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How to marry a girl that travels

April 3, 2011
April 3, 2011

“Bjorn, you are going to need a very rare kind of girl.”  The year was 2000, I was a freshman in college in France.  I was getting lectured on women by an older friend.

He was right.  I had quite the list of qualities I wanted in a girlfriend.  And close to the top of the list was an openness to travel.  I knew that things would never work out between me and someone “stationary”.  Not that there was anything inherently wrong with being a homebody.  On the contrary, I sometimes envied those that were content staying in one place, those that didn’t have the traveler’s itch.  Being able to stay in one town and go with the flow sounded temptingly simple on some level.

But the reality was that I was born into a family that traveled and lived internationally.  I had grown up traveling and I knew that I would never be happy if I gave it up.

The right girl:

I knew what I wanted:

A girl whose world was more than just her own country.  A girl that valued experiences over possessions.  A girl that dreamed of oversees adventure and discovery rather than six bedrooms and a white picket fence.  A girl that was open to seeing things from other perspectives.  A girl that was willing to adapt, to learn.  A girl that was willing to serve internationally.  A girl, in short, that was going to be very difficult to find.

10 years later…

And difficult it most certainly was.  After that freshman-year conversation, it took 10 years to find the girl.  On April 3, 2011, Jammie and I got married.  Two years later we took off to travel the world long-term.  I am so grateful to have found someone that shares my passion in life.

The wedding pic above is like the victorious “after” shot of people that lose a ton of weight.   The “before” picture was full of the blood, sweat and tears (lots:)) that it took to get here.  This post is aimed at making that process easier for others.

Here are some things I learned that make deciding if she’s “the one” easier (ladies, the same tips hold for finding a guy who travels):

Listen to her dreams.  As you start spending time with or dating a girl, listen to what she really gets excited about.  It’s hard to fake genuine excitement.

What does she talk most about, future-wise?  Is the dream a big house in her hometown or a career that would require her to stay put?  Where does she see herself 10 years from now?  What does the dream look like?  Don’t interrogate her. But do encourage her to talk about the future.

Be careful not to judge.  It is OK to value different things.  This isn’t about being right or wrong. But be practical, too.  If what she values requires you to stay put years on end, then realize that this may not be the girl for you.

Hell on earth…

I remember a friend from several years back who was incredibly miserable because he had missed the warning signs.  He had married a very attractive, friendly girl and they had started a family.  Everything was good except for the fact that she was adamant that she could never leaver her hometown.  He felt trapped and cheated in life.  He wasn’t going anywhere and it was a depressing situation all round.  Don’t end up this way.

Check out the family.  Go to as many family functions as possible and talk to everybody.  It is a good idea in general to be on good terms with her family but consider this sleuthing time as well.  Ask yourself some questions:

Does everyone live in the same place?

Are those that move away equally respected and accepted or are they shunned for their decisions? Culture plays a part in this.

Is it culturally appropriate to want to spread your wings, travel and see the world?

Chat to her parents.  Have they ever traveled?  Do they smile and get excited when you talk about other countries or can you see them tense up?  Ultimately, you and the girl will need to make the calls in your lives but it would be great to have the parental blessing, right?

Float the topic.  There are ways to bring up travel with your girlfriend that aren’t too blatant.  Here’s a very basic tactic I used with girls I met:

Share some travel experiences and see if she reciprocates with her own.  If she likes travel or is in anyway interested you can count on her being enthusiastic about telling you stories or listening to yours.  If she yawns and changes the subject, take notice.

If the two of you don’t share a passion for travel, consider the long-term implications. Are you looking forward to being landlocked the rest of your days?  Don’t throw away your happiness and hers by glossing over a big difference between you.  Lifestyle is a big deal.  Staying indefinitely in the same town can start to feel like prison if you are interested in mobility.

Test runs. There’s no need to get too crazy too fast.  Start simple.  Try taking some mini-trips with this person.

