This was when I got to meet his Uncle Adam. An amazing person who I secretly like more than any other person in Martin's family (shhh, don't tell anyone). I mainly like him so much because he reminds me of the best parts of my own father. And it's nice to see a reflection of my dad when I am so far away from home. Uncle Adam is also Martin's Godfather, a role that is not taken lightly in the Polish culture and I think, over the years, Uncle Adam has been able to give him many bits of wisdom and encouragement here and there. One of which he shared with Martin on that first visit of mine back in 2000.
He said,(in a nutshell), that the culture was going to be the hardest part of our relationship. That the cultural differences were what would cause the most friction in a marriage between a Pole and a non-Pole (he was speaking hypothetically of course since, at the time, we were nowhere close to marriage). A hint of a warning, but mostly a matter of fact, that should be recognized and acknowledged. And, he was right.
This one big difference has been the source of most our "heated discussions" in this house. And while Martin and I have never had a real "fight" we have had many discussions, and they are almost always centered around cultural differences. I want to try and explain what this is like because it's important to me and in the aftermath of my "Managing Expectations" posts, and his renewed zeal for his homeland now that he is actually there, we have had a couple such discussions (thanks to modern technology you can still argue with each other even while in separate countries...ahhh... technology).
I get Thanksgiving and he gets Christmas (Eve).
Because we have never spent Christmas Eve with my grandparents (the day our family holds a traditional celebration, with Italian/Catholic customs), we spend every Thanksgiving with them. Every Christmas Eve with Martin's family and every Thanksgiving with mine (we do spend Christmas Day with my parents but not my grandparents). Which means that we have never spent a Thanksgiving with Martin's family. And yes, they celebrate Thanksgiving. Polish or not, they recognize this American holiday,( a good one, no?).
Last year, at Thanksgiving, we had the same discussion we have every year (and which we will be having again, very soon, I'm sure)...
Me: Maybe this year we should have Thanksgiving at your parents house and Christmas Eve at my Grandparents. It would be nice to have one Penitential Meal (an article written by my Aunt Tina) with my family before my Grandparents aren't around anymore and the kids can remember it.
Martin: Yeah, we really should talk about alternating years or something, you know, like most people, right? I'm sure my parents would appreciate us making it to one Thanksgiving dinner with them as well.
Me: Well, if you told your mom that it was either Thanksgiving or Wigilia, what do you think she would say?
Martin: She would want us at Wigilia, definitely. But it's not really fair to you, either, to never celebrate Christmas with your Grandparents and that side of the family.
Me: Well, we could switch it around this year, just see how it goes.
Martin: I can't imagine missing Wigilia, it just won't seem like Christmas. Yeah, the Christmas season is much longer than those two days, but this is the BIG night , it's just not Christmas without it. You know?
Me: I know Martin, and I would really miss Thanksgiving with my family. It would be hard for me to enjoy the day away from them. The way we have it set up now works fine. We don't need to change anything. It's just the way it is.
I hesitate to divulge the inner workings of our attempt to combine two cultures because there is no way I can do it justice or convey how hard it is at times. It takes compromise, just like any resolution within a good marriage. It takes discussion and discernment. It takes patience and understanding. It takes prayer. It's HARD. Because while you are trying to do and be all these things, in the back of your mind, you're just thinking, "that's not fair, I have to give up ME to do all the things you want to do. It's just not fair!"
And when Martin jokingly says to me, "why can't you just be Polish? Life would be so much easier if you were just Polish!"
I jokingly reply, " Look, you are the one that chose to marry an American, no one twisted your arm. Deal with it!"
(All the while knowing that we are both about 1% serious).
Because we love one another. I love him because of, and sometimes despite, his Polishness. I'm not moving to Poland and learning the language and trying to learn some native customs because I love Poland. I didn't even give Poland a second thought before I met Martin. I am doing all of those things because I love Martin, and he loves Poland, and I love what he loves, because it's important to him.
This doesn't mean that along the way I agree with or am happy about some of our compromises. I have had to give up a lot, and so has he. It has been hard. Much harder than I ever thought it would be. Truly. Uncle Adam's statement, as innocuous and simple as it might have been at the time, has come to be seen as a definitive moment of foreshadowing that gets played out over and over again, sometimes daily.
It was not until we seriously started preparing to move to Poland and I started this blog, that a lot of these issues were brought to the forefront. It's going to be a rocky road. And sometimes the boulders will be in my own living room. I know this. I'm ready for it. I am praying, more than anything, for charity, patience, and understanding. I wll battle that great serpent of Pride that creeps out of the dark corners of my mind daily. It's not winning, today.
But, we love each other. What are you gonna do?
|So, that's her huh?|
"Meeeeh...coulda been worse..."
P.S. I would love to hear about other households that have struggled and yet successfully combined two cultures and what you have found helpful. Martin and I do our best but I know there are some great ideas out there that we might be overlooking that could ease the path.