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.
- 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!