The ultimate relationship test is travel.  Expect some bumps in the road, so to speak.  But look at how this person deals with the unexpected and the unknown.  What is the chemistry like between the two of you on the road?  Do you like discovering new places together or are you perpetually at each others’ throats?

Be patient and give her time. Here’s a biggie:  Chances are that one of you is going to be more of a travel enthusiast than the other.  This was certainly true with Jammie and I.

At first, Jammie was not at all as into the idea of world travel as she is now.  I still remember the day when she told me that she would be fine living in her hometown the rest of her life.  I about died.  But I am really grateful that I did not completely freak out.  We talked about it and eventually we found some common ground where we realized that we both valued the adventure, discovery and service opportunities that travel, done right, could bring.  But this took time.  It taught me some patience.  It was good for me!

Straight talk. It may be good to start with a “softly, softly” approach but don’t stop there.  Have patience, but also realize that you need to be real.

If international travel and living abroad are important to you, then don’t wait until it is too late to share it.  No need to come storming in, but be honest.  Frame it as something you really value in life.  Invite her to be part of it.  Respect her response either way but know that this is an area that requires common ground for there to be happiness.

If she’s game, SEAL THE DEAL!!! OK, here’s the most important part:  If she is game for travel and you guys are compatible, don’t let her get away!  Marry the girl and hop on a plane:)

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The 10 Commandments of International Wedding Planning

On April 3 I will have been married a year.  My sister is getting married this week.  Neither of us chose Swedes for life-mates.  So we have both done of a lot of work making sure we pull off international weddings right.  Here are the 10 Commandments that have emerged:

1)  Decide on Scale  - This one is on every wedding planning checklist.  Just how big is your wedding going to be?  This is especially critical when you are trying to pull off an international wedding.  If I had married another Swede I would have been looking at a guest list of 100 or less.  In Filipino terms, our 300-strong wedding guest list was still a little conservative.  Discussion over this kind of things can get tense quickly since finances and logistics become major considerations the bigger the wedding gets.

2)  Establish basic DOs and DON’Ts upfront – Cultural preferences and rules may have caused tensions while you were dating.  Expect any drama you experienced to balloon exponentially as soon as the pressure of a wedding date is applied.  Wedding event planning is stressful in and of itself.  The fact that you have to remember cultural rules just adds to the fun.  Here’s a fun one to start off with: Who is going to pay?  In traditional Filipino culture, for example, the groom’s parents pay for the whole shindig.  How’s that going to fly?

3)  Offend people early in the process… not close to the date – What do I mean by this?  Well, obviously I agree that it is best not to offend people at all.  But that is not realistic.  Try to anticipate the sensitive issues and tackle them early on.  I talked to a friend who married a girl from a very different culture.  The two families had dodged some of the big financial conversations for so long that when they became critical right before the wedding the two sides were so angry they could hardly talk to each other.  Don’t procrastinate on conversations just because they are tough!!

4)  Do as much as possible online - My preference is to only have the first save-the-date be on paper and then coordinate the rest of the wedding announcement / logistics online.  We did this and it worked pretty well.  Everyone got a fairly ornate invite which was also magnetic (and we hoped would therefore be stuck to fridges) and then we had everyone register on a site that we paid about $5/month for.  Everyone could register here AND there was a link to registries.  This worked for 95% of guests.  The exceptionally computer illiterate called us and we signed them up ourselves.

5)  Find low hanging fruit – What I mean about this is that there are some easy wins that are easy to get right from the get go.  Does aunty so and so have a huge ego / insatiable appetite for attention?  Tell her immediately that she can own the coordination of the games for the guests between the ceremony and the reception.  (Incidentally, if you opt for a piñata like the one above, pick a plastic bat… kids have a way of getting in range easily (see the above pic) and Jammie has a gruesome story of how an ambulance had to be called at one event she went to.)  This job will give aunty a focus and will feed her ego in a way that will hopefully keep her out of something more critical like speech giving during the reception.

