no one else ever could — whether it’s how I can’t live without writing, my passion for birdwatching, or the fact that I secretly love really cheesy romantic comedies.

When you’re in an intercultural relationship with someone for a long time, and things work out, I think both people eventually come to a consensus or understanding on these things. You’re not negotiating cultural stuff all of the time, because it’s now second nature to you. John’s culture has become a part of who I am, and my culture has become a part of him.

As for his family, god knows that’ll never happen. Which means I can expect a future filled with plenty of cultural conundrums.

(Now if I can just remember this for my next interview!)

P.S.: One thing I should add – it’s always important to recognize and understand your partner’s cultural background when you’re in an intercultural (cross-cultural) and international relationship. To learn why, check out my article on Why Ignoring Cultural Differences in Cross-Cultural Relationships is Harmful.

P.P.S.: To the interviewers, if you’re reading, thanks for the opportunity — and for making the conversation a great one!

P.P.P.S.: To everyone else, if you’re curious about the interview (as in, who did it and where it’s going to end up) stay tuned in to my blog for some news later this month! 😉

Guest Post: “I don’t look at my daughter as Indian or Canadian. I look at her soul.”

Alexandra, the white Canadian blogger behind Madh Mama, thought all of the ignorant comments about her marriage to a South Indian man would end once they had a child. But they didn’t, and it has been one of the biggest challenges for her — especially as hearing things about her daughter hurts her deeply.  

Have you heard something about your interracial relationship or biracial children that you’d like to write about for Speaking of China? We welcome all kinds of guest posts (including love stories) — check out the submit a post page for details.



I often forget that my husband and I are from different cultures. We have so much in common, so many shared interests. We are going on our 9th year together, and I could trace every freckle and scar on his body with my eyes closed. The kind of familiarity that you have with someone you know inside and out.


In reality, we are from vastly different cultures. I was born and brought up in Vancouver, Canada, by a small tight-knit family with European ancestors. My husband is from Hyderabad, India, and descends from the most conservative and devout Indian clans – the Tamil Iyengars.


I always dreamed of having a child with him, in a romantic way. I wanted to expand our family and raise kids together in a way that combined our similar values. I wanted to grow myself by becoming a mother, and I wanted our bond to deepen even further by becoming parents together.


Being a rare mix, we have had a hefty share of ignorant comments. At first, it was people saying things like we “just want to try out a different race“, then it was “he’s only with her for a green card” (I’m not an American, so I don’t even have a green card), then it was “she’s corrupting him with her Western values“, then it was “they’ll never make it to the altar“, then after we got married it was “how can they function with all these cultural differences?” Supporters and believers in our relationship were few and far between. We became desensitized by these kind of comments and learned to expect them. For a long time we didn’t even know that other couples like us even existed, so any negative experience just brought us closer together, since we were the only two people who understood what we were going through.

I thought all of that would end once we started a family together – that by having a child, people would realize that we are committed for life. Especially to other Indians, who assumed that by me having white skin, it automatically meant I was not cut out for motherhood, have no family values, or that I would divorce him.


When we had our daughter, it was the happiest moment of my life. It was incredible. She looked like every single person in our families – combined. Watching her grow up and see how her personality has developed has been astonishing. She is nurturing like me, quick like her dad, a great dancer, and eats any cuisine. She is the most global child I have ever come across. She is classically beautiful and looks like she could pass for any ethnicity. She is adventurous and loves to travel and do new things.


I think the comments started when she was about 6 months old. One of our Indian relatives asked me if we intended to raise her “Indian or American” – as if we had to choose. Then, I got a few comments from white Canadians about how tanned my daughter is, with a weird side-eye glance to prompt me to tell them her ethnicity. When we were visiting Italy last year, everyone thought she was Italian. So much that one old Italian lady pointed to my husband and asked “Is he the father?” when he was standing right in front of her. We have stepped inside an Indian restaurant where every table looked at us with disgust, so much that it scared my daughter. The latest comment we got from an elderly Indian relative was when my daughter was feeling shy. She said, “Maybe she doesn’t like Indians“. Appalling, since she certainly adores her father and many other Indian family members. It stung a lot.


The thing is – I expect comments about myself, but when it is directed towards my child, it hurts me deeply. And it surprises me, because I forget that we are an intercultural family, raising a biracial child. We live in such a multicultural world. We celebrate all festivals and holidays, even ones that don’t belong to our respective cultures – like Chinese New Year and Greek Easter. We have lots of intercultural friends. It’s only when we get ignorant comments that it occurs to me that the multicultural world we live in – is one that we have constructed for ourselves. That the majority of people out there do not mix, that they tend to stick to their own culture, and either out of fear or ignorance – and they do not step outside it. That global families, such as ours, are a minority. However, I hope that my children and grandchildren’s generations see love before color. Because that’s what the world needs – more love…a love that transcends borders and limitations.


My daughter is only 2.5 years old now. I haven’t really figured out how to tell her that sometimes people might question our family – more than others – because we are different. I know I will tell her that doing things differently doesn’t mean we’re wrong, but just that a lot of people won’t understand us. I want her to be confident in who she is. I want her to not be scared of this diverse world we live in, to see the beauty in being different and blaze the trail from there.

