I Married a White Chick

BY MARIA MAXIMOVA
Apr 15, 2009
*Special to asia!

Marriages between Eastern men and Western women provide a look at what happens when worlds collide.

It is generally considered that women are more flexible and are ready to sacrifice a lot for love and family. They learn the husband’s language, they adjust to traditions and culture, they tolerate more than a man would and they are ready to give up a number of things from their own culture.

Elena, a lovely young woman from Southern Russia, who finally agreed to a union with a Taiwanese man after 10 years of dating, says that her husband and her four-year old daughter refuse to eat Russian food. "So I’ve stopped cooking at home. It takes a lot off my shoulders, of course, but I really miss borscht sometimes."

"We try to celebrate Christmas as well as Chinese New Year," offers another American. "And though my husband’s family is very receptive and curious about the celebration, it’s still not the same."

"You know how boring their parties are," shares a Ukrainian girl. "We dance at parties but they don’t. And they always sing karaoke. But I can deal with that, really. Everyday family life is not about parties."

In modern society, cultural differences are not that conspicuous, especially to those who travel a lot and have been immersed in several different cultures. “In most cases, it’s not the question of cultural differences when a marriage fails," says an American in her 40s who’s been married to a Taiwanese for nearly 10 years. "It’s just that in interracial marriages it's easier to blame everything on that.”

So far, I have heard about only two failed Eastern man/Western woman marriages. My very good Russian friend Masha, who fell in love with a Taiwanese guy and just last year, got a quiet, yet unpleasant divorce from him. “Nothing to do with the culture," she says. "It’s just the guy turned out to be a jerk. Happens all the time… And also, his mother was very annoying.”

“The In-laws Question” is a very sensitive one with Western wives in Taiwan. A few years ago I briefly met a 40-something American woman. She was a divorcée and she swore that she would never again marry an Asian guy unless he’s an absolute orphan.

Scary stories about Chinese/Taiwanese mothers-in-law are known far beyond Asia; however, in many cases they prove to be false. Taiwanese mums of younger generations often readily accept a blue-eyed daughter-in-law, and help clean the house and baby sit.

“My in-laws were so happy when we got married" adds Veta. “They said that the kids would be beautiful.” And so they had two, right after the wedding.

“The husband’s family is a big issue for many couples and might be one of the obvious causes of marriages between Western women and Chinese men failing", says Cheryl, "but the reverse situations are frequent, too. In the end, it depends on the husband. This also can be affected by the husband's birth order, wheter he is the first, or last son. I’m really lucky, my in-laws are nice people and we don’t live together, but sometimes I wish we lived a bit closer to them for my son’s and my husband’s sake. Anyway, most of the in-laws are sweet people who are waiting impatiently for grandchildren and respect their son’s choice. There are exceptions, of course, but generally the times of terrorizing mothers-in-law are gone. My bigger concern is my son’s education.”

Cheryl is not the only one who is bewildered by the question of her children's future. Every single one of the women I talked to is worried about the choice that they have to make when their children start school. Naturally, they want the kids to be comfortable with the cultures and languages of both Mum and Dad.

Kids from such marriages usually speak at least two languages and have dual citizenship. Taiwanese consider them foreigners; expatriates think they’re almost local. They are neither here nor there. If not accepted at international schools (which are scarce and expensive), they slowly gravitate towards local culture to the dismay of their mothers.

“We try to maintain traditions and our language", says Elena, "We have parties and playgroup meetings for kids from such couples as often as possible, but it’s hard. As soon as kids go to school, they switch back to Taiwanese environment. The same thing with the family. Grandparents here speak Taiwanese and teach kids local traditions, my parents see my daughter once a year for a month. No wonder she speaks Russian with an accent. We hope that one day we’ll be able to establish a kindergarten for the kids from mixed marriages. At least, for the Russian speaking ones, because for English speakers it’s much easier. I don’t even want to think about junior high. I’m not sure we’ll ever find a tutor to teach our kids Russian literature or history.”

There’s also another big issue that happy families don't think about. Historically, Taiwanese law has been favouring men. Until 1985, Taiwanese men had exclusive rights to child custody and to all of the wife’s property, including her personal belongings. Today Taiwanese women’s rights activists conquer more judicial heights every year and yet foreign spouses are often left unprotected.

As the issue of foreign spouse abuse grows, Taiwanese lawmakers try to improve this situation by adding new rules and means of control, however, even at the state law level, foreign spouses receive unequal treatment.

We try to maintain traditions and our language. We have parties and playgroup meetings for kids from such couples as often as possible, but it’s hard.

 

For instance, in case of a divorce, a foreign wife without children is required to leave the country in two weeks, unless she has already accepted ROC citizenship or has Permanent Residency. These women cannot inherit their husbands' property if he dies and have problems obtaining legal custody of their children if they divorce. These situations give their husbands and in-laws the chance to take advantage of these women's helplessness to exploit them.

Currently, foreigners can apply for ROC citizenship after they have been married to local citizens for three years, but they must first relinquish their original nationality. If they do not wish to give up their citizenship, they can apply for permanent residency after they have been married for five years.

Western wives usually don’t think about this. Firstly, they feel the support of their own government; secondly, they usually don’t marry desperate peasants, who prefer to bring wives from South-east Asia as a substitute for free house help.

“Oh come on!" says one of my Russian friends married to a Taiwanese businessmen, "What can happen? We love each other so much. And even if it happens, don’t you think I’d be able to take care of myself?”

 

Photos from Colleen and Anna

*Note: This story first appeared in asia!'s January 2007 print issue.

maria maximova

Maria Maximova was born in Russia, but spent her teen years in China earning a degree in Chinese literature and culture. Having decided that her educational background lacked business know-how, she moved back to Russia and studied marketing and finance, and then worked in Moscow for several years. An experienced expatriate, she lived in Taiwan from 2001 to 2006 and since then has been pursuing her passion as a researcher, freelance writer and translator, traveling between Russia and China.