6)  If meeting parents for the first time. – Jammie met my mom for the first time right before the wedding.  They were both nervous about this.  When your parents are thousands of miles away this kind of a scenario is not unusual.  Realize that it WILL be a little awkward and try to make it as smooth as possible by Skyping ahead of time as much as you can.  Go the extra mile in trying to connect with your in-laws.  It is nearly always a great idea.

7)  Pick the right translators – One of my most embarrassing moments was one in which I had to translate a wedding from English to French in real time.  At one point I messed it up so bad that the bride had to intervene and say that I had gotten something wrong.  I wanted to disappear.  Don’t ask me to translate your wedding into French.  It’s best to audition translators ahead of time.  Also, pick translators that will translate into their native tongue.  If, for example they are English but they speak decent Spanish it is fine to ask them to translate Spanish into English.  Don’t have them do the reverse though unless you want some awkward moments.

8)  Use your people right – This one is particularly critical if you or your other half comes from a long-winded culture that is prone to really drawn-out speech making.  If you know that a particular family member (who MUST be given a speaking role in the wedding) is likely to talk for too long, get around it by giving them something like a prayer or a reading.  DO NOT give them an open-ended piece because that will bore and frustrate the crowd and while this may be OK at other occasions, you don’t want that at your wedding.

9)  Stop being so sensitive – Your wedding is your wedding.  It will hopefully only happen once.  The problem with this is that there is so much pressure to get it right that it is easy to get over-sensitive.  It is not uncommon for fights to erupt over foolishness.  Decide ahead of time that, while you can do nothing about how others behave, you can and will control yourself.  Shut off the part of you that is easily offended and hurt by deciding to be Teflon for a while.

10)  Celebrate Chaos – Have some fun with it all.  No matter how well you plan, something will go wrong.  Case in point: the day before my wedding I took my Swedish family to my old neighborhood in Hollywood to grab some frozen yoghurt.  This was definitely NOT the ritzy part of Hollywood and as we were parking a bunch of guys came up to our vehicle asking for money.  This scared certain family members to the point of near hysteria.  I told them to cool it and we drove to a different parking lot instead before grabbing our frozen treats.  Stuff like this WILL happen.  See the humor in it.  And don’t have your wedding in Los Angeles…

 

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Bjorn Karlman

Do Something (Almost) Impossible

Source: google.com via Meg on Pinterest

 

Chubster

I was downright chubby for most of my childhood.  And although I’ve more or less managed my weight since, I am stocky and can be pushed over the edge to pudge in no time at all.  So losing weight and keeping it off is super tough.  I have always been jealous of friends that don’t seem to gain weight no matter how many buffets they hit.  Such was not my luck in life.

Why this monthly challenge?

Knowing this, and with the urgency of my sister’s March 29 wedding (and all the pictures) upon me, I decided that my first monthly challenge would be to juice for three weeks in order to detox, get healthy and lose weight.  (FYI, the idea behind my monthly challenges is that I will publicly challenge myself to something big that is designed to help me get better at savvy, global do-gooding in one way or another – some detox and weight loss through a different diet therefore fits the criteria.)

Since I started the challenge I have received advice for and against juicing (thanks everyone that gave me advice online and offline).  As mentioned in earlier posts, I soon switched from a purist juicing approach to a diet of smoothies.  The smoothies are more filling and contain the roughage I was missing with the juice and I have been able to integrate some protein in the form of protein shakes after resistance workouts and through nuts, tofu and other protein sources in the smoothies.

Setbacks

Some of the smoothies have been seriously disgusting.  I blended a whole beet into one smoothie and it was all I could do to control my gag reflex drinking that sucker all day at work.  I also messed up and went to shake it without realizing that I had neglected to screw the top on the canister down completely.  I got deep red beet juice all over my crisp white shirt.  As fate would have it I had a major community mixer to go to that night… I kept my cool and blotted the red out enough that it wouldn’t show with a jacket on.

