Uncomfortable Questions NOT to Ask Me About My Japanese Husband

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I’m married to a Japanese guy. Before that, I was engaged to the same Japanese guy, and before that, we were dating.

We met at a predominantly white university in a predominantly white city in the US, vastly different from where I grew up in southern California (which is considerably more multicultural). We subsequently moved to a bigger, although still pretty dominantly white, city, where we now live. When we started dating, my friends and family weren’t very surprised (since I speak Japanese, lived in Japan, etc.) and it was no big deal. Now that we are married, and live in a new city where we meet a lot of people, I find that sometimes I am asked uncomfortable questions by people I don’t know very well, and I don’t always know exactly how to respond.

I thought I’d share some of the questions that shock me the most, because I’m sure that other people in AMWF relationships, or in international, multicultural relationships in general, must get similar questions.

 

  1. When will your husband get American citizenship?

This question is my least favorite. It assumes that my husband wants or needs to exchange his Japanese citizenship for American citizenship. Just because he lives in the US, doesn’t mean that he wants to be a citizen. He’s happy that we live in the US, he has a huge list of things he likes about the US, but for a variety of reasons he doesn’t want to go through the process of becoming a US citizen.

When I tell people that he has no plans to become a citizen, and I don’t mind, they are usually pretty shocked. I’m not sure why. There are many international permanent residents in the US, and for various reasons they have not become citizens. It’s a personal choice, and it’s his to make, and I hope that people will respect it.

2. What does your husband do?

This question most often comes from my coworkers, and it seems kind of rude to me. What does he do? Many things. What is his job? My husband quit his job in Japan, and has been in the US less than a year. So, he isn’t working right now. But if I tell my coworkers this, they pry uncomfortably about the details. In both America and in Japan it’s uncommon for a man to be unemployed and for his wife to be the sole breadwinner. Old fashioned? Yes. But still a very uncommon situation. So, I sometimes jokingly answer that he is a house husband because I’m too busy to keep up the house, and people generally laugh with me.

The main reason he isn’t working right now is because we are waiting on his permanent residency (which we recently found out will take at least another 6 months). There are other reasons why he hasn’t started job hunting, but I don’t want to detail my personal life to my coworkers or people I don’t know well. “None of your business” is out of the question, but I usually try to avoid this line of questioning or be vague with my answers but still polite.

3. Can he speak English?

This is usually a question asked immediately following the discovery that my husband is Japanese, or in relation to the work question (see #2). The reason that this question is uncomfortable is that it’s not easy for me to answer. We speak Japanese at home, and while we watch “How I Met Your Mother” for English practice, I honestly don’t know what his English level is. He studied English for a year and a half, but he then went back to Japan for a year and a half (during which his English suffered). So, I don’t know, middling fair?

He can make basic conversation, but he doesn’t like to speak English on the phone with utility companies or repair companies and the like. He can order food, understand the general plot line in most movies, but we have all serious conversations in Japanese. But I don’t really want to go into all that every time I talk to a new person. So, it’s hard to come up with a good answer. The answer I give to this question depends on my mood and who I am talking to. My answers range from sarcastic, to unnecessarily complicated, to a curt and superbly unhelpful “yes.”

4. What’s the best Japanese restaurant in town?

Is this really a request for a restaurant recommendation? Or are you hoping my Japanese husband will endorse your favorite hibachi restaurant? I just moved here, so I feel like you just don’t have anything better to say… And, in my honest opinion, most of the Japanese-esque restaurants that populate this city are in general pretty terrible. Almost everyone I meet asks about my husband’s favorite Japanese restaurant.

My usual response to this question is sarcasm disguised as a light-hearted joke: “My house! My husband is a great cook.” People aren’t convinced (because men can’t cook?) that he does all the cooking. Even his own mother was skeptical of his ability. However, when we decided NOT to live in Japan (because I got an amazing job in my field), part of the whole plan we worked out was that while we got settled in, my husband would do the cooking and the housework while I focused on my new job. So I’m going back to question #2 again, but if we’re both happy with our lifestyle, what do other people’s opinions matter?

