As you can tell from the title, today I will talk about the pros and cons of my intercultural marriage to Mr. FAF.
Intercultural marriage is defined in this post as a marriage between two people from two different cultures.
I was born and raised in Vietnam while Mr. FAF is originally from China.
We met and decided to build our family in one of the greatest nations on earth: America.
We are not an interracial couple since both of us are Asian.
Many people might assume that if we are of the same race, it will help alleviate the tension of cultural differences in our marriage.
But it’s not always the case.
Vietnam and China are two neighboring countries and thus share a lot of cultural similarities such as our national festivals (i.. the Chinese New Year, Moon Festival).
Some of our friends and colleagues have asked us if we have had any challenges due to our different backgrounds.
I think that every marriage is complicated in its own way.
No couple is perfect, and we all have to work hard at building our connection and keeping the sparks.
However, as an intercultural couple, we have noticed the following pros and cons in our marriage.
1. Exploring different cuisine at lower prices
If my mother-in-law weren’t staying with us in DC, Mr. FAF would be the master chef cooking up many delicious Chinese dishes for our family.
When Mr. FAF first came to America at the age of 29, he didn’t know how to cook and starved himself for two days. He wasn’t familiar with his neighborhood and didn’t have a car, so he couldn’t go to a restaurant either.
From that point one, Mr. FAF started looking up recipes online and practiced his culinary skills (almost) to perfection. When we first started dating, Mr. FAF ramped up his cooking adventure to impress me.
As a result, I have been able to try many delicious Chinese dishes such as pork bone soup with lotus roots, sweet and sour tofu (mapo tofu), and breaded pork ribs. I love eating, so the joy of eating exotic homemade food just pleases my soul.
Home-made Chinese dishes by chef FAF
Although my cooking skills can’t compare to Mr. FAF’s, I have also introduced him to many Vietnamese foods such as the Vietnamese sandwiches (banh my) and pho.
Mr. FAF is not an adventurous person, especially when it comes to food. He likes to stick with what he’s familiar with. The thought of trying a brand-new dish can scare him (literally). But when Mr. FAF is with me, he has no choice but to eat what I want to enjoy, particularly if it’s his wife’s comfort food (i.e. pho).
Mr. FAF’s favorite Vietnamese dish: Pho
I agree that a couple can be adventurous with different cuisine if they explore different recipes at home. But I think there’s something unique and special about reading a recipe in its original form in Chinese that gives the dish a different taste than any recipes found on the internet.
It also helps us save hundreds of dollars by cooking up new dishes at home than eating out at a restaurant.
2. Learning a foreign language for free
According to a Daily Mail post, being able to master Chinese Mandarin can cost up to $87,000. When you have a spouse who can practice the language with you, the cost can be greatly reduced or even eliminated.
I grew up watching a lot of Chinese drama and movies when I was little. I audited Intermediate Chinese in grad school but wasn’t able to speak the language until my in-laws came to America to help us take care of our baby.
I still remember that first day my in-laws greeted me at the airport in China in 2013. I said hello in Mandarin and started trying to form sentences that I thought made sense but my in-laws had a hard time understanding.
After one year of living with my in-laws and another year of talking to my MIL on a daily basis, I can carry on a basic conversation more comfortably. Mr. FAF unfortunately has no interest in speaking with me in Chinese or learning Vietnamese.
But I can see the benefits of acquiring a foreign language for myself. I do believe he’s missing out on an opportunity to be multilingual.
3. More places to call home
I was in Shanghai, China in 2013 to meet Mr. FAF’s parents and have a traditional Chinese wedding with Mr. FAF. I was able to tour Shanghai for the very first time and visit two other cities where his extended family lived.
I was really amazed at the fast pace of development and the infrastructure in Shanghai. The air quality wasn’t so great, but I could finally see what one of the most globalized and urbanized cities in Asia looked like.
Shanghai at night
We didn’t have to pay for expensive hotel rooms since we stayed with Mr. FAF’s parents. There were local restaurants and street food near Mr. FAF’s house. Every morning, we would wake up and eat delicious local food such as soup dumplings (xiao long bao) and crepes.
Food is the one thing I miss the most about Shanghai. When we traveled to other cities, I also got to try the local food and just wished that those days would last forever.
When Mr. FAF and his parents came to Vietnam for our second wedding (yes, we had two weddings!), my family cooked some of the most popular Vietnamese dishes for them. My parents also took Mr. FAF’s family to well-known (though not too expensive) restaurants to try our local cuisine.
We also went to one of the most beautiful tourist attractions in Vietnam, Ha Long Bay. Needless to say, the trip was wonderful, and we all created great memories together.
4. Making more friends from different cultures
Old town in Shanghai
Mr. FAF and I have our own circles of Chinese and Vietnamese friends. We usually introduce our friends to each other to enlarge our social circle.
When Mr. FAF hangs out with his Chinese friends and I tag along, they usually speak in Chinese Mandarin, so I have more opportunity to practice my language skills.
Sometimes I listen attentively and join the conversation. Sometimes they talk too fast, and I just tune out and focus on enjoying the food instead.
When I hang out with my Vietnamese friends, we usually speak in both Vietnamese and English so that Mr. FAF can understand. Mr. FAF is very shy, so he usually just stays quiet and answers any questions that come his way.
