Intercultural Love Hack #108 – Movie Date Nights Can Help With Fights, Open Up Conversations

A few weeks ago, a fan wrote to me asking, “Do you and Jun ever fight?”  She mentioned fighting on occasion in her own intercultural relationship — her husband’s Chinese, she’s a non-Asian woman from a Western country — and sometimes it was not easy for her to resolve the tension because they had different ways of arguing. While she wanted to talk it out, he just stonewalled her.

She eyed my marriage with envy. While it’s true Jun and I don’t argue much these days (we’ve become“war buddies” united in our fight against injustice) like many couples, we’ve weathered our share of arguments early on in our relationship. (See Weathering Cross-Cultural Love in China and you’ll get what I mean.)

One thing I’ve never written about is that, in some ways, movies have helped us overcome fights and open up conversations, especially about cultural differences that could potentially cause a snag or too in a relationship. Call it my intercultural love hack, #108.

I’ve always been a huge fan of romantic comedies on TV and the big screen, which meant my husband and I would often watch them when we declared it a “movie night” (or “TV night”). In the early years of our relationship, we lived together in China, and at the time I was desperately missing my home country of America. Movies were a way for me to vicariously visit the US in the comfort of my own home, so I often chose titles set in America. And hey, it was great for both of us, since English is my native language and Jun’s second language.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but in choosing these English-language romantic comedies from America, I was inadvertently schooling Jun in dating and relationship culture in the US.

See, Jun and I had met in China, and while he’d studied European-American culture in college, he’d never traveled or lived outside the country before we met. Meanwhile, my two years of living in China, plus previous relationships with Chinese guys, gave me a leg up that he didn’t have when it came to my culture. (I’m the first and only woman he has ever dated, so it’s not like he had other women, or even foreign women, to compare with me.)

But movies stepped in to fill the gap, in ways I never anticipated.

The thing that first caught his eye in American movies? Kissing in public. Name me a romantic comedy from the US and there’s a more than 90 percent chance the couple ends up locking lips among a crowd of people (often their friends or family), and probably a more than 50 percent chance that said crowd showers them with applause. It was fascinating to Jun because…well…that’s not how it’s done where he grew up, where people prefer to kiss in more private places and spaces. And so it opened up a whole conversation about public displays of affection, and differences between our respective countries and cultures.

But of course, all movies – even romantic comedies – thrive on tension and drama. Which means many, many films had couples arguing about all sorts of things. Even stuff that was eerily similar to things we might have been hashing out on our own.

Here’s the thing, though. When you see people fighting about something that you’ve encountered, but it’s in a movie, it gives you a certain distance to talk about it in a more nonjudgmental way. It’s not the two of you doing it, it’s the characters.

Not everything is about culture, either. Sometimes it’s just a matter of personality too. But either way, seeing it reflected on screen can provide an opening to talk, where you’re discussing the characters instead of fingering the other person.

It’s also really helpful if you can find examples that encompass each of your respective “argument styles”, because everyone has a different approach. Bonus if they portray the fights in a humorous way, so then the two of you can laugh at them (and hopefully, later on, yourselves).

But if Jun and I were dating now, chances are I’d get even more specific and skip straight to movies about interracial and intercultural couples. They have plenty of arguments to go around, and they’re even more familiar to our lives than your average rom-com. (See Movies with Chinese Men and Western Women in Love and 11 Critically Acclaimed AMWF Movies Worth Watching for some recommendations I’ve made on this blog.)

While watching a movie won’t magically solve all your intercultural marital woes, it could raise the kind of awareness — cultural and otherwise — that opens up possibilities for resolution and understanding.  Plus, it’s fun and who wouldn’t want an additional excuse to prop up their legs, bring out the popcorn and declare it a movie night?

So maybe that old cliche should be updated to, “The couple who watches movies together, stays together”?

What do you think? Have you found movies to be a beneficial way of encouraging mutual understanding across cultural or racial lines?

Marrying Someone from Your Culture Is No Guarantee of Happiness

The other night, I received a frantic message from one of my closest friends back home. “I’m getting divorced,” she typed to me in an online chat.

It was the culmination of years of troubles brewing between her and her husband. They had fought over their beliefs. She was fed up with how almost all the domestic and child-rearing responsibilities were on her shoulders, despite the fact that she too had a full-time job. She also had it with her husband, who was turning out to be another child to manage instead of a source of support. Therapy had failed to resolve a single thing.

