Thoughts on Culture.

Discussion 1 (Ch1)
Mar 8, 2013

Let’s focus this discussion on the section in our textbook entitled “Enhancing Intercultural Relationship Satisfaction” (pp. 11-13).

Can you give any examples of when culture became a factor in a friendship or romantic relationship? How would learning about the other’s culture ahead of time have helped your relationship? What differences, obstacles, and/or challenges might you expect to encounter in an intercultural relationship or marriage? What rewards?


This topic hits so close to home that it feels nearly impossible to articulate. In fact, I’ve been sitting here for quite some time abusing my keyboard’s delete key with overuse. Why? My example of culture as a factor in relationships is a dear friend…who also happens to be my (almost) ex-fiance. Let’s call him “T.”

T and I met when I was just just 14 years old. His family on his father’s side is of Egyptian origin – as in, his father and brother still live there running business. His mother and her parents live here in the States, however, and they’re the epitome of “All-American.” As for T, he looks 100 percent American (light skin, blond hair), has no accent, speaks perfect English and has grown up with the U.S. culture being poured into him. I give this description to illustrate how similar I thought we were culturally when examining purely surface-level attributes.

Our friends celebrated our friendship’s evolution into a dating relationship, and we heard the word “finally” more times than either of us could count. [Fast forward…] Some time passed and, before I knew it, things were getting very serious. I’ll never forget the day he handed me a jewelry catalog saying, “pick out a ring,” or the accidental reference his grandmother made to a honeymoon when he surprised me with a cruise for Christmas.

Everything seemed to be unfolding perfectly – just as my 5-year-old self had imagined. I was in so deep that it didn’t really seem like that big of a deal when his family started blaming me for his weight gain. I didn’t notice that he equated financial contribution with ownership. Even when his father visited from Egypt and seemingly demanded that I styled myself according to his standards, I didn’t think anything of it. After all, Prince Charming never fails, right?

Wrong.

Culture is much more deeply routed in an individual then we give credit. It’s similar to Auburn’s reaction to our poisoned Toomer’s Oaks; the surface is easy to change compared to the massive roots instilling tradition and pride in our “War Eagle culture.”

In the same way, I failed to understand this with T. If I had understood the signs and warnings I was seeing, I could’ve saved myself a lot of heartache. While there are certainly many, many exceptions, it isn’t a secret that the prevalent Middle Eastern view on woman can be less then desirable in our Western World minds. Learning about the modern, real-world implications of this ahead of time would have helped the relationship.

Being a public relations major, I was immediately drawn to the rewards of the intercultural relationship in that I was fascinated by the communication differences particularly in his non-verbal cues. As a practitioner in the communication’s industry, this is vividly intriguing and informative. As a girlfriend, it’s confusing, hurtful and takes that special person to handle well.

Unfortunately, that person was not me.

More often than I’d like to admit, I still think about what could have been – the life I could’ve been leading now. While it was easy to enjoy his doting nature and chasing spirit, I’ve come to realize that maybe we should take a cue from nature. While a cheetah looks majestic chasing gazelle, they aren’t nearly as appealing when they’ve finished their hunt and begin to enjoy their ‘earned’ prey.

Needless to say, I’m happy not to be feeling this way anymore.

Poor gazelle.

 


 

Personally, I think that would be one of the most difficult things about that situation – not being able to communicate with those closest to you in your native language. Maybe this is the public relations communicator in me, but I feel nearly frozen when I attempt to speak to someone without the full use of the English language. I’ve been studying Italian for the past two semesters. If you were to tell me that I was going to suddenly live there, I’d feel completely incompetent at communicating efficiently (a point I pride myself on in the public relations/communications industry we’re in).

Wow, thinking about this makes me see the study of international PR more clearly. I have such respect for the people willing to take on such a difficult task and attempt not only to communicate clearly, but also solve crises in foreign surroundings.


 

This is such a great example, Heather! I can’t imagine what the 11-year-old you must have thought walking the halls of your school in Enterprise hearing the chatter of students who sounded so much different than you were used to.

When I transferred here to Auburn, I had a similar experience – except in reverse. I grew up near the Kennedy Space Center in Melbourne, Fla. just an hour southeast of Disney World. Because of all the tourists, “snow birds” and retirees the area attracts, “diverse” doesn’t even begin to describe the people I was surrounded with on a daily basis. On top of that, I went to the University of South Florida in Tampa prior to transferring to AU. Tampa is the fifth largest metropolitan city in the nation. There were approximately six movie theaters within a 30-minute drive from my apartment, the streets were always so bright with lights that night never came and my half-mile drive to campus took 45 minutes. The grocery stores were all open 24/7, and the cashiers didn’t know my name. I liked it that way.

Enter Auburn, and as you said, talk about culture shock.

When I walk the concourse of this campus, all the girls look the same and the guys can usually be divided into only two categories (Greek and, well, non-Greek). Never in my life have I seen such little diversity. I’m not opposed to it, but not used to it.

After I finish writing this, I have to run some errands. It’s likely that I’ll see someone I know on every aisle of every store and have follow-up conversations with each cashier from our chat last week. It’ll be nearly dark when I drive home this evening, but thankfully the new car dealership at the intersection of South College and Longleaf Drive will provide at least a hint of dim light by which to navigate the nearly empty streets commonly referred to around here as “traffic.” It’s really all so…quaint.


Of course I write this mostly in jest. This is a beautiful city full of some of the most precious people I’ve ever met. It’s truly great to be an Auburn Tiger, and I love this town….especially now that when a friend wants to see a movie, I get to ask, “Which theater?”


 

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