Success

By day 5 or so I was getting the hang of the smoothie making and started enjoying the more palatable creations I was inventing.  I was also losing a near-alarming amount of weight, amounting to over a pound of weight loss per day. To date (and including my unofficial first day of the regimen) I’ve lost over 11 lbs.  As I sit writing this at almost midnight I am not at all hungry.  I have run over 6 miles today AND done some resistance training.  Because I have been putting away a serious amount of smoothies  – many with a major protein component – I’ve been able to slim down while toning up and actually (from what I can tell) gaining muscle.

The way ahead

I am hoping to get down to 170 lbs in time for the wedding which is in 18 days.  That is another 19 lbs from where I weighed in at this morning.  Impossible?  Maybe, but I will give it my best and keep you posted.

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Bjorn Karlman

Getting Hitched? Some International Guidelines…

newly weds - wedding bands

My dad and I were catching up with an old family friend and he was telling the story of how his then-future son-in-law asked for his daughter’s hand in marriage.  “He took me golfing and didn’t say a word about my daughter.  It was the biggest white elephant in the room ever.  We went the whole day without him saying anything at all relevant to the whole reason we were golfing.  Then as we pulled into my driveway at the end of the whole day,” our friend breaks into a huge smile, “he shows me he’s a good Southern boy and he says, “Jill and I were thinking about getting married.  Do you, uh… do you… I mean… do you think that would be a good idea?”

The awkward suitor was given the go ahead after his stumbling efforts and the incident got a permanent page in family history.  A success story.  But things obviously don’t always go that smoothly.  Most of my American friends probably know someone that dodged family expectations, lavish custom and the accompanying bills and eloped in Vegas.  Some enjoy the notoriety of having done it “my way” regardless of offended relatives and fat Elvis impersonators that will forever mar the $19.99 picture album of their union.

But most people who decide to tie the knot want to do it well.  This is no easy thing, especially if you and your second half are from different cultures.  I am not married so the following are not my tips but rather an assortment of the cross-cultural knot-tying advice I’ve picked up while on the trail:

1) Examine motives: Sorry to start off with something so boring.  It is vital though.  I will never forget the time I was in line for check-in at the Dominican Republic’s Santo Domingo airport.  In front of me was a very boring looking, potbellied, middle-aged white guy with a stunning local girl. I was about to roll my eyes when the woman reached into the old guy’s back pocket and pulled out a passport.  She proceeded to wave it to her friends who all started jumping in delight at the other end of the security barrier.  Joe may have bagged a beauty, but Juanita snagged a passport.  Avoid the marriage of convenience.  Enough said.

2)  If you are going local, don’t go “loco”. There’s nothing more pathetic than a wannabe.  Cultural sensitivity is great and is absolutely advised, but everyone can spot a desperate bluffer.  There is absolutely no reason that you should walk around in your future spouse’s national costume for days on end just so you can be accepted as “one of them”.  You are different, you are from somewhere else.  Own it.  It’s OK.

3)  Realize that you may never be “good enough”. As much as your future in-laws may like you, there is likely a little part of them that just wishes their son had married one of his own.  This is nothing personal.  Your attempts at Scandinavian midsummer frog dancing are commendable but you will never be mistaken for a Greta.  You will find that everyone, including yourself, harbors some kind of prejudice. Christine Benlafquih, in an article for suite101.com titled “Cross-Cultural Marriage”, makes the point that it helps to find out what some of the commonly held prejudices are in your significant other’s culture. This can prevent nasty surprises farther down the line. Innermost preferences and prejudices aside, your future family will most likely appreciate you and will eventually see you as a person before your nationality.

4)  Talk to others that have done it – Intercultural marriage is never problem free.  It is challenging.  Tamula Drumm, writing for TransitionsAbroad.com, states that although statistically intercultural and interracial marriages have a high rate of failure, many couples make them work. It helps to learn from the success stories of older couples that have had to deal with more cultural disapproval and discrimination but still were able to live happily together.  Ask questions, listen to their stories and learn from their mistakes.

In the end a cross-cultural marriage boils down to the same thing as any other marriage.  Where there is love and a will there is a way.  So relax, enjoy this special time of life and, if all hell breaks lose, there’s always Vegas.

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Bjorn Karlman