Did I mention she and her soon-to-be-ex-husband are both white Americans, with similar cultural backgrounds?

I wasn’t surprised she filed for divorce. So many of our recent conversations had revolved around the growing rift between her and her husband. There was always a tension lurking in the background, the feeling that things were slowly unraveling between the two of them with every confession of how he just didn’t get it…and probably never would.

So much is written about the vulnerability of intercultural and international couples, that we’re supposedly more likely to divorce. While new studies suggest this just isn’t true, a lot of people still believe you’re better off marrying someone from your own culture/country.

Or rather, that marrying someone from your culture/country will guarantee happiness and stability.

My friend’s story, however, doesn’t fit that narrative.

International and intercultural marriages can be fraught with unique challenges, such as navigating cultural differences or social norms you’re unaccustomed to. But that doesn’t necessarily doom us to divorce.

If anything, I’ve discovered so many intercultural/international couples, blissfully in love, to know the truth of the matter. That love can happen anywhere in the world, across borders and cultures. And that happiness – and a happily ever after – is always possible, no matter who you marry.

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. 🙂

People Who Feel Like They Own the Opposite Sex of Their Race and Culture

This photo of a marriage registration in Beijing was taken two days before the woman was stabbed to death by a Chinese man who hated Americans. I wondered, did he mean “American men” by that, and was he another example of someone who thinks they own the opposite sex of their own race/culture?

It’s funny how things in life mysteriously collide – that two seemingly unrelated events I’ve heard about recently actually have something in common. Specifically, the concept of people who feel like they own the opposite sex of their race or culture.

The first is the stabbing murder of an innocent Chinese woman in Beijing just married to a French man, a confirmed hate crime prompting my recent post, Is Beijing Becoming Dangerous for Couples of Foreign Men and Chinese Women?

In the discussion in the comments section, I noticed that people started linking this murder to the idea of people who feel like they own the opposite sex of their race/culture. See this comment from A. Madhavan:

I can’t help but notice the deep misogyny in this murder – many times when we date out of our race/nationality, men of our race will try to “claim” us and shame us for dating/marrying outside of it. As if we are pieces of property and only belong to them. I have seen this happen with white men to white women; black men to black women; Indian men to Indian woman – how dare a [sic] we women marry outside her race and have complete autonomy over our decisions? It is threatening to A LOT of people…

And this comment from R Zhao:

This sometimes happens in America, too. It happened to me when I was dating a black American man. I was accused by a small group of black women (who I didn’t know) of “taking one of theirs.” I didn’t realize it at the time, but I think there is a lot of frustration. Black women face a lot of discrimination while dating and have a significant smaller dating pool than white women do because of cross-race dating preferences. This happens to Asian men as well.

To be sure, there is a shortage of women here in China because of the gender imbalance, leading to a growing population of unmarried bachelors in China’s countryside known as “bare branches”. According to this article from Tea Leaf Nation, “an estimated 12 to 15 percent of Chinese men — a population nearly the size of Texas — will be unable to find a mate within the next seven years.” Personally, I’ve even heard Chinese men who lament that China is “exporting” far too many of its women overseas.

The Shanghaiist confirms in a recent story that the Sanlitun killer “said he ‘hated Americans’ before attacking Chinese-French couple in Beijing,” specifically asking the woman’s husband if he was an American before stabbing him and his wife. And while it’s never explicitly stated, I can’t help but wonder, does this man represent the anger and frustration of millions who feel a certain entitlement to Chinese women over foreigners because of the shrinking dating pool?

Obviously, this is an incredibly complicated and potentially delicate issue, depending on who you are and whether you’re one of the folks facing a more limited dating pool simply because of your race and/or culture.

What’s your take on this? What do you think about the idea of people who think they own the opposite sex of their own race/culture? Is it ever justified? Sound off in the comments.

UPDATE: I’ve edited this post because that some of the content was inappropriate and insensitive towards the Jewish community. I made some poor choices in what I had written and failed to consider how my words might actually come across to readers (including the individuals I had specifically mentioned in this post). I want to apologize for this mistake.

Thank you to those people who were courageous enough to reach out to me to point out the errors in the original content. I wanted to append this apology to let you know I’ve learned a tremendous lesson in the importance of being sensitive about how groups of people are portrayed on this blog, as well as what should and should not be quoted in posts. 

