Why We Can't Dismiss The Little Differences

In your day-to-day life, who is seeing everything from a different cultural lens? 

I have often shared little differences between my husband Billy and me that impact our day-to-day. Many are influenced by the fact we are from different places and backgrounds. We can't distinguish between lemons and limes. We have disparate ideas about how to greet people. We even confuse each other when saying "next year." 

Minor hiccups that stem from our cultural differences.

This week, we had the opportunity to share at Gabriella's school about our identities and navigating life together. I told a story I've shared here before of a time when we were hosting a party. 

I sent Billy to the store to buy chips while I continued setting up for our guests. When he returned, I eagerly reached for the chips, but my triumph quickly changed to disappointment when I saw what he'd purchased. 

"Awh, man," I said, holding up my ranch dip. 

"What?" Billy asked. "Why do you have that? Where's the salsa?"

"I asked you to get chips, not tortilla chips!"

"Wait. What did you want?" he asked before nodding. "Oh, but you asked for chips, not potato chips!"

I love this story because I feel like it so clearly illustrates the general state of our marriage and of many cross-cultural friendships. Our assumptions are often in question, and we work together with a lot of grace and humor to figure out how to eat carbs and party together. 

Sometimes people try to tell me that these examples are not a big deal or that people put too much focus on culture. I will agree that a lively debate about whether limes are unripe lemons is not the intercultural communication wizarding of the U.N.. But I believe it still holds value.

This quote in a New York Times article, "Foreign Spouse, Happy Life," sums it up nicely: 
Anyone who risks a life with someone outside of his in-group — not only across lines of nationality, but also those of religion, race and class — becomes a participant, whether he knows it or not, in a global experiment in developing empathy. The awareness and negotiation of small differences add up to a larger understanding about the complexities of the world.
We are all working to navigate our global world. And as my muse Daniel Tiger says, "Keep trying. You'll get be-e-tter!" Figuring out what kind of chips our partner is requesting is practice for future cross-cultural interactions. 

We learn to ask questions. We learn to be more specific. We learn to be flexible, roll with the punches, and keep a strong sense of humor.

All these little differences are helping us build up our cross-cultural muscles. And that's important. Because sometimes conversations on multiculturalism or diversity can feel overwhelming, especially if you've spent much of your life in a monocultural environment.

But starting with friendships and working out all the quirky ways culture pops up is not to be dismissed. This practice helps us get more comfortable and more confident and will lead us to greater risks and wider hospitality. And when it's time for that big, multicultural party, we'll be sure to offer a wide variety of chips!

Where do you see these moments of practice in your life?

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