Book Writing Adventures

Guest of the Inner Sanctum: My Kindred Sistah in Asia, Jo Gan!

Jo Gan and her hubster

If any of you have YET to discover to superlovelylicious Life Behind the Wall, well–I’ll just be frank…I pity you. You’re missing a great education on how and interracial AND intercultural relationship–all wrapped up into one–works for a black expat married to a Chinese man on his turf. Jo was so kind to jump the wall and come on over to Beyond Black & White to enlighten us with her ancient Chinese secrets on how to reconcile cultural differences within a multicultural relationship.

Take it away, Jo!


When asked how to deal with cultural differences in a relationship… I had a long list of things to say, since I deal with these differences everyday as I deal with life in China. Most of them had to do with slapping people upside the head with soap in a sock. However, when I thought about my husband and I and the cultural things we go through, I realized there were important things I should share, so I took another stab at it.

I know that it is sometimes very hard to understand another person’s cultural background but if you really want to attempt to be with this person you need to learn everything you can about their background, family, ethnic group, national origin, language, culture and society. Educate yourself and also encourage your partner to take a real, interest in your culture and family traditions. There are two people in the relationship, ask each other questions and learn from each other.

My husband and I always discuss different cultural traditions or habits we run into and it is sometimes entertaining to explain them to each other. There are things that he or I see in movies that we don’t understand and it is fun to share what we thought about when we saw what they were doing. My husband still doesn’t fully understand why I only wash my hair once a week and I am still trying to figure out why Chinese people want to pee outside all the time.

  • Negotiate any areas that cause problems. If there is a food you cannot stand that he likes, make arrangements to cook for yourself the day your partner wants his special dish. If there are household habits that differ, such as not wearing shoes in the house, or wearing your clothes two days in a row (will never get into that) discuss it and make some compromises with each other. (Like hiding the dirty clothes so he cannot wear them again the next day)
  • You have to stay patient and be particularly flexible when it comes to cultural differences that overlap into religious matters, whether they affect food, Holy days or styles of prayer; Remember that you are committed to this relationship. Respect each others beliefs. Don’t try to make them change their beliefs, traditions, or practices. For example, if you celebrate New Year on January 1st, and the other person you’re dating celebrates Chinese Lunar New Year, Celebrate the Lunar New Year with them and see how they celebrate it. It’s a good way to become closer to each other. My husband and I celebrate all American and Chinese holidays it just gives us more things to do and makes our lives more interesting and full.
  • Learn how to speak their language even the basic words. If your partner sometimes doesn’t understand or misinterpret you when you try to say something because of the choice of words used, help them understand that there are words or terms you may use that may mean differently to you. So, you have to be more understanding when you are with someone who speaks a different language. Ask the person if when he thinks, he thinks in English or their native language. Keep in mind that when they think in their language, they have to translate into English, so sometimes when they respond to you it doesn’t come out right. My husband and I just laugh when he or I mess up something in the language. You have to learn to laugh about these little things and not take them to heart.
  • Don’t be afraid to try their food. If you didn’t like it just be honest with what you personally think. What’s important is you tried. The other person should in turn understand and accept what you feel about a certain food. This goes with you as well. When people ask my husband if he likes American food he says not really but I eat it because she cooked it. That is called compromising and honesty.
  • Also, when you meet your partner’s family, do not compare them with your own family. Keep in mind that they have different culture and beliefs as well. Respect, accept and adapt to theirs. Do not expect them to change for you and they should not expect you to change for them. It’s all about respect and acceptance. I always try to fit into my husband’s family traditions to show him that I am making an effort to know more about him and respect his family. They notice and do their part to try to make things easier on me.

So basically, I feel the main things you need when you are dealing with a relationship that involves different cultures is respect, understanding, acceptance, honesty, the ability to adapt… and most of all love. Because if you really love someone you will make it work no matter what culture differences there are. These differences are small things and never sweat the small things.

Check out my blog at to keep up with how I continue to live with the cutural differences.

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