I don’t look at my daughter as Indian or Canadian. I look at her soul. I look at her as my child. The child that God sent me to raise. She is both cultures; but at the same time – she is everything. She is anything she wants to be.


Alexandra Madhavan fell in love and married her soulmate. Then she inherited a big, fat South Indian family. She shares her unfiltered view of what it’s really like to be a Firangi Bahu at Madh Mama.

Speaking of China is always on the lookout for outstanding guest posts! If you have something you’d like us to feature, visit the submit a post page for details — and then submit yours today.

5 Habits My Chinese Husband Has Learned From Me

I wrote last week about how marriage changes you – especially when you’re in an international or cross-cultural relationship — and shared 4 habits I’ve learned from my Chinese husband. But I’m not the only one who has picked up a few new habits from my foreign spouse.

What has my husband learned from his white American wife after over 10 years of marriage? Here are 5 examples of his new habits (my personal favorites!):

P.S.: This post was also inspired by a question posted on the AMWF Facebook Group Ichiro & Juliet, run by Ranier Maningding (who is also the guy behind The Love Life of an Asian Guy, one of my favorite blogs).

1. Saying “I love you”

(Photo by Sarah Potts via
(Photo by Sarah Potts via

In the first month or so when I was dating John, I totally stressed over a small – but to me, not unimportant – thing. Here was this guy who had moved in with me and taken care of me in so many ways, far beyond anyone else I had ever met. And yet, he hadn’t really told me those three simple words: “I love you”.

Eventually, he did say it to me when we were standing on a mountaintop (and I was in ridiculous tears about it all). He really seemed to understand, beyond all of my expectations. He even told me it wasn’t silly at all for me to ask him if he could tell me I loved him (which is how it all started).

Anyhow, that was the first time when he learned just how much those three little words meant to me. So much that I showered him with “I love you” in all the usual ways couples in America do. At the end of phone conversations and e-mails, in text messages, when I kissed him and told him good night. Gradually, the idea that his girlfriend, and later, wife, liked hearing it turned “I love you” into a regular and frequent thing from John’s lips.

It amazed me.

Of course, some habits don’t entirely change. One thing I have learned is this – that’s it’s a heck of a lot easier for him to say “I love you” because it’s in English. Trying to get him to say the Chinese version, 我爱你 (Wǒ’àinǐ)?Well, I’m still working on that.

2. Eating chocolate

(Photo by chocolatereviews via
(Photo by chocolatereviews via

“You’ve never had chocolate before?” It was early in my relationship with John when I learned the shocking truth. He had never tasted this most ambrosial of all sweets.

So before Christmas, I bought a generous package of Dove dark chocolates and stuffed them into a stocking I prepared for John. Never did I realize that the moment he popped one of them in his mouth, he had found his second true love in life (the first, of course, being me!).

In that moment, a chocoholic was born. (It’s ironic that it happened with a guy who recalls eating carrots as a child to satisfy his sweet tooth).

My parents, of course, only indulged the habit when we moved to America, plying my husband with the stuff at pretty much every holiday.

So you can guess what was under our tree this past Christmas – and whose eyes sparkled the brightest when that dark, delicious goodness was unwrapped from its foil. Mmmm.

3. Drinking coffee

Yes, my husband loves Starbucks -- and I'm responsible!
Yes, my husband loves Starbucks — and I’m responsible!

It all started when John and I were living with my parents after moving to America. John is the kind of guy who needs hefty servings of caffeine to get through the day. In China, he always got his fix from black teas or oolong teas (the nice loose leaf varieties that he introduced to me). But my parents don’t do loose leaf tea and, as you can imagine, he never particularly liked anything that came in a teabag.

What my parents did have, however, was coffee. Lots of coffee. They had a brand-new coffeemaker, their own coffee bean grinder, and a tantalizing selection of fine blends, from Sumatran to Italian Roast. “Hey, do you want to try some coffee, John?” my dad asked him one day. So when in America, John figured, do as the Americans (or in this case, his wife’s American parents) do.

He took that first tentative sip, followed by a contented “Ahhhhh!” Not long after, the caffeine kicked in (strong!) and he knew he had solved his caffeine problem in America for good.

He’s been a pretty steady coffee drinker ever since and, after discovering the bold and rich flavor of Starbucks’ Sumatran brand, still swears by Starbucks coffee (and savors the occasional soy latte from our local branch).

Sometimes I can’t believe how much coffee – or, for that matter, caffeine – my husband drinks! He may be shorter than me, but he stands head and shoulders above me when it comes to his caffeine tolerance.

4. Silly dancing in the privacy of our home

Beneath my husband's calm exterior is a man with some serious moves -- a man who can truly dance in silly ways when people aren't looking.
Beneath my husband’s calm exterior is a man with some serious moves — a man who can truly dance in silly ways when people aren’t looking.

The other day, I was playing some upbeat tunes on my phone – you know, the kind of music that’s so fun you can’t help but swing your hips to it. All of a sudden, my husband got up out of his chair, started mimicking the tune (off-key!) and then turned around to shake his butt. He laughed (because he knows how hilarious he looks when he does this) and I couldn’t help but return the laughter…all the while knowing that I had a hand in much of this.

