Workingmums.co.uk talks to Wendy Williams, author of 'The Globalisation of Love' about the growth in multicultural families.
Intercultural marriages are rising at up to five times the rate of monocultural ones, particularly in the world’s largest cities as the world becomes more globalised and more and more children are being brought up speaking more than one language.
These international relationships are hugely enriching and should be celebrated, says Wendy Williams, author of The Globalisation of Love.
Her interest in multicultural relationships began when she got together with her husband who is Austrian. Wendy is from Canada and indeed her own family is very international. Her mum’s family is from Ukraine and her father’s from England, although they were both born in Canada. She is herself married to an Austria and lives in Austria with her three-year-old daughter who speaks German and English.
She thought about writing a book as a result of her own and friends’ relationships and after working internationally for many years and witnessing cultural barriers in business.
She says: “Within my circle of friends a lot of couples were multicultural and we recognised each other’s stories and faux pas. I thought there was definitely a book there. Initially I just wanted to tell anecdotes, but there was so much enthusiasm for the project and as I interviewed people I could see there was so much to share. I felt it was my duy to look at the richness of the issues.”
She was determined to write a book which celebrated multicultural relationships. “There were a lot of books on multicultural relationships, but they tended to be by academics for academics or there were books which focused more on potential problems and about surviving them. From my perspective, multicultural relations were not about surviving but thriving. There are more challenges to face, but at the same time they are incredibly enriching. You learn so much about the world and about your own culture and language. And it enriches your extended family too.”
The book doesn’t shy away from the challenges faced though. Wendy touches on all areas of multicultural relationships, including miscommunication arising from partners not speaking the same native languages. “Misunderstandings can result,” she says. “Is the person not speaking their native language really saying what they want to say? How are they hearing and understanding what you are saying? All couples have communication problems, but language problems can add more frustrations and sometimes a person may seem to have a different personality in another language where they feel more confident and fluent.”
Then there are differing social expectations about the relationship, both from individual partners and from their wider families, not to mention religious or racial issues, which may lead to clashes, particuarly when children come into the frame.
Williams says some of the issues do not really arise in any obvious way until children come along and she adds that, apart from particular cultural differences, every family has its own individual culture and context, which partners have to understand.
But Wendy says that the ability and desire to understand different contexts is what makes for the richness of multicultural relationships. “Children of multicultural relationships are like little ambassadors for world peace. They have grown up knowing that there are two or more ways to do something. Their perspective is more open and they are more tolerant of differences,” she says.
She adds that children of multicultural relationships may identify more strongly with a particular parent’s background in their early years for a variety of reasons – for instance, they may gravitate towards the language of their mother – but says by their 20s they are usually proud to embrace both cultures.
Wendy’s own daughter goes to a German-speaking kindergarten and Wendy speaks English to her. Her husband speaks German to her. Both Wendy and her husband speak each other’s languages, but they spoke English together at home soon after they moved there. Wendy says that is because she wanted to create “a little Canadian haven”. “I felt that I was too deep into the Austrian culture. Everything I did was adapting to Austria,” she says. “When you live abroad it’s important to find a critical balance between maintaining your own cultural identity and integrating into the society you live in.”
She says the response to the book has been very positive with people thanking her for highlighting the issues so they don’t feel they are the only ones facing them. Interestingly, from the many couples she interviewed for the book, most relationships have succeeded and even for those which didn’t succeed most of the individuals involved are back in new multicultural relationships, she says. She hopes to write more books on intercultural issues in the future.
Work life balance
Wendy did most of the writing of her book following her daughter’s birth. She had already completed most of the interviews, many by Skype with people all over the world. When her daughter was around eight months old she realised combining international travel in her consultancy work and a small child was not giving her the work life balance she needed. She decided to put the consultancy work on hold and devote herself to finishing the book. She says it didn’t feel like giving up her career. “It was a win win,” she says.
She had a nanny to look after her daughter while she wrote the first half and then her daughter started doing a half day at kindergarten. Wendy used to work 10-12 hour days, but reduced this to four to six hours when her daughter was very young and is currently doing around eight hours a day, including business development workshops on issues such as working in intercultural teams. “I am still very career-focused, but I have been able to have more time for my daughter while pursuing my dream of writing books,” she says.