I would rather have cultural differences!

April 15, 2008 — 3 Comments

“Get married with a Vietnamese girl, because …”, I bet many Vietnamese boys get these kind of words from their parents before they start to have the feeling that they should find their true love. I know I did! And the most popular reasons my parents would give were:

  • Then we can at least talk with her;
  • If she has the same background, married life is more easy;
  • Then we at least have some in-laws with who we can talk to when we’re old;
  • Then she can at least cook Vietnamese for you;

I guess such wisdom should not be ignored, so I did my best when I was a teenager to look for Vietnamese girls. And as lucky as I was, I encountered the love of my life, BT, on February 14th 1997. I guess many readers are thinking that I’m a ‘Web 2.0 fake’ now as I claim that I have to do ‘Enterprise 2.0’ to be able to talk about it. Well, believe me I did try in 1996, but at that time Web 2.0 still doesn’t offer a lot of features yet to easily meet up with girls in Norway or Canada. And Skype wasn’t still around so video conferencing wasn’t really an option.

I had no Valentine that day, so where else could I try to find a Vietnamese Valentine than on a Vietnamese Valentine party. It all was really a coincidence as I was interested in an acquaintance of her and she was interested in a friend of mine. And even when she signed me to come over to talk with her, she was trying to hook me up with a girl that lived next to her. But even with the rocky start our relationship now is very strong and I can easily call her my soulmate. So you might think that the parental wisdom worked out, but it couldn’t be more untrue. The opposite is the case; with the Vietnamese background the relationship was probably harder than a relationship with another ‘race’. It sounds strange, but it’s true when you consider some interesting moments:

  • It was only after 3 years that her parents learned about me
  • After 6 years that my parents really accepted BT
  • After 10 years that my parents and her parents met each other

Of course it’s not possible to mention all the possible reasons why all these crucial events took place after such a long time in our relationship, probably the last one is my own fault as I only proposed to BT after 9,5 years of knowing her. But in general having the same background also brought along some interesting aspects to the table that can put a very high strain on a relationship between Vietnamese lovers:

  • At an age of 16 Vietnamese girls, in the ancient times probably, were considered not to have a boyfriend. They should be focusing on their study and only after that find a husband. Probably this sounds familiar to many cultures, but I’m not sure if it’s so good that boyfriends are kept a secret for such a long time. I mean, now they complain about not seeing me enough;
  • High expectation that BT would be like a ‘typical Vietnamese’ girl; as she was born on the airplane no the Netherlands and brought up in a village with a very small Vietnamese community (30-40 people) it was logical that she and her siblings would be influenced by the Dutch culture;
  • The fact that BT’s parents had North Vietnamese background showed that especially my mother meant ‘South Vietnamese girl’ whenever she said a ‘Vietnamese girl’; as my mother and I lived in Saigon we automatically had a ‘thing’ against the North Vietnamese. Though I think there are differences between South and North Vietnamese, BT’s parents actually fled from the North and had lived in South Vietnam for decades;
  • Fear of making mistakes, not meeting each other expectations; while BT and I were visiting both sides , our parents only met each other a few months after I had proposed to BT in October 2006. First they were always trying to get us to make the introduction, but my busy schedule pushed me to tell my parents ‘but you both speak Vietnamese, so you don’t need me to arrange the meeting’;
  • Fear to want something what the other side doesn’t want; now with the wedding somehow it has taken both sides at least a year between their first encounter to talk with each other about the wedding. BT and I have had to hear continuously ‘What do they want?‘ for the past months. The way I pushed my parents to talk with her parents was to say “But you always wanted me to get Vietnamese in-laws, and now you still don’t dare to talk with them“. So even after their first talk, there is still a lot of miscommunication around and BT and I are forced to define rules of communication.

And when I compare all of this with how I handle cultural differences at Componence i think it’s easier to handle different cultures, because:

  • you can expect problems, you prepare for them and you confront them;
  • there are lower expectations, the only way is up;
  • you can learn from both the weaknesses and strengths of other cultures;
  • you know that the main way to work with each other is to communicate;

So long live the globalization and let’s mix up cultures where ever we can! Maybe that’s why it’s so nice to live in cultures like the Dutch, the Surinam or Malaysian 🙂 . Yes, even with the current rising ‘Islam’ issues and crazy people like Geert Wilders, I am convinced that the Netherlands is a great place to learn how to openly communicate about cultural differences. The Netherlands brought me where I am today, by giving me the chance to get in contact with so many different people from different cultures.

Thank you Holland!


3 responses to I would rather have cultural differences!

    Eelco Hillenius April 19, 2008 at 11:35 pm

    I’m Dutch, married with a Thai girl and we’re living in the US to make things complicated 🙂 Seattle, where we live, is a great mix of cultures, and I love it. A mixed relationship definitively has it’s own difficulties, but if you’re open to learn from each other it can work just fine.

    I think one of the reasons why the mix feels (even?) better over here than in Holland is that the mix is more diverse, both culturally and education-wise.

    Btw, I’m not a fan of Wilders (nor of Fortuyn for that matter) but I also don’t agree with the witch hunt that is unleashed against him. Wilders doesn’t push a racist agenda, but rather he is against the growing influence of religion in Holland, or at least against Islam. To me, the ‘movie’ he made was only shocking it’s display of amateurism. If the subject would have been – say – the evils of capitalism or socialism, no-one would have been seriously offended. Imho, freedom of expression is crucial for a well oiled society, and religion should not be exempt from that.

    I am an atheist and a strong proponent of individual freedom of choice, and the fact that monotheistic religion is on the rise in most parts of the world, including Holland, worries me deeply. Personally, I believe that religion hurts globalization and cultural mixing more than it helps.

    My 2c 🙂

    p.s. see http://www.flickr.com/photos/chillenious/2384971879/sizes/o/ for a wedding picture.


    thx, this really helped with a class project 😀

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