John didn’t grow up spontaneously jumping up and dancing to a great tune. And I’ve spent enough time in his family home to know that his parents and relatives don’t really do this either. But it’s the kind of thing I do all the time when I’m inspired to move by a great tune.

I can’t remember exactly when I first did this in front of him, but I’m certain he was the one laughing at me (and perhaps wondering what in the heck I was doing). But after years of being together – and even watching all of those American movies where other people would bop to a beat at the spur of the moment – he realized it was a part of who I was. And learned that it could be fun too.

So every time he shakes his butt to a tune (and giggles about it), I can’t help but giggle along with him, knowing that he’s embraced something that’s a part of me.

5. Using a heated mattress pad to stay warm in bed

"Electricblanket" by Original uploader was Limetolime at en.wikipedia - Transferred from en.wikipedia; transferred to Commons by User:Khayman using CommonsHelper.. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons -
“Electricblanket” by Original uploader was Limetolime at en.wikipedia – Transferred from en.wikipedia; transferred to Commons by User:Khayman using CommonsHelper.. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons –

The first time I ever stayed at John’s family home years ago, his mother handed me only one thick comforter to make it through the winter’s night in their drafty, unheated house. Being used to lots of covers on my bed and a warm heating vent somewhere near the floor, it was such a shock to my body that I caught quite the cold before leaving.

At the time, John, my then boyfriend and now husband, was stunned. I can’t remember his exact words, but they went something along the lines of, “You weren’t warm enough?”

Growing up, he and his family never used more than a comforter on their beds to sleep through the winter. And of course, they never, ever thought of using things like a heated electric mattress pad to stay warm and cozy.

You can imagine, then, that John and I struggled for a period of time when it came to sharing a bed together – with me trying to pile on the covers (and anything else to help stay warm) and him complaining he felt too hot.

Well, we eventually moved to America for a time and during our first Christmas there, my parents gave us an electric blanket. When we brought the electric blanket home, John surprised me by letting me plug it in for the night. And then he further surprised me when, after crawling into bed (a nice, toasty warm bed like nothing before), he couldn’t stop smiling and telling me how great it was.

The last thing I ever expected was for the one-comforter guy to suddenly love electric blankets.

We’ve since owned electric blankets and electric mattress pads, and he’s become a huge fan. How huge? Whenever he slides under the covers of our own bed – heated by a electric mattress pad – he always laughs with delight over how nice it is to have a “snug bed.”

What habits has your spouse learned from you?

4 Habits I’ve Learned from my Chinese Husband

Everyone always say marriage changes you. Well, when you marry someone from another culture and country – like I have – you’re bound to change in ways you never would have expected growing up, picking up some of your foreign spouse’s new habits.

What habits have I learned from living all these years with John, my Chinese husband? Here are four of my favorites:

P.S.: This post was first inspired by a question posted on the AMWF Facebook Group Ichiro & Juliet, run by Ranier Maningding (who is also the guy behind The Love Life of an Asian Guy, one of my favorite blogs).

Drinking loose-leaf tea


Some of my fondest childhood memories include watching my mother bob her teabag up and down in her cup before taking a sip. She introduced me to Orange Pekoe, Earl Grey, chamomile, peppermint and many other fine brews, the tea leaves or herbal blends always neatly wrapped in permeable bags. After all, who would want stray leaves floating around in your a teacup?

Or so I thought, until I arrived in China.

I’ll never forget the first time someone thrust a paper cup of hot steaming tea into my hands, the tea leaves drifting around without a single thing to keep them in place. I stared awkwardly at it, wondering how in the world I was going to drink without swallowing a leaf or having one end up plastered to my front teeth. Could anyone enjoy a cup of tea this way?

Years later, when John moved into my heart and life, he brought along his joy of drinking loose-leaf green tea. You might say it’s in his DNA – he is, after all, from Hangzhou, an area renowned for its world-famous Dragonwell. He never had a filter stand between him and his green tea leaves, and loved it. And, ultimately, he’s the one who helped me learn how to navigate a hot cup of the brew with loose leaves. (It’s a must-have skill in China, where people are always welcoming me with hot cups of loose-leaf tea everywhere I go!)

Now, his habits for drinking green tea (letting the tea sit a few minutes so the leaves begin falling to the bottom, blowing on the surface before taking a sip to keep the leaves away from your lips) have become a daily morning ritual for me. And a real pleasure, because the finest of these teas have complex, nuanced flavors that probably you’ll never enjoy from anything in a teabag.

Using toilet seat covers


It was early in my relationship with John and we were out shopping in Watson’s, a health and beauty care store that’s so ultra-feminine I swear it repels men with its teal signage and bright pink tags all over the store. John came along with me because it was a weekend and shopping together was one of those things we liked to do (even if it meant bringing John into a store he wouldn’t normally visit without me).

So there I was, going through my long list of Watson’s must-haves (including their luxurious papaya-scented body creams), expecting John to just tag along for the ride, when the sight of one simple product made his eyes shine like two silvery 1 yuan coins.

Toilet seat covers.

“We need one of these,” he said. And he was all serious about it, sifting through the packages and many color options (most of them, admittedly, in pastels like baby blue and powder pink).