5. What’s it like being married to a Japanese guy?

So people don’t exactly come out and ask me this question directly, but they ask questions that, summed together, are the equivalent of this question. I come from a very multicultural background, with friends from many different cultures, countries, and beliefs. But this question usually comes from people who have only been around one culture for most of their lives. Sometimes I wonder if people who ask this question live in a bubble…

This question is uncomfortable because I don’t know how to respond. I’ve only ever been married to a Japanese guy, so it’s the only kind of marriage I’ve known. I’m sure it’s similar to other marriages in some ways, and different to other marriages in other ways. I’m sure the differences are more significant than a marriage where the partners are from the same culture, but even those marriages have challenges.

This question is the hardest to answer, because it does not come out in a straightforward manner, rather, people are trying to ask it without directly asking it. I am always grateful when I meet other people who are in multicultural relationships, because we can commiserate about this question. The good news? I get asked this question much less frequently than the others. And, some people are genuinely interested in my relationship, and I feel like I can open some people’s minds to multicultural experiences by talking about my own life.

 

It’s not that I mind answering questions about my marriage, it’s just that I mind answering uncomfortable questions. I’m happy to talk about Japan, about how I met my husband, and about how I adapted to a new culture. But in this world, and especially in a country like America that is supposed to be a melting pot of many cultures, it is strange to me to be asked questions that are honestly pretty invasive just because my husband and I are from different cultures.

What do you think about these questions? Have you been asked similar questions, or similarly uncomfortable questions? How would you respond? Let me know, because I certainly don’t have all the right answers!

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18 thoughts on “Uncomfortable Questions NOT to Ask Me About My Japanese Husband

  1. Yeah, questions about race + culture can we weird. I’ve definitely gotten my fair share of them. Generally speaking though, folks are just curious and they don’t mean to offend. Humor can be a great way to navigate choppy waters.

    “What does your husband do?” – Oh, many things! The laundry, the cooking, the washing up…

    “When will your husband get his Am citizenship?” – Oh, no. Not with Donald Trump taking office this year. Ohhhhh, no.

    and “What’s it like to be married to a Japanese guy?” [you’ve already said it in this post!] I’ve never been married before so I can’t compare it to other marriages!

    Like

    • I’m sure they don’t mean any offense with these questions, but for me it’s really a time-place-occasion type of situation. Also, I’ve had a lot of practice answering these questions, so I get frustrated sometimes. I like your suggestions because they keep it light without being rude or putting anyone off (unless they like Donald Trump……). Thanks for your input!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Wow, these are pretty uncomfortable questions? Hmm. I can’t compare any experiences — right now I wouldn’t ever be in a situation where I’d ask about someone’s relationship, or to be honest ask about their background unless we were discussing something like that — but this post does make me think.

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    • The most uncomfortable part about these questions is the situation they are asked in (people I don’t know well, people I want to keep a professional relationship with) and the frequency with which they are asked! The attitude with which people ask is also a part of it (although it might also be my perception). It’s not that I don’t want anyone asking any questions, I just think they should be reserved for the appropriate time and place.

      Being an adult and having adult interactions is hard ^.~

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I grew up in a small city with 99.9% white population, so when I brought him home first many of my friends and family asked me if he could speak German, although I told them that he moved to Austria years ago, that he even understands my mountain girl dialect, and that he even got Austrian citizenship. I have been asked these questions all the time, and my answer really depends on how the person asks me. I’ve become pretty good in reading people the last few years, so when someone is truely interested, I answer more honestly. But when they just want to get some information from me which they can turn against me, I make up some weird stories.
    I hate questions about his size and about our sex life, and when people ask me why I don’t date an Austrian guy, I fake a shock about him already showing me his passport which states he’s Austrian and that he probably lied to me(?!?). Or I tell them I don’t want other people to find out that I am actually racist. Or that I fell in love with him on Tinder and he used a profile pic of George Clooney which in the end did not match his real apperance but I decided to date him anyway.
    And when they find our that I speak Japanese and ask me “Oh so this is the reason why you date him? Do you speak Japanese with him?” I could try, but he probably wouldn’t understand me. Doh!

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    • Luckily no one asks me about our *private* life, but I’ve heard comments in other situations and that’s so inappropriate. In my situation, these are people I see often, so I don’t want to outright lie, I just want to avoid getting into a deep discussion on these topics. They also ask me before they assume my husband’s nationality, which I appreciate (rather than assuming, as they do with your husband). Thanks for your input, you have an interesting approach to uncomfortable questions!

