After 27 years it is clear that they don’t really like me.
And it is not so much that they don’t like me, as I will always be foreign to them. It is deep down prejudice, and it often makes me feel sad and strange when I am with them.
As a group, I know that they feel as if they are the ones who are discounted and mocked. But when I am in their house, it is me who is made to feel as if my background is an embarrassment.
It could be that they just don’t like my British reserve, which is a pretty huge part of me and not something I can change. I have sat with them when they mocked Canadians/British. So I know what it is they don’t like.
It is true that I am too sensitive, something that they are keen to point out. And part of me internalizes their criticism. But I guess I always hoped that they would like me for who I was, eventually.
Over the years we have learned something about each other’s cultures. One, British/Canadian gals like me are a lot tougher than we look. And two, the men in their family are less prejudiced than the women. This discovery was hard for me to admit; naturally feminist and not competitive in nature, I like to connect with other women. But it is the women who are the hardest critics in this family, and I have not impressed them.
We have tried to get to know each other, on both sides, and I give them credit for doing their best. But we are not close. I always feel like a stranger. For years I avoided talking about my family with them because of their obvious prejudices against the non-religious traditional WASP culture.
It is likely that Joe and I have influenced each other over the many years; I am considered too blunt in my own family, and he too reticent in his, so the merging of the cultures has taken us a step away from both of our original cultures.
I like the Israeli characteristics in my husband. My outsider’s view is that Israelis are extremely buoyant, laughing and joking, mocking their enemies and insisting on enjoying life in the face of any difficulties.
I thought I knew the extent of his strength and resilience, but then, 25 years into our time together, I watched Joe pull our family through an incredibly stressful crisis. I saw another level to his strength, powerful resistance and unstoppable buoyancy. This is also an Israeli characteristic: a constant state of cocky ‘fuck you’ that I admire, and a joie de vivre that I love.
He is also more likely to raise his voice in argument than me, more in excitement than anger. And he is pretty talkative. And he loves all sports. And he believes in the communal spirit of human activity, based on the early idealistic days of Israel when many of the immigrants were intellectuals and lived in communal kibbutz style. In fact, his strong political feelings about Israel‘s behavior as a nation make him all the more Israeli and not less so.
His family knows and loves him even though they argue and argue. And I appreciate the fact that although he is a tough humorous guy that cannot be brought down by anyone, he is has a gentle sentimental British side too. At times when I puzzle over his troubles with romantic gestures or little niceties, I have to remember that he was not brought up with those things.
As far as I can see from the outside, there is not a lot of emotional support within his family. People are told not to talk about their problems. And they are constantly openly critical; too much salt in this soup, too much weight, bad haircut; you have to have a thick skin to survive.
When I first met Joe’s Mom she said to me, “Why grow your hair long when it is so thin”? I was amazed. It is no surprise that they want me to change; “What! All I am saying is, try ironing your clothes, you’ll look all nice and neat”. What can you say; it is not said with meanness, just a bit brutal!
And every last one of my Israeli in-laws thinks that they are the best at everything; the best driver, the best cook, the most cool, the smartest, whatever. There is a super ego present that is tiring but impressive.
I have enjoyed their company, laughed and admired their forthright way of expressing themselves, and their easy laughter. I have eaten their good food in their immaculate houses. I have attended dinners, done dishes, bumped babies on my knee. I have traveled for weddings, played with little children who are now adults, and rubbed some sort of arthritic cream into my mother-in-laws’ arm. We even had a bizarre afternoon in which she tore hair from my legs with hot wax.
We have bonded in our way. But when I call or visit, every time it is as if I am starting all over again. Dispassionate questions about my family, remarks that make me feel somewhat inhuman. “Oh, you have people over to your house”? Someone saying my last name was Evans. It makes me feel like a stranger.
My husband argues that their inability to accept me is more about their criticism of him. But in the end it does not matter. We have stuck together, and what drew my husband to me may have been exactly the part of him that his sisters found so annoying.
I loved to see my husband with his family when we were young; the laughter between him and his siblings was great. The suburban life they lived was far from my own, but they were a different culture, a different religion and I did not make any comparisons. And if I did, at first they were positive.
I noted that in my husband’s family the kids could yell at their parents in frustration and it would be quickly forgotten. The parents would just laugh it off. I saw that as an improvement to the WASP style in which kids never get to talk back to their parents, and all battles are buried and more likely to come at you in a passive aggressive attack. I saw the Israeli ability to just say it and get it out more attractive, at first.
Joe and I made our own bed, and we love our life. We have stayed in love and together, much to the surprise of the families, and we have created our own family. We have amazing children created from the far flung mix of genes, and we have a crazy life of rituals and traditions of our own.
We were idealistic when we met, and continue that way. We believe that the exclusionary powers of religion, cultural identification and nationalism
are barriers to universal peace.
Though created to hold groups of people together and give them a communal bond, the false bonds of religion and culture create a limited and exclusive vision. Too often identifying with ‘your own people’ is just an excuse to feel superior to others, and this can easily be translated into indifference or hatred.
We were an idealistic young couple, and now we are sort of crabby and middle aged, but still carrying on in the spirit of our love. Our proudest achievement is our children, a combination of the best of both of our cultures.