Talking Cultural Diversity

a discussion board for cultural and diversity issues by Thomas Kochman and Jean Mavrelis

Friction, Frustration, or Fun

By Thomas Kochman - 09.05.2011

Ethnic cultural differences within families can be a source of friction, frustration or fun.

They usually start out as friction, like deciding upon what time to leave for the airport.

My German Jewish side can’t stand being five minutes late.

My wife’s position—I’m not sure if this is Irish or just her—can’t stand being five minutes early.

Each of us conjures up different worst case scenarios in support of our position.

My worst case scenario is fraught with anxiety–that something will happen that we didn’t plan for or expect that will cause us to miss our plane.

Her worst case scenario is that we’ll leave too early and get to the airport too soon with nothing worthwhile to do.

At issue, also, is our different comfort level around waiting while doing nothing.

I’m like the camel. I can turn my motor off.

My wife can’t.

At best, her  motor is at “idle”: running but not moving.

For a sand piper (her kind of animal) that is a clear UGH!

Another difference revolves around what in business is called “planning the work and working the plan.”

My cultural side says let’s go with the plan ….

My wife’s position is to see our agreement to do something as something we might maybe do but also maybe not do ….

I took that as a plan, which meant, literally!

My wife did not.

Taking it a step further, my position was, if were not going to at least try—why bother having a plan to start with?

My wife’s position—and this is very much tied to the Irish side of her—is that the agreement was simply something that was said we were going to do, but not at all (and maybe in part because it was something we said we were going to do), binding on us to actually follow through on.

In fact—this is often my take on it (biased, but still true)—is that, characterizing our difference along ethnic cultural lines, I say (facetiously, of course), you need Germans to set the plan (an agreement that is binding) and the Irish to know what the agreement/plan is so as to know what not to do.

This fits our different cultural orientation to be more or less obedient or rebellious and the extent to which we take seriously/literally what we said we were going to do.

This pattern of difference started out for me as friction and has progressively moved to frustration and even fun.

It gets to fun when I can laugh about it.

That usually happen when I just play things as they develop or “go with the flow”.

That requires seeing differences as matters of right and left, not right and wrong.

It also means letting go of expectations.

Not so hard when you put your mind to it!



3 Responses so far

ha! ha! ha! definitely the outsider perspective. In both cases it’s about what I could be doing instead: maybe water one more plant before leaving the house, or getting new information during our travels that creates an even more compelling option.

Now that you’ve opened the door, I hope folks will weigh in on travel differences with their partners and traveling companions. I’m sure many have emerged over the summer 🙂

My husband and I both come from Irish and German stock – but we draw from them differently. He trends toward German in his insistence to be on time and I’m a bit more Irish in several ways I won’t go into here.
He will be in the car with the motor running while I load the dishwasher and start one more load of laundry. Then he’ll scold me all the way to our destination about being late. I believe this one-more-thing trait was passed down directly from my mother – who’s family nickname is “Turtle.” We’re celebrating 18 years of marriage this Sunday – so somehow it works!

Thomas I am sure this frustration, friction and fun keeps the marriage interesting. Two people are generally not the same and one balances the other out regardless of ethnic background. Surely its not just one sided. Hopefully she will learn to idle herself and spend quality time with you (instead of being bored out of her mind) while in waiting stages of being early at the airport instead of being actively preoccupied with stuff to do.

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