I was totally stunned. My family never used fabric toilet seat covers, and the few times I actually saw them (usually in an elderly woman’s home, along with lots of other cutesy décor) made me believe that guys usually ran screaming from the idea of putting one on your toilet.

What I didn’t realize, however, was that John had an incredibly smart reason for buying one – to protect our behinds from the shock an extremely cold toilet seat in the cold. After all, we didn’t have heat in our apartment (like most people in China who live South of the Yangtze River), which did actually make the toilet seat pretty frigid (especially at night).

Admittedly, he was also trying to be a gentleman in suggesting a toilet seat cover. Maybe it’s not a typical Hallmark moment, but worrying about your girlfriend’s butt getting too cold when she pees at night is one way to say “I love you” (albeit an unusual one).

So we bought one (in a pastel color – they were all pastels, so what can you do?) and later that night when nature called, that little piece of fabric between the cold seat and my behind made a big difference. I was hooked.

We’ve been buying toilet seat covers here in China ever since, to the point that now I’m the one reminding him we need one!

Of course, last time we shopped for toilet seat covers, John couldn’t help being the gentleman. He refused my suggestion choose the cheaper brand and instead told me to buy the one with the velvety cushion (pictured above). “It’s more comfortable for your butt,” he said. (Nothing but the best for his wife, right down to her behind! 😉 )

Having soup with fried rice

(photo by cm2003 from
(photo by cm2003 from

Fried rice always struck me as a perfect meal in itself. Who needs anything else?

Or so I thought, until I met John. I’ll never forget that first time I prepared fried rice for him, when he requested a very specific thing on the side. A bowl of soup.

“Why do we need soup?” I was so tired and desperately hungry that evening, the last thing I wanted to do was fix something else in the kitchen.

“Because fried rice is too dry.”

It never before occurred to me that fried rice could be considered dry. That a side of soup might just balance out the meal in a way I never imagined.

That night, I dug out some instant soup from the cabinet and John was all smiles. Over the years, I kept serving it every time fried rice was on the menu, always to please John. Never did I think that, in the end, I’d come to think that fried rice and soup was one of the best combinations ever.

That’s why, last time we had fried rice for dinner, I was already pulling out the soup before the meal even hit the table. There’s something about the flavor of a nice hot soup (especially miso) that makes fried rice even more delicious.

Wearing slippers inside the house


When I was growing up in America, we weren’t super-strict about taking our shoes off at the door. I often wandered upstairs still wearing my flats or sneakers and we almost never asked our guests to remove their shoes either (unless it was wintertime, where everybody’s boots were caked in wet snow). And when we weren’t wearing shoes, we opted for socks or went barefoot. In fact, I didn’t really use slippers much until I went off to college, and even then they were just your standard flip-flops for showering in the bathroom down the hall.

All that has changed since I married John. He’s from China and, like most people here, grew up with the habit of removing his shoes at the door and changing into a pair of indoor slippers or flip-flops. He likes this, because it keeps the outside dirt from coming into the house – a perfectly reasonable thing to do. (This, off course, makes me cringe a little when I think about all of the dirt I must have tracked around my family home!)

So now I’m an indoor slipper girl who owns multiple pairs of them. Soft, fuzzy slippers with woolen linings for the wintertime, and airy plastic flip-flops for showering and bumming around the house for the rest of the year.

Removing my shoes at the door has practically become second nature to me; I don’t even think about it and I never, ever ask, “Should I remove my shoes?” (which I used to do in America).

I’ve also become strangely adept at landing my feet perfectly into my slippers whenever I get up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom. Don’t ask me how I know exactly where they are – call it slipper intuition. 😉

What habits have you learned from your husband/wife or boyfriend/girlfriend?

3 Ideas for Reducing Arguments in Your Cross-cultural Relationship

If you’ve ever thought that John and I had this perfect marriage where nothing ever goes wrong, well, I’m here to burst your bubble.

This picture may look perfect, but my marriage with John is not — and we’ve had our share of arguments!

You should have seen us a decade ago when we lived in Shanghai and had our share of arguments (including some explosive ones, with yours truly losing her temper and doing lots of yelling). I’m pretty certain I must have given some of our neighbors quite a “show” at times.

Arguments aren’t fun in any relationship, but they can get really ugly when you’re dealing with a cross-cultural relationship. Why? Because sometimes the ways in which we argue – and the things that get us irritated – relate back to culture.

After 10 years of marriage, we’ve learned a thing or two about each other and how to maintain a harmonious cross-cultural relationship – with a lot more happiness and a lot less arguing. Here are three things that have helped us get over arguments:

1.  How you manage anger and even argue can be a cultural thing – and sometimes the differences can set you off unexpectedly


In my husband’s home, his family has always valued a certain emotional restraint and don’t really show their anger that much. But I’ve seen his family angry – specifically, his brother – and guess how he responded initially? He was silent. Didn’t say a word. (I can tell you, it was a pretty painful silence!)

On the other hand, in the family I grew up in, when you’re angry, you show it – which means you might raise your voice, yell and even go red in the face. I come from a long line of fiery women. We’re an expressive bunch and, when something bad happens, it needs to be hashed out immediately – even if it gets a little emotional.

