Over 25 years of marriage have taught my husband and me how to adjust to each other’s families.
By Mary Jensen
When I first began dating my husband, our differences did not seem very significant. I was attracted to his outgoing personality and self-confidence. He was attracted to my friendliness and spontaneity. We attended the same church and had several mutual friends.
Even our families seemed quite similar. Our moms were full-time homemakers. Our dads were hard-working breadwinners.
Then we began to spend more and more time with each other’s families. I realized we had significant differences when Rich asked me, “Does your grandmother have to kiss me on the lips every time she sees me?”
Thus began the adjustments that come when a Scandinavian boy falls in love with a girl from a Greek family.
It took Rich some time to adjust to the fact that my family is very demonstrative. We hug at the door when you come into the house. We hug when we say good-bye. We hug when we make a new acquaintance.
If you are greeted in the traditional Greek style, you will receive a kiss on each side of your face. And if you are a Greek, you will return the kiss in the same way. It took some explaining to help Rich understand this–that this is what my grandmother was attempting. Finally I convinced him to just hold his face still. Then she wouldn’t get the corner of his mouth like she had been doing.
“Just get used to it,” I told him. “She’s Greek.”
This was quite a contrast to what I experienced when I visited Rich’s family. I was welcomed, but no one reached out to give me a hug. I noticed that their conversations around the table were different from mine. They talked a lot about the latest news story, particularly the political climate and who was up for re-election. I remember how they would go on and on about what they would change about this or that, especially taxes.
Meals around the table at my home were also a bit different. At our gatherings, we put out a huge spread. As everyone ate, the food was passed around constantly and you were often asked, “Would you like some more?”
My mom was notorious for doing this whenever we had company:
“Rich, would you like some more potatoes?”
“No thank you. I still have some on my plate.”
“Rich, would you like some more salad?”
“No thank you. I’m fine.”
And then later. “Would you like some more bread?”
“No thank you, I’m actually pretty full.”
Poor Rich–he got so tired of it that he finally asked me to please tell my mother that if he wanted more food, he would just ask for it … “like we do at my house.” I told her what he said, but it was in her blood. She would do it again and again.
I finally had to tell him, “Just get used to it. She’s Greek.”
Rich’s family always decorated nicely, but they were never pretentious. If they drew attention to themselves, it was by accident–it was never intentional. One day Rich and I were driving through an upscale neighborhood outside of San Francisco. As we were coming around a turn, a house in the distance caught his eye. “Look at that house over there,” he started to say, “the one with the huge columns and that gaudy fountain on the front lawn. I bet some Greek people own that house.”
The home stood out like a sore thumb. Ostentatious. Overdone. Out of place. “Rich,” I said as I realized I had been in this neighborhood before, “I know the lady who lives there.”
What could I say? I told him, “Just get used to it. She’s Greek.”
Over the past 25 years of marriage Rich has learned a thing or two about my family. He would even tell you that his family has loosened up a bit with me around. His dad was never a hugger, but now he hugs people all the time.
Now, when we have people over for dinner, I pass the food around and ask if anyone would like some more. And my husband smiles and says to our guests, “Just get used to it. She’s Greek.”
This article originally appeared in the December 14, 2009 issue of Marriage Memo, a weekly e-newsletter. To subscribe free to Marriage Memo and other FamilyLife e-newsletters, click here. For the Marriage Memo archives, click here.