3 Myths About Failed Interracial & Intercultural Relationships

(Photo by siti fatimah via
(Photo by siti fatimah via

“Oh, I knew it would never work out…”

It’s a familiar phrase we’ve all heard time and again applied to relationships that failed. He wasn’t good enough for her. She couldn’t commit to anyone. They were always arguing.

But what if someone says this ONLY because it was an interracial and intercultural relationship?


Yes, when you choose to date outside the lines, even your breakup attracts a level of scrutiny that nobody should have to endure during this painful time.

What are some of the myths about failed interracial and intercultural relationships? Here are three major ones:

Myth #1: Racial and/or cultural differences mainly caused your breakup

Back when I started dating Chinese men years ago in China, I didn’t just encounter surprised looks from fellow foreigners; I also learned that many foreigners assumed it could never work out. Why? Because they believed the cultural differences were too great and would eventually bust our relationship.

Just substitute “racial differences” for “cultural differences” – that’s what you’ll hear back places like the US (and other Western countries) for relationships like mine.

Can race or culture play a role when interracial and intercultural relationships fail? Yes, sometimes. Race might get in the way if, say, your girlfriend’s racist grandpa won’t leave you alone about the fact that you’re Chinese. And I’ve met many a yangxifu (foreign wife of a Chinese man) griping about how their in-laws or even husbands don’t agree with them on how to raise the kids (sometimes, to the point of a divorce).

But it’s wrong to assume that race and/or culture is always the culprit for a breakup or divorce.

Sometimes, it’s just an issue of personality. After all, I’ve met so many yangxifu here in China – and every one of their husbands (and relationships) is unique and different. I think Susan Blumberg-Kason – author of the terrific memoir Good Chinese Wifeputs it perfectly in this interview about her book:

I wanted to show how people sometimes justify their relationship problems as cultural differences when they are involved with someone from another country. This happens with people from all over the world and isn’t unique to Asia by any means. What I’ve learned is that when something doesn’t sit well with someone, it doesn’t sit well. It doesn’t matter if this issue stems from a cultural difference or a personality one. Respect is crucial for a successful relationship.


Myth #2: You’ll never want to date someone else like your ex

Years ago when I first came to China, I fell fiercely in love with a Zhengzhou native who quickly became my steady boyfriend. I had never fallen so hopelessly in love with a man like this and I was completely charmed by him – from his rugged James Dean good looks to the romantic way he would wine and dine me out on the town. (For the first time in my life, I even pondered the prospect of marriage with him.)

Well, it all came crashing down on me months later when, while he studied abroad in Europe, we broke up. I wept for days over what I had secretly dubbed my first real adult love, asking myself again and again how this could have happened?

But not once did I ever say to myself, “I’ll never date Chinese men or Asian men again.”

You know, that wasn’t even the last time a Chinese guy would stomp all over my heart. I’ve had enough heartbreaking experiences to make one heck of a dramatic romance novel and then some. Still deep down I loved China so much and believed I would find a husband here. And sure enough, I did.

While I’m sure there will always be people who swear off dating someone from a certain race, culture or country, don’t assume it’s a given.

Myth #3: Your failed relationship proves why people shouldn’t date “outside the lines”

Remember the scandal a few years ago with Li Yang (the founder of Crazy English) and Kim Lee, where she posted the dramatic and frighteningly graphic photos of her bruised face on Chinese social media, putting a very public face to domestic violence. It was such a big story even the international news covered it, along with the divorce proceedings.

Yet I’m sure some folks read that story and concluded something like this: “Good god, why did she marry that Chinese man? She should have known it would never work.”

Yes, Kim Lee and Li Yang, a cautionary tale of why you should never date people outside the racial/cultural lines.

You could arguably say the same about Susan Blumberg-Kason’s memoir Good Chinese Wife, the heart-wrenching tale of her own personal “love affair with China gone wrong.”

But is it fair to come to these conclusions? Personally, I don’t think so.

It’s always a foregone conclusion that when people get together, a certain percentage of them will eventually break up or divorce. It happens all around the world. I’ve seen it happen in the yangxifu community in China over the years too (including this very public divorce).