So you’ve got one emotionally restrained guy who goes silent when he’s upset, with an emotionally expressive woman who vents her anger and wants to talk it out. Put us together and you’ve got the potential for a disastrous argument to happen. How do I know? Because John and I have had plenty of them.

They used to go something like this: I would start out with some anger, and because John wouldn’t respond to me, my anger would escalate until I suddenly turned into a mad tiger on the prowl (which made John even more likely to clam up and avoid me).

It took us a while to realize that part of the problem was our totally different styles of handling anger.

So, John has learned that it’s important to acknowledge and respond to me when I’m upset.

I’ve also learned that it’s important to manage my own anger. Sometimes when I let my temper loose, things can go a little overboard. John’s a great model and reminder that you don’t always have to be like that when you’re angry.

2. Recognize that living in a different culture can be stressful — so it’s important to provide some “compensations” to the person who left their culture


When John and I lived in America, I started noticing that he was much more irritable than he used to be back in China. And it didn’t take much to set him off and start another argument. It was so unlike John, who had always been so easy-going, always ready to greet me with a smile. What had happened?

Then one day, it hit me – he was stressed out because of living in America, a different country and culture from his own. And adding to all of that stress, he was forced to navigate this new and stressful world in English, his second language.

Of course, this didn’t occur to me for a long time. Because I felt so comfortable to be back in America, the country and culture that I grew up in, I took it for granted that John would feel as comfortable as I did.

So, eventually, I realized what I needed to do: make room for some things that John missed from his own culture. In other words, provide some “cultural compensations” if you will.

Naturally, it started with food. You know how they say that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach? Well, I figured that the way to quiet a man’s heart – especially when he’s stressed over living in another culture — is through his stomach too. I started cooking up his favorite Chinese foods and putting rice on the menu more often.

But then I moved on to other things that he missed from China. We rented Chinese movies and streamed Chinese TV shows on the Internet. I even let John teach me how to play some soccer (a sport that, while not Chinese, is so popular in China it might as well be the national sport).

All of it made John a much happier guy – and, by extension, ours a much happier marriage. And if I had only figured it out sooner, I might have prevented a lot of unhappy moments we had together.

3. Practice reciprocity


When I tell people that I make my husband red-braised pork, yet I’m still a devoted vegan, they look at me like I’m insane.

Well, believe me, it wasn’t easy to pick up that raw meat one afternoon and turn it into one of my husband’s most favorite comfort dishes from China. A part of me (the part that knows I was definitely made to be vegan) still recoils whenever I see any kind of raw animal flesh in the kitchen.

Ultimately I did it out of love – or, more specifically, to reduce arguments in our marriage.

See, at the time all this started, I had subjected my husband to months of vegan dining, thinking that we could eat vegan together in America and live happily ever after.

But there was a huge problem with that.

John grew up in a culture and household where people eat meat. It’s a normal part of life in China. Granted, when he was younger meat wasn’t as prevalent as it is today. But if people had meat, they were going to put it on the table.

So when you try to force a guy who grew up eating meat to go without, he gets grumpy. And it’s not fun to live with a grumpy husband.

So I started making a little meat on the side, just for John. Some red-braised pork. Baked chicken legs and chicken wings. The occasional fish too. Anything his carnivorous side desired.

Suddenly, my husband transformed into a much pleasant guy. It was a miracle for both of us to finally live in a house with a lot less arguing going on.

And since he was happy about his food, he decided to reciprocate. So whenever I went to do shopping at the store, he would encourage me to indulge my crazy vegan cravings and buy what John called a little “rewarding food”. Things like vegan cheese and faux meats and soy yogurt.

Sometimes, we’d end up having meals where the two of us might eat completely different things. At one end, there’s John digging into his red-braised pork. And at the other, there’s me tucking into a vegan Mexican wrap (with my favorite Daiya vegan cheese).

As bizarre as it might seem to be eating two different things at exactly the same time, it has really worked for us. This is reciprocity in action – both of us were happy because we accommodated each other’s personal cravings and needs.

We’ve extended that kind of reciprocity to other things in our life. For example, nowadays when we watch TV here in Hangzhou, I’ll let me husband tune into some of his favorite China news programs. Then he’ll toss me the remote after a while, so I can catch the kind of TV I like (such as romantic comedies and love stories – yeah, I’m a sucker for romance, can’t you tell?).

I think any couple – especially couples who hail from different cultures – would benefit from a little reciprocity in their lives.

What do you think? What strategies have you used in your own relationship to reduce arguments?

Photo Essay: Celebrating 10 years of marriage to my husband!

Ten years ago on July 26, my husband and I stood before a government representative in Shanghai, promising to spend the rest of our lives together. It’s hard to believe that 10 years have passed since that moment, yet I love John just as much as the first time I stood before him and said, “Wo yuanyi!” (“I do” in Chinese — and yes, like most of us in China, I did it more than once for reasons explained in this post).

To commemorate those 10 incredible years I’ve enjoyed with the love of my life, a guy who still makes me swoon after all this time together, I’m sharing one of our marriage registration photos from 2004 plus 10 photos of us together (one from each year of our marriage)!



