Saturday, October 22, 2011

Cultural differences

Yes, I have been curiously silent lately. I have been experiencing a lot of different emotions and sometimes when all you feel is emotional it's hard to write about any one thing. I think I end up sounding like I'm simply writing to write, automatic writing that ends up being nonsense. I suppose real writers would disagree with me.

So my real crisis day came on October 15, which is just two months from the date of my return ticket to Minnesota. I'm not gonna lie to you. I kinda freaked out, very quietly. I don't want to go. Leif could tell something was wrong. I think complete strangers could see I was preoccupied with something. Because while the only way I can figure to stay is if we get married, I don't want to get married just to stay here. I know, picky.

Those closest to me would certainly say that I'm making more of this than there needs to be. Of course, they're not living it. Sometimes I think their issues are pretty simple to fix, from my thousands of miles away point of view.

Manifestation of cultural grey zone. Eats airplanes.
I sort of feel like I'm navigating a cultural grey zone, a Bermuda Triangle of Love if you will. Our two countries couldn't be farther apart on the topics of romance and marriage. Italy should be neutral, but that would would be impossible for an Italian. I personally find the grey zone between these points to be filled with the kind of dense fog that  makes a person feel alone and swallows  up sound so silence is the loudest thing to be heard.

I was raised with a particularly American concept of romance. My Barbie had a wedding dress, like every other little girl my age I put a pillow case on my head and pretended I was a bride. Movies and magazines just reinforced in my mind the ritual I came to think of as romance.

A couple meet and fall madly, hopelessly in love. They date for an appropriate amount of time. I don't know what that means, but there's talk when things are "rushed." No longer able to live apart, they get married. Again after an engagement of the appropriate amount of time to avoid talk. All the family weddings I attended were big affairs. Anyone who got married without a big wedding had some kind of secret problem that adults talked about in low voices and even though I didn't understand exactly what was going on I knew it was bad, so obviously a big wedding meant you were a good girl.

So that's the culture (and generation) I come from. Somewhere under all the tulle is the legal reason for getting married. I have such a different life now that I want to throw this fantasy out the window and figure out what love and romance mean to me.

Leif is from Sweden. This is the only thing I know for certain.

Everything else I think I know about the Swedish concepts of romance and marriage come from discussions with Leif, various other Swedes I know and online research. Chances are I will misrepresent a large portion of what I think I think I know. First, I know that there are lots of couples in Sweden who are engaged or living together and never get married. A little online research tells me that cohabiting couples in Sweden have pretty much the same legal rights as a married couple. Marriage is a ceremonial ritual that people who want to do something traditional might choose, but it isn't a common thing. An engagement isn't a part of the process to becoming married like in the US, it is an end unto itself.

We live in Italy and want to continue to live here. And that's why this whole discussion is happening. Italy isn't Sweden, and the only way I can stay is to marry someone who lives here. It doesn't even matter what the cultural norms are here because the Italian government has clearly defined how an American citizen without a job or ginormous bank account can stay here. They lay it all out for you. Where, when, and by whom with an imposing stack of paperwork. In Italian. Not impossible, but fraught with hidden pitfalls and traps.

So there you go. Three completely different views on love and marriage. How do we bring all these opposing views together? Do we try to find a common ground or just let things go and see what happens? Being the outgoing American that I am, do I ask him to marry me? Wait for him to ask me? Get him drunk?

I wish that staying here wasn't all tied up with something as important as getting married. Because in the end all I want to do is be with him.

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