“This is not a culture thing. This is a polite or not polite thing!”
This quote is from an episode of “Family or Fiancé” a reality TV show on the OWN network. In this episode Chris, a Ghanian-American, is struggling to get his mother’s blessing to marry his fiancé Falasha, an African-American woman. This show focused on Chris’ efforts to get his mother to accept his marriage but it was unable to dive deep into the culture clash that exists between the two families. Like I said the post last week, I know more about Nigerian culture than Ghanian culture but I wanted to share some of the perceptions of this episode that are drawn from my experiences.
One of the most important things in several African cultures is a proper greeting. For me I believe it’s important because it is respectful to acknowledge a person’s existence. This is important in the African-American culture also but the style of an acceptable greeting to elders may be different in African ethic groups.
For example in the US, respect is given to older adults by referring to their title in relation to you when speaking to them– such as “Auntie May” or “Uncle Carl”. However in some African cultures it is insulting to an elder to greet them using their first name at all. So in countries like Nigeria, the young refer to older relatives/family friends as simply “Auntie” or “Uncle”.
What would I do if I needed to call a particular Auntie in a room full of my older relatives? I would refer to her as the mother of her first born child (i.e. “Ada’s Mom”).
Additionally some in cultures, like the Yoruba for example, a proper greeting includes kneeling before the elder.
So in light of this, when the groom’s mother doesn’t hug Falasha warmly is it because Falasha didn’t greet his mother properly?
Well, we don’t know because, like I said before, reality TV doesn’t show the whole story. It is possible for a mother to be mean to the bride-to-be, even if the bride gives the utmost respect. But I thought of this question when Chris tried to explain his culture to Falasha in the clip above. Was he trying to say that she was suppose to greet his mother differently? Or was Chris trying to tell Falasha that in his culture an older woman in that situation would not hug Falasha in the way she expected?
If it is true then that would explain the domino effect of the grievance between the two women in that moment. The mother may feel disrespected because she is greeted improperly while the bride feels rejected because his mother did not accept her greeting.
Your mother is like, dropping little comments like I knew she would. You didn’t hear her? You didn’t hear her right?!
Another thing I noticed that may have been an example of a culture clash is Falasha’s reaction to the comments of her future mother-in-law. In the clip above the two families are taking a tour of the house they will live in for the show. As they are walking through the house there the couple banters a bit saying that this is the house they will have one day. Chris’s mother joins in too but her comments are seen as shade towards Falasha.
But are the mother’s comments about the walk-in closet or Falasha cleaning the floors meant to be spiteful?
Because this is the way I expect and African woman to talk. What do I mean by this? Well earlier in the show Falasha complains that when she tries to come to Chris’s home to learn Ghanian cooking or culture his mother is very nit-picky with what she does. Chris then says that his mother is not picking on her; it’s just the culture. And that may be true.
Parents in African cultures will always in some form refer to cultural expectations in communication with their kids. Common themes of respect of elders, reverence for God, getting a good education and expectations of marriage are effortlessly expressed in comments and conversations throughout the day. These issues are expressed in the African-American culture also but the style is a little different. You can see what I mean in this video shared from “The Patonnes” You Tube channel. In this video the vloggers and their mothers talk about the “annoying things growing up in an African household.”
(FYI that video is in English but they translated Yoruba phrases. Click on the subtitles/closed captions button.)
Notice that the mothers stressed how a wife should take care of the home and how to respect elders — even in something as simple as washing dishes. Near the end of this vlog post (at 18:15) one the mothers explains why she, as the mother, would not wash that dish–her daughter must wash it! For African parents, this commentary & correction of important matters never really ends. It becomes less intense as a child grows up and begins to meet the expectations of life but it never really goes way. It is still sprinkled into conversations here & there– even half-jokingly in friendly banter with their adult children.
Therefore, you can see why Chris doesn’t look moved by Falasha’s complaint about his Mom saying that she as the mother “should be first” or that Falasha will mop the floor. (“I am not going to do it. You have to do it.”) Maybe he is just used to stuff like this. Even the statement “she is not your wife yet” is not surprising to me because technically Chris can’t claim Falasha as his wife if they haven’t had the wedding ceremony. I expect his mother to say that.
Like I said before, reality TV doesn’t show the whole story and it could be possible for the groom’s mother to be an unloving in-law. However you can still take a lesson from this episode. If you find yourself creating new relationships with people of a different culture -even if it is similar to your own- keep an open mind. Ask questions about things that seem odd to you. Ask your friends who are from the same culture about habits & traditions. This would give you some knowledge to help you soften the culture clash and resolve some misunderstandings.
I want to mention as I end this post, that the references I used here are examples from Nigerian culture. Africa is a continent that stretches over 11 million miles with 54 individual countries each with its own diverse set of communities, languages & cultures. So although I have mentioned common themes I have seen with family, associates & friends please keep in mind that people from other countries may express things a little differently.
Did you see this episode of ‘Family & Fiancé”? Do you think that the conflict between the mother-in-law & the bride was just a misunderstanding or something else?