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A Marriage of Cultures

My husband, Tyme, and I met on Saint Patrick’s Day in 2001. We were on a camping trip in a town called Carrolton, Georgia, which is walking distance from the Alabama state line. Although the sun was shining, it was cold enough outside to need layers of clothing just to stay comfortable. My friends and I decided to build a fire in the pit of our campsite to warm ourselves, and to boil some water for tea. We were sitting around the fire and chatting when a man walked up to us and asked if we wouldn’t mind him sharing in the warmth and some conversation.

I glanced at the man and decided at once that he was very good looking. He was of Asian descent, which I later learned was Chinese, and had long hair that he had pulled back into a ponytail. He looked back at me, and I felt as if he had caught me staring, so I looked away quickly, but not before a blush and a sheepish grin had both spread over my face. I found out later that he was attracted to that very same grin and the shyness that I had exhibited. We talked for most of that night, but our conversation was not what couples typically delve into on a first date.

We were asking each other questions such as “Where do you think you want to live when you’re ready to settle down? and “How many children do you think you want to have? ” It seemed obvious from the beginning that we were both looking for a serious relationship. It was also obvious that the differences in our two cultures would have to be addressed quickly, since his family still held strongly to their Chinese values and beliefs. We traded phone numbers and email addresses the next morning while I helped him break camp, and then we parted ways in the early afternoon.

I spent the ride home alternating between enthusiastically telling my friends about this great guy I had met, and pondering in silence if he would try to ontact me once we were both home. I was deeply attracted to him physically and mentally, so much so that I felt as if I were experiencing a first-time crush. Although I had made up my mind to call him if I didn’t hear from him after three days, it wasn’t necessary. There was an email message from him the morning after I got home, letting me know that he had had a great time, and asking if I would be interested in dinner sometime that week.

I called him to reply, not wanting to waste any more time by sending another email, and he picked me up for dinner that night. We have spent very little time apart ever since. Since we have been together, I have immersed myself into the Chinese culture in order to better understand his family’s customs and traditions. Likewise, Tyme has made every effort to learn about the Polish traditions, since my father and his family are from Poland. We drill one another on polite words in our respective languages, discuss the meaning behind certain cultural celebrations, and wonder at the differences in our families and the places they came from.

I have been very fortunate that his mother approves of me and accepts me as daughter, and that the rest of his family is happy that we found one another. Despite the fact that we seem to be diluting our heritages, we received their, as well as my family’s, blessing when we announced our decision to marry. We were married last June in a small and quiet ceremony in our kitchen. My parents, his mother, a few friends, and our two dogs witnessed the event. It was a great relief to have exchanged vows without the pressures of planning an event, but we felt as if something was missing from our wedding.

We decided to have another ceremony, complete with reception, here all of our family members and friends could relive the happiness of our wedding day. Immediately, the question of culture came up. Should we have a traditional Chinese wedding banquet, or a two-hour Polish Catholic mass for our ceremony? How would we plan an event that could celebrate our diverse cultures, while not offending or omitting family members? Eventually, we planned a cross-cultural event that will celebrate not only our Polish and Chinese heritage, but will also include touches of Indian, Hawaiian, Irish, and other cultures that influence our everyday life.

The ording in our ceremony was carefully chosen to be non-offensive to either side, and, though it reflects our feelings on our union perfectly, it is quite neutral in denomination. Our dcor will echo a Chinese wedding banquet, but the food itself will be a mix of Asian, American and Polish cuisine. I will wear two wedding dresses; a traditional American dress of white for the ceremony, and then a red mandarin dress for the reception. We are also planning on having a henna artist at the reception, who will be able to give our guests a lasting gift of a henna design on their hands or feet, hich is a very common Indian wedding tradition.

Our “second wedding” is scheduled for March 20th of this year. My husband and I are still in the midst of planning the details of our reception, and we are having a wonderful time doing it. We have found that the more we open our minds to the cultures that have influenced our lives, the easier it is to have a celebration that no one who attends is going to forget. Our hope is that everyone who comes to the wedding, no matter what background they have, will come away from it with a different perception of what culture is truly about.

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