This photo was taken just moments after we took our vows in a civil ceremony in Shanghai and signed our official little red marriage books. Can’t you just see that newly-registered glow in our faces? (Or maybe it’s the red we both wore that day!) 😉



As part of our Huangshan Honeymoon in 2005 (which I wrote about in an essay for the new anthology How Does One Dress to Buy Dragonfruit) we visited a couple of traditional Huizhou-style villages in the foothills of Huangshan. Here we pose before a reflecting pool in Hongcun.



We visited friends in Chicago in February 2006 and ended up strolling beside Lake Michigan, despite the freezing winter temperatures. Who needs to worry about cold weather when you have the love of your life beside you to keep you warm? 😉


Jocelyn and Jun in the park near Fenshui River.

The summer of 2007, we returned to John’s hometown to make our marriage official (in the eyes of his family and friends) with a big Chinese wedding ceremony.



Late in the summer of 2008, John and I took off for one last camping trip deep in the Rocky Mountains. What views!



When John and I went to China for the summer of 2009, we indulged in a month-long trip across the country to take in all of the sights we never visited years before — from Xi’an and Chengdu to Changsha and Kaifeng.



John and I welcomed the year of the tiger in 2010 as the emcees of a Chinese New Year celebration. What a night!



Here we are in 2011 celebrating John’s birthday over Thai curries. John never used to think much of his birthday until I came along — but if the smile on his face is any measure, he loves the change!



To commemorate our wedding anniversary in 2012, we enjoyed a relaxing evening of classical music performed by the Cleveland Orchestra. But before heading out, we posed before the flower garden to remember the evening.



For Chinese New Year in 2013, John and I whipped up a traditional Chinese feast for the family — from roast goose and ribs to ginger-garlic green beans and stir-fried matchstick potatoes. We’re smiling, but there’s exhaustion behind those eyes because we spent the entire morning in the kitchen! Still, it was worth the effort.



There’s nothing like finally spending Chinese New Year at the family home in China for the first time in years. In 2014, John and I reunited with his family and the country we love.

Here’s to hoping for 10 more incredible years with my incredible man. Thanks for everything, John.

Double Happiness: Love on the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau – Konchok and Kimberly


Ever since I discovered the blog Nama-Mama back in April, I’ve been dying to know the love story behind it all. I mean, it’s not every day you run across a white American gal who fell in love with and married a Tibetan man. Well, I’m excited that Kimberly stepped forward to tell us all how she and Konchok met!

If you’ve ever been intrigued by life in far Western China, Tibetan culture, or just what it’s like to raise a multicultural, biracial child in an unusual locale, you don’t want to miss Nama-Mama.

Want to share your own love story or other guest post here on Speaking of China? Visit my submit a post page to learn how

Before I went to live in Xining I sometimes joked to my parents that I might find a nice guy there and settle down. My mother always gave me a disapproving look, which I laughed off because I wasn’t serious. I went back to China because I missed it, and because I had the chance to go to a place out west, where I could be among Tibetans and other minorities.

I met an amazing Canadian woman there and we became really good friends. At the time she was an English teacher for an organization. After she got to know me well, and I had told her that I wouldn’t mind meeting a nice young man, she introduced one of her students: K.

I’d seen him at a couple of gatherings previously but we hadn’t talked. She gave me his phone number and we began to exchange text messages. Then one night when my friend was out of town I couldn’t open her apartment door to feed her cats. I called K to come and help me and he did. We finally got the door open, cleaned up the cat mess together, then I made tea and we put in a movie. We didn’t watch it though, we just talked.

After that we continued texting and going out together on weekends. I consider our trip to the South Mountain our first date. We brought a picnic lunch and found a quiet place among the pines. I told him I was afraid someone was going to steal my boots. Later he shouted “Kim! Your boots are gone!” I scrambled around worriedly looking for them and spotted them right where I left them. The guy had a sense of humor, and I liked that.

Kimberly and Konchok

It wasn’t long before he started to tell his family about me. First his brother, who was quite supportive, and then his parents, who were worried about various things such as the high divorce rate in America and the inevitability of me leaving him once I got homesick for my own country. Though their concerns were valid (they didn’t know me), K did what he always does when it came to his own life: whatever he wanted. And in this case, he wanted to marry me. (I later found out that once a Tibetan tells his family about his girlfriend it means that they will get married if the parents agree. Otherwise, children will never talk about their romantic relationships with their parents.)

He started to talk about marriage three months into our relationship, which freaked me out a little, but if I’m honest, I knew by four months together that we would get married. I told him that we’d have to wait at least one year to be really sure that we were compatible. The months went by peacefully and to this day we have never had a fight. His family has also come to know and like me and we all get along fine.

We are now nearing our second wedding anniversaries. We have a baby daughter who brings us a lot of joy. We are both really relaxed most of the time and take things easy. I can’t imagine sharing my life with anyone else.

Kimberly is an American woman living in Xining City, Qinghai Province, with her Tibetan husband and baby daughter.


Speaking of China is always on the lookout for outstanding guest posts and love stories! If you have something you’d like us to feature, visit the submit a post page for details — and then submit yours today.

Guest Post: 7 of the Best Things about being married to a Non-Native English Speaker

I’m so thrilled to share this fantastic guest post from Grace Mineta of Texan in Tokyo, one of my favorite AMWF blogs. If you haven’t discovered her blog, you’re missing out on one of the best reads in the blogosphere. Thanks so much to Grace for this outstanding submission!

