Today’s post is from Bobbi Jo Curty, our team’s family navigator. Bobbi Jo is an experienced geriatric social worker and one of our Caregiving Advice coaches. She’ll regularly share her perspectives from the field here on the blog. Read more about Bobbi Jo’s background here.
On your wedding day, you don’t just marry your spouse. For better or for worse, you also marry into a family. And for me, I married into a family AND a new culture.
Becoming part of Brazilian culture has been quite an eye-opening, life-enriching experience for me. I’ve learned about new foods, new traditions, and even new ways to care for others cross-culturally.
Most recently, during the summer of 2019, my husband’s parents stayed with us for close to three months. This, mind you, was after a week-long vacation driving to Disney World from Pennsylvania and back—with a total of 17(!) of his extended family members. Talk about crazy! But it was also a once-in-a-lifetime experience that was both stressful and enjoyable.
My husband and I have been married for over 10 years, and as with any marriage, it takes time to learn, understand, and love another person. And while I adore him and his culture, I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t admit to some challenges as we sorted out routines, traditions, and expectations related to intercultural marriage.
For instance, endless hospitality. My upbringing was vastly different than my husband’s in that when you went to visit someone at their home, you called them way ahead of time with an exact ETA. You would never just show up to someone’s house, unannounced, and expect them to drop whatever they’re doing to invite you to “tomar cafe” (drink coffee).
Or when you have visitors at your home, and as the host, you know they’ve stayed well past their welcome—especially when it’s three hours post-dinner time. So, when the guests start telling you they’re getting ready to go home, you as the host are expected to say, “Ta cedo!” (It’s early!)—even though it’s most definitely NOT too early and it certainly IS time for the evening to end.
You would never just show up to someone’s house, unannounced, and expect them to drop whatever they’re doing to invite you to ‘tomar cafe‘ (drink coffee).-Bobbi Jo Curty
Another tradition: rice and beans are expected at every meal. I remember when we were first married and it took a lot of practice to really understand how to make this dish the right way, especially as he and his mother don’t use any form of measuring cup or utensil. Everything is measured by simply looking at it…or, as my husband often says, “let the water cover the rice about three fingers above.”
Through the years, I’ve learned to better care for my husband—and for his parents when they visit—by first understanding their culture. Instead of shrugging my shoulders in defeat (trust me, this has happened more times than I can count!), I have to make a conscious decision to remember people do things differently—whether they live across an ocean or down the street.
Cross-cultural caregiving is truly no different than any and all types of caregiving though. Human beings all have needs—and our three basic needs are, in fact, basically the same.
Who doesn’t love it when someone gives you undivided attention? As an experienced social worker, I know the importance of actively listening to another person’s needs, wants, and opinions. When you care for another person and patiently engage with him, it shows how important he is as an individual. When you take time to listen to her and not rush through your caregiving tasks, it demonstrates the time you’re spending with her—in that particular moment—is the most important thing going on.
Understanding & empathy
We all want someone to acknowledge us and relate to us. Even if we don’t have anything in common with a particular person, you can show understanding and empathy by remembering what is important to that individual. Try to remember likes and dislikes. Sometimes, it can be the most simple things—such as a food preference or a favorite type of music.
I believe that in order to be an effective caregiver, and to be able to show patience and understanding, your care must be rooted in love. When you align your heart to love and serve another person—despite cultural and other differences—you’ll not only serve the individual, but you’ll also be blessed as a caregiver.
Keep in mind though: love can show itself differently for each person. Some people may need to have physical touch—a hug, a hand hold, a kiss on the cheek—to feel loved. Others, like my mother-in-law, may need to see that I ate my entire plate of food. And she must be allowed to coax me to eat more, because she labored over and prepared it for two hours—because this is her way of showing love.
I have grown to adore Brazilian culture. It’s different from the way I grew up, but it’s become a huge part of my identity now, and has influenced the way I care for others. In fact, I can no longer think of not offering endless hospitality to visitors, or cooking daily meals of rice and beans, or even preparing food without proper measuring devices. (It’s true, I don’t even have measuring cups or measuring utensils in my house!)
Throughout my marriage, I’ve been honored to expand my knowledge of world cultures and traditions, and in doing so, I’ve gained a deeper appreciation that we are all connected—despite our differences.