JI: You and your husband go way back, right?
CJ: That’s right. We met while I was 18 and went to Istanbul as an exchange student. I lived with a host family and my husband was my sixteen-year-old host brother. It sounds really corny, but it kind of was “love at first sight.” There was something about Murat’s eyes that made me feel comfortable and at home. Since he was close to my age and was the only one in the family who spoke English, I naturally gravitated to him. It’s an interesting way to meet your husband because we never really “dated” – we were brushing our teeth at the same sink since the day we first met – and his family was always my family! We got married 7 years later, after some long-distance love and a couple of years of being apart too.
JI: Does your family identify with one culture more than the other?
CJ: On a day-to-day basis, I don’t think of us as a bi-cultural family at all. But I do love the fact that our kids are exposed to something different than the “norm,” and they have at least some awareness that the entire world doesn’t speak English, and not everybody celebrates Easter! They also have a more sophisticated palate in terms of food (my 6-year old son’s favorite is lentil soup, and my 9-year old daughter loves sardines with heads and tails!). At the deepest sense, it is very gratifying to know that my children will grow up having grasped the concept early on that people’s ways of doing things and perspectives aren’t necessarily “right” or “wrong” – they’re just different.
JI: Living in the U.S. how do you foster your children’s awareness of Turkey and Turkish culture?
CJ: We consider ourselves a Muslim household and are raising our kids Muslim. We do celebrate Christmas because it’s something I grew up with and enjoyed. But, lately, I’ve started to question this decision, and am tapering back our Christmas celebrations – a smaller tree, less presents, etc. Now that our oldest child is 9, we are hoping to fast for Ramadan this year and to have her join us on a few days. I’ve realized that she knows nothing about Muslim holidays; it makes me sad that my kids are not growing up with any excitement or family memories of these celebrations. I hope to rectify this before it’s too late!
JI: Can you tell us about how you handle your cultural differences?
CJ: Well, my in-laws actually live in the United States now, and that’s presented some challenges. They are still, of course, rooted in their Turkish way of doing things and their Turkish perspective. Sometimes, when Murat does something they don’t approve of, they’ll feel it’s my “fault” for making him American. Also, as the oldest son, my husband has a culturally-expected duty to take care of his family in a variety of ways (health, moral support, financial), and, sometimes that goes against my more independent up-bringing. But I’ve learned that his duty to take care of his parents runs deeper than his duty to make me happy. Although it sometimes confuses or annoys me, I also feel proud that I have a husband who feels this filial and brotherly responsibility.
JI: How has being in a cross-cultural marriage changed you?
CJ: For starters, I can cook from scratch now and I use tons of fresh vegetables! Growing up in the 70s in the U.S., I ate macaroni and cheese and TV dinners. I never even knew parsley was a food until I went to Turkey and saw my host father eating it straight up and putting copious amounts in his salad. Now, after 14 years of marriage, I can cook many Turkish dishes quite well. Even my husband praises my rice, salad (with parsley!), and kofte (Turkish meatballs). I love introducing our neighbors to Turkish food too and often drop off samples at their houses for them to try.
JI: It sounds like you’ve found the best of both worlds. Any tips for other couples?
CJ: Number 1 is realizing that all marriages are dual-culture marriages. A woman from the South and a man from New York will likely have “cultural” issues. Look around at any of your friends’ or neighbors’ marriages and you’ll see that everybody’s struggling to blend two cultures to create their own unique family culture. Your mate’s culture is just part of his/her soul and being. Don’t try to change it. Instead, embrace what makes him or her special, love him or her for who they are, and the rest will work itself out.
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Read about another cross-cultural family here.