How to Endure Cultural Fatigue in a Multiethnic Marriage

My relationship with a Filipina has taught me that there exists a kind of fatigue that is heavier than physical and mental fatigue put together. It is actually a kind of fatigue that drains your physical, your mental and your emotional energy.

I think the expression cultural fatigue is more appropriate than culture shock as, the word shock kind of conveys the idea of a jolt, like and electric shock, something that lasts a few seconds and then you get over it (if you survive it). The word fatigue kind of conveys the idea of a prolonged strain and that is precisely what keeping score day in and day out between the cultural differences between two entirely different models of the world is: a prolonged strain, a very heavy fatigue that lasts for a very long time and it drains all your energy.

I like how the “Culture Shock Philippines” book by Alfredo and Grace Roces describes this fatigue on pages 4 and 5: “cultural fatigue is the physical and emotional exhaustion (so there are two components to it: physical and, most importantly, emotional and the book, instead of using the term tiredness uses the really fitting term “exhaustion”) required for long-term survival (long-term survival entails that you don’t just experience an initial shock or jolt) in an alien culture. Living and working overseas (or being married to a Filipina, even in your own country) generally requires that one must suspend his automatic evaluations (for example we in the Western world automatically assume that once you get married you live your parents for good and form your own family unit, we also assume quite automatically that you first pay the rent and the bills and if you have money left then you buy a car and the list of “automatic evaluations” that a Westerner must suspend could go on forever)…and he must supply new interpretations to seemingly familiar behaviour (like getting married and forming a family of your own which seems familiar but the Westerners interpret it in a way and Filipinos in a radically different way) and that he must demand of himself constant alterations in the style and content of his activity (notice the expression constant alterations: this is an ongoing and a very prolonged effort, not just a “jolt”)”. The book goes on to say that “this process consumes an enormous amount of energy”.

I like the expression that a Westerner must suspend his automatic evaluations or, in other words, in order to thrive in this kind of relationship and to be able to withstand a very prolonged fatigue, a Westerner cannot be stuck in his automatic perceptions that are the result of his upbringing and exposure to the Western culture.

An interesting point that the “Culture Shock Philippines book” makes on page 7 is that the solution of the cultural conflict lies, in fact, in the arena of “perception” rather than in a locked battle between irreconcilable values. What this means, as the book says on page 6, is that Filipinos value pretty much the same things as the Westerners (family, honesty, sincerity and so on), it is not as if Westerners have a certain set of values while Filipinos have totally different values, as if Filipinos and Westerners belonged to a different species. This is certainly not how it is, we share the same humanity and the same core values. The values are the same, it is just that such values as family, sincerity etc are viewed and perceived from different viewpoints and this, of course, calls for an outstanding ability to suspend, as the book says, one’s automatic evaluations and be ready to experience constant alterations in the style and content of one’s activity.

My granpa was a farmer and in his life he experienced a great deal of physical fatigue but very little mental fatigue, I studied hard my whole life and experienced a lot of intellectual fatigue and (at least when a was a teenager) very little physical fatigue. Since I married a Filipina I’ve experienced cultural fatigue, a combination of both physical and intellectual (and, most of all, emotional) fatigue, something a lot heavier and trickier than any other form of fatigue, this is, in fact, the ultimate fatigue.

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