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  4. Yeah such questions can be really annoying. I have been asked tons of times about when my wife will apply for German nationality etc…
    The good thing between me and my wife is that the common language we use is English. Surely we have few parts also in German, Chinese or in Finish but we want to keep it all separated so our son can learn as many languages as possible 🙂

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  5. Traveller at heart

    When I’m confronted with personal questions or questions I don’t want to answer, sometimes I answered a question with a question. A favourite question is where are you from? I tell people the district I live in knowing full well it’s my background they’re interested in.

    I make it a point right from the start that I’m a private person.

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  6. More or less, we (I’m japanese and my wife is filipina) have an uncomfortable situation as well. The most ‘aru-aru’ questions for us are where did you two meet?, how do you communicate?, and also silly questions like what do you eat? (and who cooks?). Well, I have to say I am sick of being asked the same queations over and over.

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  7. I always get question #2 when they happen to know that my husband is a Korean guy. I understand how you feel. However, even if those questions may sometimes offend us, let’s just give them the most honest response. It’s an annoying fact (a little..LOL) that people will see us different from them. Ganbatte kudasai! (I’m a beginning Japanese learner. 😀 )

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  8. I have to admit it’s a little disheartening to find out that asking rather basic questions about your life is considered uncomfortable. You are in a fairly unusual relationship, by American standards, so if we were to meet I would likely be curious about many of the questions you refer to. Honestly, to me asking about how your husband is adjusting to living in America and such is showing interest in getting to know you better and perhaps laying some foundation for friendship or at least camaraderie. However, that being said, when I meet anyone that would hit me as friend potential I would want the get to know them better whether they have a husband from another country or not.

    I would hope that the person on the other end of my question would think of it more that I am wanting to get to know them better and am simply opening up dialogue.

    The questions you noted don’t come at me as invading privacy, they seem more like conversation starters. Yes #5 is a bit strange but the others don’t seem outlandish to me. In fact, I love Japanese food and if I find someone who just moved to my area from Japan you can bet I will be asking if they have found a Japanese restaurant that meets their standards so I can enjoy it as well. Knowing you speak Japanese and he is from Japan, I don’t think asking if he speaks English is a strange question and I think you answered it quite well, I’m not seeing the difficulty in answering that.

    I don’t know, it just seems ultra sensitive to me to be offended by honest curiosity and what seems to me to be rather polite conversation starters. Perhaps, I am part of the problem since I don’t see the offense.

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    • Maybe I’m being ultra sensitive? That’s totally possible. I guess the problem I have is that these are mostly coworkers, who, once they find out that my husband is Japanese, bring up these questions pretty early into our professional relationship. I don’t mind questions about my husband, but it feels really personal with the way they ask the questions in a work setting. I guess I also like to keep my work life and personal life pretty separate, especially with regards to senior colleagues.

      If I’m going out with coworkers closer to my age and experience who I see on a daily basis after work, and we get into more personal questions like that, it’s not a big deal, because we are getting to know each other better. If I met you, or someone else in a more casual setting, it’d be similar. But if it’s someone who I see only at work, and they ask me these kinds of questions in the first few times of meeting me, I feel like it’s pretty prying. I’d rather talk about my hometown, or my experiences studying abroad, or something else until I get to know someone better, rather than questions that I consider to be uncomfortable to answer (partly because I don’t know how to answer them, and partly because they are very personal to me for a work setting). If it were only one or two people, I’d be able to brush it off, but it’s happened a lot since I started my job.

      I wasn’t sure I wanted to post this, but it’s been on my mind for the past 6 months as I meet more coworkers, and even network outside of my office. I want to maintain professional relationships, and maintain that distance between work life and home life with people of higher positions than me. So, maybe I’m being oversensitive, and maybe it’s just embarrassing to see other people’s reactions, but I can’t help but feel this way as a generally pretty private person…

      Thanks for your opinion! I’ll try to keep it in mind the next time I have this kind of conversation and evaluate my own way of thinking about these interactions.

      Liked by 1 person

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