A Different World

When I met my husband in 1995, I thought he and I had a lot in common.  We were both crazy computer people, in an age still well before personal computers and internet access were common place.  We both were independent, working hard at our careers and had a lot of ambition at the starting line of life.

What I didn’t realize until months later, long after I’d committed to him and he’d carved out a significant spot in my life, was how different his upbringing was from my own.  It happened one night shortly after we’d moved in together, when his father called our home.  I’d still never met his parents at this point in our relationship.  All of the sudden this man I’d just invited into my home and my life started speaking a foreign language.  Rapidly.  A language that didn’t sound like any foreign language I knew, like Spanish or French or German (the only three that were offered at our high school).

It was in that moment I realized perhaps we were more different than I thought.

My husband has 19 first cousins.  His father is a first generation immigrant, born in the former Yugoslavia in what is now known as Croatia.  They family fled after World War Two and spent years trying to reassemble their family in Canada.  His mother is a Washington DC born daughter of means, having grown up with privilege.   Like my parents, they met while in college.  Except his parents met while both studying abroad, in Spain.

My husband grew up in a two parent household with elements of the Deep South, Spain, Eastern Europe.  Three different languages were spoken on a regular basis.  His grandmother spoke no English.  Holidays meant tradition and ethnic food prepared in specific ways, and family.  Always family.  They ate three or four course meals and played classical music in the background.  They drank wine and before dinner drinks and after dinner drinks.  They danced folk dances from Spain or Croatia for entertainment at family gatherings.

It was, and is, a world I truly don’t understand.  I grew up listening to pop radio and eating Lean Cuisines boiled in a bag.  No one spoke anything other than English, and very few had ever traveled overseas; if they had, it was because they had fought in a war.  We were as American as could be.  No ethnic foods or traditions of any kind.  No booze unless you were celebrating something or upset about something.

In some ways, I love that my world includes this wonderful array of new experiences I might have never had otherwise in my life.  I love the foods, the drinks, the warmth of the family.  In other ways, I feel bewildered and lost and craving the simplicity of what I grew up with.

This summer, we are finally traveling with our children to see Europe, to visit Croatia.  I am both exhilarated and terrified at the thought.

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