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Forums / Multicultural experiences / We do not fully understand each other's culture

Topic: We do not fully understand each other's culture

5 posts, 0 answered
  1. james1
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    james1 avatar
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    3 December 2018


    I am in a relationship with a scottish born and raised woman, who moved to Australia as an adult. I am an Australian born and raised man with Chinese heritage. One of the things I find really difficult, and to be honest always have with other ex partners, is to have a relationship where we truly understand and accept the differences we have that arise from cultural differences.

    It is hard to explain them, but it often feels like we just have different points of view and different ways of thinking that are embedded very deeply. Since they are difficult to explain, it is also difficult to communicate about. If we have an impasse, it's like the only way I can explain my point of view is to say, "my background is Chinese and yours is Scottish." And for me, it feels like a bit of a cop out because we still do not understand each other and I find that very difficult.

    For example, it is not enough for me to say my family is poor and from the country, because there are also poor country Scottish people. I can't even say and we value family, because so do many Scots. So I am always just left with no way to explain my way of thinking, and why I think it.

    Perhaps there's no actual way to explain it? If so, I find that really hard to deal with on a personal level, because I want to be understood by my partner/family/close friends.

    Does anyone else feel similarly?


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  2. quirkywords
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    3 December 2018 in reply to james1


    What an interesting and honest thread.

    My ex husband and father of my children had different religions and cultural backgrounds.

    Before we had children we had not thought much about the differences. We both felt that each others religion did not mean much as the other person did not go to a place of worship.

    What he did not understand was my religion and culture was home based and I did not understand that he still felt strongly about his religion . Once children came it did cause problems.

    Strangely enough his views on male and female roles were more of a problem than our religious differences.

    My ex did learn a prayer in a different language and used to go to use place of worship on special occasions.

    I agree that it is hard to say what is different as we were both born in Australia . I see family as being important but this does not stop with immediate family but includes cousins. My ex could not understand how I was so close to my first cousins when he rarely saw his.

    I think I had more of an issue that my ex husband did not understand my mental health issues rather than my religious ones but I know it is hard when you feel someone does not understand what is important to you.

    James and everyone, do you find it is the personal cultural differences that can be hard to deal with or do you find other things like a lack of information and or life experience just as difficult.


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  3. PamelaR
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    4 December 2018 in reply to quirkywords

    Hi everyone

    Great thread topic James, thank you for starting it.

    My multicultural background. Dad was born in Indonesia (father - Dutch and mother Chinese plus (Malaysian or Indonesian??). Unfortunately due to his cultural upbringing he was unable to share his full background. Very sad :(

    My mother was white Australian(?). Coming from Scottish, English, Spanish, German backgrounds - the list is endless. However, there is a suggestion that in the early 1800s one of our ancestors may be an indigenous Australian.

    So how has this impacted on my life - culturally, personally?

    Interestingly not much for me because as Quirky says I find it more about lack of information and lack of life experience that impacts more on me.

    Living in Australia and in a living in a family that was multicultural and dysfunctional gave me the opportunity to learn other ways of living, socialising, believing, thinking. I learnt more about people, life, love, friendship, society, humanity after leaving home than I ever did living at home. I learnt more from others than from family.

    Relationships are about listening to one another, understanding the differences and similarities. Focussing on the good aspects, rather than the bad aspects. It's been pointed out in negotiation courses that most people have more in common than they do differences but it is the differences most people focus on. It's learning to change that focus.

    Ultimately, my partner and I share basic values of life - humanity, love, environment, buddhism way of life. His background is Australian from Scottish descent. There are aspects of his personality that I can see come from this cultural background and other nurturing factors. As a child in lived on Nauru, in Papua New Guinea and later went to a boarding school. All these things helped shape him as a person.

    We have our differences, we have learnt to compromise. We share the compromising - one not being always the winner.

    We've both had traumatic experiences, both have anxiety, depression and trust issues. I think we were lucky to find one another.

    James, I think this is different to what you are trying to say in some ways. My thoughts we can choose to allow other influences in our lives to help build and to shape our relationships. It takes both parties to do this though. Sometimes, this will never happen - like my parents. They should have split rather than stay together.

    Kind regards


  4. Hayfa
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    5 December 2018 in reply to james1

    Hi James

    What a very interesting subject and I hear and understand you perfectly. What may look like shared values that seem similar or different in context between cultures are actually different to varying degrees. I think this is embedded in anthropology; it is not just the life we live in our everyday actions but the way we live it. We do things based on our personal understanding and the meaning and significance that has been passed down to us, this might come from the place we live in, the culture and environment which also includes those close to us like family who have passed down traditions.

    It may be possible to live away from the environment where the culture is present but you could still be present in the culture from other influences such as tradition, cultural values and awareness.
    I think there is more to everything than what appears at the surface, if you think of an iceberg and dive under you may see that there is more going on there for individuals; we are who are based on where we have been, where and who we have come from and all other influences around these.
    I like to think of it as a tree; it is tall with many branches and I am but one of the roots connected from under it all so I am still a part of it and in it regardless of all the other elements that might affect the branches and leaves on top.

    You are right though, it really is hard to explain and all I can say is I get it because I am from it.


    1 person found this helpful
  5. james1
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    7 December 2018 in reply to Hayfa

    Hello Quirky, thanks for posting. It's really interesting to hear about your own experiences and how some things that first seemed like similarities, ended up turning to be quite different. I've certainly had this a lot and I keep (in error) assuming that others are like me when we share quite surface similarities, only to have it backfire later. It's at once disappointing for suddenly not having that shared experience, and embarrassing for making a mistake about their experience.

    To answer your question, I think it's more to do with common experiences. I find it hard if it feels like nobody I know has trodden my path before, because it feels very lonely. So when we have no common experience with partners or friends, or even family, it becomes quite lonely. I mean, we can talk to them about it, but if we can't really explain it in words... it's hard.

    Hello PamelaR,

    Learning to compromise is something I'm still coming to terms with. And not just compromise with others, but also with myself. It's hard to accept a middle ground where both lose/win depending on whether you're a cup half full or half empty person (and I'm half empty). I also look at my parents and see two people who came to a white Australia as Chinese migrants from a poor background but with education. Surface commonalities, which later revealed very significant differences and, like yours, they unfortunately stuck together for longer than they should've without learning to compromise.

    Hello Hayfa,

    I like the tree analogy. It also helps me visualise it because, I like to grow plants, and you think about how a tree develops and it's a messy combination of the soil in which it was planted, the climate in which it was planted, the watering it got and fertiliser, any wind that blew it one way or another, broken branches which encouraged it to grow more, animals and the way the light sat in that area... just like how human beings develop, it's quite unexplainable about why a particular tree had this branch going this way.

    Thanks everyone

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