When travelling to different countries I was always gratefully surprised by how I was received as a newcomer and visitor. In some places more than others the stranger, the 'gringo' or in my case, 'gringa' is welcomed with open arms and you may find yourself sitting at the family table and staying at the family home before you've barely exchanged introductions.
This is something I needed as a young traveller, as some of my family were convinced that the world was a dangerous place and people were not to be trusted. My relentless 'itchy feet' and hitchhiking tendencies were alarming to some. Being welcomed by so many people from other places validated my own world view, that we are all connected and we are all made of essentially the same stuff.
But isn't it also true that, when the adventuring is done, when we're tired or feeling down, what we yearn for is the familiarity of our own culture, the comfort of our own environment. The novelty of difference is abandoned and we seek out the known. In this way, is it possible that a relationship -something that is defined by intimacy, connectedness and shared understanding- can really succeed across the chasm of cultural difference?
Certainly plenty of older people that I have met would be sceptical. In addition to their wisdom and experience, there is also the worry of cultural 'dilution'. What will become of tradition if it is not passed down from generation to generation? If you speak different languages or practice different religions, one may get side-lined or even lost completely.
When my partner, now husband, and I first got together, his friends and the older people around us found it amusing and didn't take us seriously. My teacher at the time (I was learning a south Indian dance form) told me directly that it was not wise to pursue a cross-cultural relationship. I have never forgotten what he said: 'If you make it past five years, you may just stand a chance. It will take you that long to overcome your cultural differences alone.'
Having been married for 6 years and together for 8, I have to admit it has not been easy. There are so many minor misunderstandings and disputes we have to negotiate on a daily basis. But it has been worth it. An advantage we both had from the start is our non-traditional identities. We have both grown up and lived in a variety of environments. I am also a qualified anthropologist who was practically obsessed with cultural difference for many years!
It is interesting to think about how much we have changed and adapted to make the relationship work. I often wonder how many of the challenges we face are related to culture and how much is just personality. Of course it is unquantifiable.
Since globalisation is here to stay I feel that being part of a cross-cultural relationship is kind of like taking ownership of that overwhelming inevitability. My partner and I, and our two small daughters have created a modest and unique piece of the endlessly unfolding puzzle that makes up this crazy modern world.
And for those concerned about cultural homogenisation, I leave you with the poem 'Passing Time' by the great poet and author Maya Angelou:
Your skin like dawn
Mine like musk
One paints the beginning
of a certain end.
The other, the end of a