5. Having multilingual children
This, I think, is one of the biggest benefits of our intercultural marriage. Mr. FAF and I plan to teach our son both Vietnamese and Chinese so that he will be trilingual. I think it will be much cheaper than having him take classes at school or some language center.
We also plan to send Baby FAF and our future children to live with our parents in the summer so that they can improve their language skills. I know that ultimately, it is up to Baby FAF to decide if he wants to learn his parents’ native languages, but more exposure to a multilingual environment won’t hurt either.
1. Language barriers & miscommunication
English is not our first language. I came to America in 2005 at the age of 18, and Mr. FAF came to the US in 2013 when he was already 29. We didn’t grow up speaking English on a daily basis and didn’t start doing so until we became adults. English is our main medium of communication.
There have been multiple occasions where Mr. FAF said something, and I just totally misunderstood the meaning behind it. The same thing happened when Mr. FAF misinterpreted something that I said.
This miscommunication was complicated by the fact that we were in a four-year long-distance marriage. Telling someone something in person can be totally different from when it’s said in a text message or email. We didn’t have the facial expression or the eye contact to help us figure out what the other person is thinking.
When we’re overwhelmed with emotions, we tend to assume the worst about our partner and let the conversation and the relationship go downhill. Fortunately, we realized such shortcoming and have been working really hard to better communicate our feelings and intentions.
Related: The Costs of Marital Conflict
2. Feeling uncomfortable with not understanding the language
Mr. FAF told me that his sense of humor and personality come out the best when he speaks Chinese, his mother tongue, which I totally understand. However, it also means that Mr. FAF tends to feel uncomfortable when he has to talk to new friends or strangers in English.
I am not an extrovert at heart, but I enjoy meeting new people. I also want to go to Meetup group meetings where people just get together and eat delicious food while socializing. It’s not really Mr. FAF’s scene, and he’s always reluctant to check out new events in the area.
I have to admit that I feel the same way when I hang out with Mr. FAF’s friends sometimes. They’re friendly, and I can greatly benefit from talking with them in Chinese. However, my Mandarin is not so advanced and leaves me clueless as to what they say in a lot of cases.
It feels a bit embarrassing and awkward when it happens. We can switch to speaking in English, but it just changes the dynamic of the whole conversation.
3. Different circles of friends
Given that Mr. FAF is shy and doesn’t feel particularly comfortable in social functions where he has to speak English, he’s always hesitant to hang out with my friends or meet new people.
I’ve tried to convince Mr. FAF to get out of his comfort zone and not just hang out with his Chinese friends all the time. I am sure they are great people, but we need to explore friends from other backgrounds as well. After all, we are in America and need to take advantage of what the social life in DC has to offer.
Mr. FAF tells me he sees no point in meeting strangers who we just talk to for an hour or so and then forget about each other. But how can we make new friends if we’re not willing to meet strangers?
It’s an argument we still have every once in a while. However, to Mr. FAF’s credit, I’ve seen him make headway in trying to push himself out of his comfort zone and go to a party full of strangers.
4. Not getting used to different cuisine
Mr. FAF loves his Chinese food and his rice. That could be a good thing because he doesn’t need to try new things to be happy. He eats what he likes and what makes him comfortable.
However, it also means that he doesn’t want to venture and try different cuisine. There have been times when I wanted to try Korean, Japanese, Ethiopian, or Filipino food for a change. However, seeing Mr. FAF’s hesitation, I knew he didn’t like the idea and just wanted to go to a Chinese restaurant instead.
There were times when he reluctantly agreed to try Korean BBQ or sushi with me. But I knew deep down he wasn’t too happy. Not wanting to enjoy exotic food by myself, I tend to just agree to get Chinese food with him. I love Chinese food as well, but I also know there’s much more delicious food to explore out there.
I’m almost 99% sure Mr. FAF won’t like these American foods.
5. Expensive travel costs to visit family
The average flight ticket for one person to fly from the US to China or Vietnam is $1,500. When our whole family of three people want to visit our parents and relatives in Asia, the tickets alone would cost around $4,500.
If we want to visit both sides of the family in China or Vietnam, it will be another $1,500 (for 3 people) or $6,000 in plane tickets alone.
We will also need to set aside a fund for gifts since we just can’t visit family empty-handed.
We usually buy gifts for our parents, uncles, aunts, cousins, and neighbors.
They know we are coming from the US, so a cheap present won’t make a lot of people happy.
Although we will have free housing and free food, we will also need to take them out for lunch or dinner.
We usually have to take at least three weeks off to visit our family in Asia. Both Mr. FAF and I work full-time now, so we don’t want to make our family pay for our travel.
The costs of the tickets and miscellaneous expenses can easily add up to almost $10,000 per visit.
Mr. FAF and I have been married for 4.5 years. Sometimes I feel like we just went to the courthouse to get our marriage license last year. Sometimes I feel like it’s been an eternity.
No one says marriage is easy. If they do, I’d love to learn from them. Mr. FAF and I are on the same page about money. We are a frugal couple. We come from a modest background and have been working hard to build our new life in America.
We’re thankful for all the great opportunities this country has offered. Our family and friends often say that it is our destiny to come from two different countries in Asia, meet and start a family in a totally new country.
Having been born and raised in Asia, we share many cultural similarities.
However, being two different individuals from two different cultures have also presented us with many challenges. We cherish all the pros and still try to address our differences on a daily basis. And I wouldn’t have done it any other way.