While I’ve come across articles reporting divorce rates as higher among interracial and intercultural couples, I’ve also met many Western women who found their happily-ever-after with a guy from China. (John and I have passed the 10-year mark in our marriage and I still love him just as much as when we first met.)

Divorce or breakup doesn’t have to be the obvious conclusion to an intercultural or interracial relationship. So why should anyone use a broken up or divorced couple to represent every intercultural or interracial relationship?

Meanwhile, those people who do break up or divorce have enough trouble to deal with – heartache, stress and, in the case of divorce, all sorts of unpleasant legal issues that will keep you up late at night. The last thing they need is someone holding them up as a “bad example” or another “I told you so!”


As I often say on this blog, love just happens – and sometimes, it happens to create an interracial or intercultural couple.

Whether you’re happily coupled up, contemplating a split, already apart, or hoping to land your perfect partner, here’s hoping for a little less judgment and a little more understanding in the world for all of our messy, imperfect but ultimately beautiful lives.

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! 😉

Why I’m tired of hearing “you’ll have a hard life” about interracial relationships

Not long ago, a white friend of mine moved back to America with her Chinese husband. They were happy with their decision to return to America, but it also meant living with her parents for a period of time. Which wasn’t easy…and lead to some uncomfortable conversations. She confessed that her mother (who she said wasn’t the most pleasant person to begin with) wasn’t thrilled that she hadn’t chosen an “easier life.”

In other words, the fact that this friend had chosen to marry a Chinese man – instead of, say, one of the white guys she used to date at university.

Ugh. I shuddered just thinking about it.

Obviously, her mom is not the supportive type. But the thing is, “you’ll have a hard life” (and all of its many variations) is something that many interracial/intercultural couples have to hear. Loving versus Virginia may have paved the way for legal interracial marriage in the US, but it sure didn’t stop people from telling you how “tough” it’s going to be.

Here’s why I’m tired of hearing this:

1. So what if it’s “tough”?


Given the fact that interracial coupling was illegal for a really long time in the US (and, I would imagine, many other countries around the world), there’s no doubt that we’ve had to fight for the right to love who we want to.

Even now, we’re still fighting. From white supremacist hate groups who would frown upon my marriage to the continued discrimination against people of color (including people like my husband), it’s not always an easy ride when you date and marry differently.

Yeah, we get it. It can be tough. So what?

There will always be haters when you’re dating or marrying outside the box. It’s part of the package deal – and believe me, we already know.

2. It can be racist

(photo by Loving Earth via
(photo by Loving Earth via

Okay, I know that’s a loaded statement (I suppose anything becomes a loaded statement when you throw in the “R” word). But think about it. If you’re wishing that your white daughter didn’t marry outside of her race (and, for that matter, culture and country), that’s like saying that she should only date and marry white guys. Because, after all, life is so much easier when you’ve got the full benefit of white privilege, right? (Never mind that white privilege IS the problem, folks.)

Yeah, SO not cool.

3. Marrying within your race doesn’t guarantee an easy life

Just because you're white and you marry a white guy does not mean you're going to become the next picture-perfect William and Kate (Photo by geraldstolk via
Just because you’re white and you marry a white guy does not mean you’re going to become the next picture-perfect William and Kate (Photo by geraldstolk via

I grew up in a mostly white suburb of Cleveland, which exposed me to ALL kinds of white folks – and taught me that there are plenty of losers, scumbags and lunatics within my own race.

I know that marrying white doesn’t guarantee you some romantic Prince Charming who will sweep you off your feet for the rest of your life. I’ve seen marriages between lots of white people that have ended in utter disaster and ruin – including the folks who seemed to “have it all” (the money, the luxury cars, the beachfront property).

When two people from the same race happen to marry, they don’t necessarily have special “insurance” against a divorce or devastation. Crap can happen to any couple out there.

4. It ignores the fact that love just happens

As I wrote a while back, I never intended to marry a Chinese man. I had actually dated a steady stream of mainly white guys before I moved to China – where I was eventually swept off my feet by an extraordinary young guy from Hangzhou. I didn’t think about whether it would be harder with him…I just knew I loved him and wanted to spend the rest of my life with him. Period.

Sometimes love just happens – in the most unlikely and unexpected ways. Instead of worrying about how “tough” it might be, shouldn’t we be celebrating that two people have come together to share one of the most beautiful things in life?

What do you think?

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?