Want to be like Grace and have your voice featured on Speaking of China? Visit my submit a post page for details.


The fact that my husband is a native Japanese speaker is part of the reason we get along so well.

I have a small confession to make – my partner and I look nothing alike. For one, he’s a man and I’m not. So his hair is closely shaved, while my is long and flowing; his muscles, feet, and hands are larger than mine. But those aren’t the differences people usually notice. My husband is Asian (from Japan) and I am white (from Texas).


And like most Japanese people, he is not a native English Speaker. The first time he really took an English class was in cram-school, trying to get into college.

Fast forward six years and his English is advanced enough to quite literally charm my family into letting him marry me and whisk me off to Japan. And aside from not quite being able to understand what the characters from BBC’s Sherlock are saying without subtitles (mostly because he can’t understand British English), my husband Ryosuke doesn’t have any problems with English.

It’s totally not weird to walk in on him pouring over the Steve Job’s Biography (in English) while taking extensive notes (in Japanese) on how to become a “more awesome person, like Jobs.”

But he is not a native English speaker.

And I really, really love the fact that he is not a native English speaker because:

1. He never gets onto me for my atrocious spelling.

A large part of my income comes from my blog, “Texan in Tokyo.” I write about interracial marriage, living in Japan as a foreigner, and other “neat” things about Japan.

But, as commenters point out time and time again, I cannot spell to save my life. I also have problems with grammar.

I was hanging out with a friend yesterday and we were semi-talking about my blog. I brought up the spelling mistakes, and she was just like “Yeah, they’re everywhere, but at least you know you have horrible spelling and grammar. Some people have absolutely no idea.”

I understand it is somewhat shameful for a blogger to not be able to type up even a short, simple post without extensively relying on Microsoft Word Spell-Check… but hey. That’s me.

Even when typing the title for this section, I spelt atrocious like “attrocious.”

But Ryosuke never gets onto me for spelling or grammar.

And I used to think it was because his English wasn’t advanced enough to be able to point out mistakes in English, but it is. If he wanted to, he could do it. He just chooses not to. Or, more specifically, he chooses not to correct my grammar and my spelling.

He loves me. I love him. He doesn’t correct my spelling/grammatical mistakes and I don’t correct his various mistakes (unless it’s for a professional purpose, essay, or cover letter). It is glorious.

2. I could listen to his accent all day

Back in high school, I used to be all on board with “British and French accents are the sexiest things in the world.” Not anymore. Of course, British and French accents are still attractive (as are African accents, I’ve come to realize), but Ryosuke’s accent takes the cake.

Ryosuke’s classically Japanese accent is the most adorable and sexiest thing in the entire world. I could just listen to him talk all day. In fact, I would be able to listen to him talk all day if only I could learn to shut up every once and a while…

[For more, check out: Asian Man/White Woman Relationships- The Good, the Bad, and The Ugly]

3. It is very easy to condition my husband to say the things I like.

When you’re learning another language, you have a tendency to parrot the people around you. For instance, if you are learning English and your friend always says “awesome” to everything, you might start saying “awesome” to everything too.

I like certain words over other words. I think the way the words “fantastic,” “fabulous,” “futile,” “phenomenal,” and “thrilling” roll of the tongue. (Now that I’m writing them out, I realize I might have a fetish for words that begin with an “f”.)

Ryosuke’s vocabulary closely mirrors my own. He calls me fabulous, says my writing is fantastic, my attempts to get him to watch “New Girl” with him are futile, my eyes are phenomenal, and hanging out with me is thrillingly fantastic. He doesn’t have the same kind of attachment I have for English words. To him, anything works. And gradually, over time, his vocabulary has been filled with fantastically wonderful words that I like.

In a similar manner, my speech closely resembles his when I speak Japanese. It used to make my college professor so angry – she thought Ryosuke was “ruining my pretty Japanese.” He probably did.

But that’s what happens when you spend extensive amounts of time with someone. You begin to mirror their mannerisms – especially speech. Now, both Ryosuke and I sound like socially awkward (but somewhat sophisticated) adults when we speak English and like comedic 15 year old boys when we speak Japanese.

4. We get to make up our own words.

The benefit of always learning new words in a foreign language is that it is surprisingly easy to slip in some new, invented words, just for fun. Ryosuke and I often switch between Japanese and English when we talk – and so we’ve come up with a whole list of words that are a mix between the two languages, conveying something that is difficult or complicated to explain.

For example “Sappuri” means “Surprisingly Samui (cold).” We use it when it’s a lot colder outside than we expected. Or the wind is surprisingly cold.

5. We always have our own language to fall back on.

Between our made up words and the constant switching between English and Japanese, Ryouske and I have our very own language. And having your own language is an important tool that facilitates intimacy and closeness – even when you’ve spent the last three days in close proximity with family.

We don’t have to censor what we say around my family and his family – because if it’s a serious concern, awkward question, or inappropriate (or funny) comment, we can use our partner’s language.

6. Our “Spot the ‘Engrish’” Games have a whole other side to them.

One of my favorite things to do is go to the 100yen shops (like the Japanese equivalent of a $1.00 shop, but much cooler and much less sketchy than American dollar stores) and laugh at the misplaced “Engrish” on the products.

