Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Dating in Japan: Differences

One of the interesting/infuriating things about dating someone from another culture are the differences.  Once you have been dating someone for a while, inevitably bits of reality and issues start to crop up. And we analyze (or at least I do) each thing, trying to figure each other out.

Are these differences culturally based? Is it personality? Both? Neither? Does it even matter? Are the issues actually even about the person, or just me projecting onto them? (I am currently going with the last theory). When relationships are cross-cultural, it is all too simple to blame any dearths or 'defects' on differences in norms and upbringing.

Some differences are indeed cultural. Affection shown less in words and more in gestures and acts. A tendency towards modesty and reiteration in conversation. Others are personal. The decision to dress formally at all times. A quiet nature.

Cultural differences can be difficult, if both parties are unwilling to budge. Some are deeply ingrained, and only show up unconsciously, which can be the scariest to deal with. I think talking about things is the only way forward. People are not mind readers (as I often tell two of my 'unsatisfied' sharemates), and while some conversations are harder than others, it is better than simmering in silence.

But mostly it requires a journey inward. I am not one for 'new-agey' stuff, but I have become more concious that what we dislike in others tends to be what we dislike about ourselves. It is easier to focus on those traits in someone else, rather than accepting and dealing with them in ourselves. For those who tend to keep others at a bit of a distance, a relationship with someone from a different culture can start out feeling very 'safe', as cultural differences do have the effect of a mental wall. However that wall does not remain there forever, and you find yourself wondering again.

My apologies, this post ended up being more introspective than intended, but I would love to hear what others think about the subject.


  1. I think you hit differences even if you are from the same culture. At least in an international relationship, you have a reason for the differences, and you are expecting them, I suppose.

  2. I agree with Sarahf to an extent - like when a friend complained that a guy didn't call her back and she said, "maybe it's because he's Japanese and he's shy". I hesitated to tell her, "if someone really likes you, they will call back, no matter how nervous they feel!" But sometimes it's easy to forget there are cultural differences. I used to get mad over perceived slights or misunderstandings, then I realised that you can't jump to the same conclusions you might if you shared the same culture. Now, before I get needlessly offended, I stop and ask my husband, "wait, did you mean xyz?" and a lot of the time, he'll say, "no, that's not what I meant at all!" it's either a difference in language nuance or culture. The plus side is you don't take each other for granted. On the downside, having grown up with different pop culture references, we sometimes don't 'get' stuff straight away (like, he's never heard of The Brady Bunch or The Simpsons and listened to completely different music growing up). Now, we're building our own store of shared experiences and references though, which is cool!

  3. Are these differences culturally based? Is it personality? Both? Neither?

    Being in an interracial and international relationship, I struggled with the answer to these questions for a long time. Is it my SO's nationality? His family? His ethnicity? The town that he grew up in? Sometimes I still can't figure it out. And sometimes surprising things come up: ways in which we do and think the same things.

    For instance, it seems to be rather common where I live for men to say "That's really a man thing" or "That's a woman thing" but I don't think that would go over so well in other places that I've lived.

    Very, very curious.

  4. I agree with SarahF, expecting and accepting cultural differences can be a good thing - I know I'm more likely to explain my reasoning to U than I did to exes, to make allowances rather than expect certain things. But, I do think our differences are more from personality than culture per se...