The first time I realized my husband and I were from different planets was when he tried to bargain at J. Crew. We were newly dating and trying to figure one another out. My husband skulked around J Crew while I gathered clothing in his size. We piled all the clothing high on the checkout counter and my husband pulled out a wad of cash. “So,” he said, to the woman ringing him up. “Can I get some kind of a discount? You can’t do better?” In that moment, I felt my face go red and I wanted to bury myself. I knew in that moment that I had never met anyone like him.
My husband was fascinated the first time we went to my parents’ favorite bar/restaurant in rural Michigan, and my father pulled out his checkbook to pay for our fifteen-dollar meal. He was shocked to find that my father had never bargained for anything ever, probably in his life.
My father is so noise averse he once got annoyed at me for scratching a mosquito bite too loudly. My father-in-law is so loud every time he coughs, it’s like an explosion: HaRUMPH! HaRUMPH, HaRUMPH! In his house, he wakes up at 6 a.m. and turns the news on in his bedroom full volume, and also in the living room. He then walks back and forth down the hallway between the rooms shaving his face with a loud ancient electric razor. Every once in a while he gives a loud HaRUMPH! just, I think, to make sure we know he’s there.
The first time I brought my husband home to meet my parents, we walked into the house to find both my parents sitting side by side on the couch reading. The only sound in the house was my father’s clock collections ticking. My dad raised his hand in a kind of wave: “Hey,” he said.
When we would visit my parents, before my mother died, my husband was surprised that we didn’t call them to give a time of our arrival. “They’ll know we’ve arrived when we get there,” I told him. “What’s the big deal?” We are masters of the “Irish goodbye.” Before my mother died, she’d slip away when it was time to leave. I’d look out the window and seeing her sitting in the car, waiting to take off.
Not so with my in-laws. Visiting Israel, my husband calls his parents even before the plane has pulled up to the gate. We call them waiting for the luggage and call back after we’ve loaded the luggage into the rental car. We call when we get on the road. We call when we stop to get an espresso. We call to report on the traffic, the weather, the latest news and gossip. All during the three-hour drive north to the kibbutz. And when we arrive, my husband and our kids are engulfed in hugs and filled with food that my mother-in-law has prepared, just for us. She will even prepare cholent, the big winter stew that cooks for 12 hours, in the middle of August, because she knows how much I love it.
At a family gathering some years ago, I watched in amazement as my mother-in-law made a beeline for the food tables. She grabbed four plates, piled them with food, set them on a table and waved us over. “Come,” she said. “Come quickly and eat.” I did as I was told, and was surprised to find, when I walked over to the food table 10 minutes later, that all the food—every scrap of food—was gone. The table was completely decimated.
I learned that for many years on the kibbutz, food had been quite scarce. But where I’d grown up, in a place of relative privilege where portions were enormous, leaving food on one’s plate was actually rational.
My husband tans and I burn. He craves the company of a few close friends, village life, three solid meals, comfort, sameness. I crave time alone, but also excitement, big cities, new people and experiences. He watches basketball, football, soccer and tennis in the TV room, while I hunker down in the bedroom with books, magazines, and my laptop.
And yet. We love good food, good restaurants and traveling. In fact, I’d wanted to marry someone from overseas so that travel in my life was guaranteed. We are passionate about tennis and play all year, and often together. We like to go to parties and gatherings together and take apart all interactions in the car ride home. We are big fans of Judd Apatow movies and “Game of Thrones” and my husband will happily watch any romantic comedy I suggest. We like to cook. We love our dogs and cats and most importantly, our kids. Though he grew up outside his parents’ house in a kibbutz, and I grew up in the suburbs of Detroit, we are on the same page in almost every way about their education and upbringing. This is not to be taken for granted.
We live in a town where nearly every couple we know is the product of two cultures, and sometimes, like us, two very different cultures. The children seem possibly more open minded, seeing that there is no right way to do things. Our children and the children of our friends find their way in this soup of various backgrounds, perhaps a little confused, or perhaps a little freer from the usual restraints of fixed identity.
My husband is a first generation American, and I am something like 16th, and feels, somehow, like we have a very American marriage.