Ryosuke enjoys the game as well. We will drive around all afternoon chatting, finding funny English, and eating peach jelly.

However, Ryosuke is also good at explaining why certain things ended up the way they did. He adds a whole extra level to the game – because as a native Japanese speaker who learned English, he can understand why native Japanese speakers who do not understand English write the things they do.

7. When we argue, we don’t get caught up in exactly what the other person is saying.

Our arguments aren’t a “he said, she said” battle. Of course he says socially unacceptable things while we fight – and in the beginning, I used fly off the handle at some of the socially unacceptable things he said.

Now we’ve learned to focus more on what the other person is feeling, rather than what they say. Our arguments are a “safe space” where you don’t have to worry about the other person freaking out if you accidentally say the wrong thing.

[For more, check out: Fighting – Things My Japanese Husband and I Culturally Disagree About]

It’s not fair to Ryouske to fight with complicated words and hidden meanings. We have to be very clear. And oddly enough, that has helped us both be much more honest when it comes to disagreements. He doesn’t have to worry about accidentally saying the wrong thing and I don’t have to worry about loaded up my words with hidden meanings.

Being married to a non-native English speaker is incredibly fun and always interesting. This cross-cultural relationship has opened me up to a whole new way to look at “language,” itself – which is kind of fitting because I write so much.

But then again, I’m partial because I am terribly in love with my husband.

Grace Mineta is a blogger, freelance writer, and fashionista in Tokyo. Married to her college sweetheart, Ryosuke, she spends most of her time hiking, drawing comics, and trying to navigate life as the American wife to a Japanese businessman.


Speaking of China is always on the lookout for outstanding guest posts and love stories! If you have something you’d like us to feature, visit the submit a post page for details — and then submit yours today.

Ask the Yangxifu: Has marriage to a Chinese man changed your feminist views?


M asks:

I have been reading your blog for some time now and the majority of your female readers are independent, intelligent women whom have (some) “feminist” values/ideas such as equality, rights, freedom of choice.

I would like to know has being married to a Chinese man and to the Chinese “extended family” changed your…“feminist” ( independent ) views? Did you have to change your way of thinking and adapt to situations, traditions, culture that may not share your own ideas and beliefs? Do you accept things in China that you wouldn’t accept back in your own country? If so how did/do you handle this? How does it make you feel?


I thought about this question for many weeks and could never seem to come up with the right answer. And then I realized the issue here — the thing is, my marriage to John hasn’t really changed my core feminist/independent views all that much.

See, I married a feminist guy who just happens to come from the countryside of Zhejiang, China, as I’ve written before:

Over the years, from dating through marriage, John continued to blast stereotypes about Chinese men, that they’re so sexist. He loved my larger, curvier body in all of its beautiful imperfections, and never suggested I change a thing. During all those times when I was the family breadwinner, he always felt proud of me and my ability to make a living. He grew up in a household where no one hit women and children, and condemned domestic violence in all of its forms. He kept doing the dishes and his share of the housework, and never assigned a gender role to any household chores.

John has always loved me just as I am and always supported me in my endeavors, even when it comes to writing about him and our marriage together. In fact, if it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be writing this blog at all!

As for his family, sure, not everyone is as progressive as he is. But that doesn’t mean that I’ve had to somehow change myself to fit their expectations. We can disagree. And if we do, I usually say something to them. It might surprise you, but I find it far easier to speak up in front of his family as opposed to my own in the States. Perhaps it’s because foreigners in China are expected to be a little weird and get a pass when we do things differently. Maybe it’s because I’m speaking to them in a foreign language, which liberates me because it’s not the language I grew up with. And it probably helps that John’s parents (and most of his family) don’t fit those stereotypes of the strict and conservative Chinese family.

Of course, there are things about Chinese culture that, on the surface, seem to clash with feminist/independent views. Take for example the dependency among family members in China and the expectation that children should care for their parents when they’re older. Yet, some families in the US do these things too. My dad invited his father (my grandfather) to spend his final years living together with him, and my aunts and uncles take care of my grandmother so she doesn’t have to stay in a nursing home. As independent and feminist as I am, I still believe these are good values and would want to do the same if John’s parents needed our help.

And ultimately, there’s a difference between understanding a culture and completely overhauling your own views for someone else. It’s important to know and respect your partner’s culture, but that doesn’t mean you have to hide who you are to do it. Otherwise, you’re just dealing with a one-sided relationship and those are usually doomed to fail. Just as I’ve become closer to John’s culture, he’s also become closer to mine — and the whole process has only made our marriage that much stronger. Yet when it comes to our beliefs and our way of thinking, we’re still pretty much the same as we were all those years before when we first met.

Maybe my marriage really is unusual. And maybe to some people I might not seem “independent enough” or even “feminist enough”. But then again, that should tell you that there are no hard or fast rules for cross-cultural marriages in China or even what defines a woman as independent and feminist.

Sometimes, you really can find happily ever after in the most unlikely places in the world. 😉

How about you? How would you respond to this question?


Do you have a question about life, dating, marriage and family in China/Chinese culture or Western culture? Send me yours today.