Thursday, November 17, 2011

Two Cultures, Different Ideas: One Love. Pt. 2

Sabah el kheir LOVEanese, and welcome back! Some quick housekeeping: first, If this is your first or second blog post, I highly recommend you go through and read the rest of the posts (first/intro post here). Although they aren't inherently connected, they do all build on one another. Second--just to reiterate--I do try to focus on individuals within the Arab world (Lebanon especially), but this is a blog applicable to almost everyone.

In case you're just tuning in, this is the second part of the two-part series related to growing up in two cultures and its effect on relationship development
. Of course, this is specifically for those growing up in Arab households. If you missed part 1 of the series, you can read it here. I definitely recommend you check it out before reading this one, because it'll make a lot more sense.

One thing I wanted to mention is that this post isn't about dating across culture (or religion, ethnicity, race, etc.). If you want some links for tips or advice about this, try this one, this one, or this one. You can also see one here, here, here, or here (perhaps I can do a post on this one day?). Also, this is a newer one that's really good.

What these two posts really are about are just about dealing with conflicting norms, values, and expectations, especially when it comes to relationship formation/development and maintenance. In the last post, I focused on the difference, and at times, clash of two kinds of cultures: collective cultures (e.g., Arab culture), and individual cultures (e.g., American culture). For someone that is Arab, growing up abroad presents you with a host of challenges that often contradict what you are learning/being taught at home, no matter if you're Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Lebanese, Moroccan, Egyptian, Iraqi, Saudi Arabian, Arab-American, Arab-Brazilian, Arab-Australian, or Arab-European, etc. And this is something that is ever-present even among individuals growing up in the Arab world.

So, other than the culture, what else can explain these challenges?

Part II: The Arab Family and the Importance of Kin Solidarity

One of the concepts that is drilled into your head from birth is the importance of your 'ayhleh (family). No matter where you are, you go to iftars, baptisms, Christmas dinners, graduations, morning coffees, afternoon teas, funerals, kindergarten plays, (bar/bat mitzvahs?)... learn all the names of your second cousins' in-law's cousins so that when you go to one of their weddings, you can meet them and charm them. You know that if you ever need something, you should call your khalo, or your giddo, or your amo who has a friend that has a friend that knows someone that can fix your car for way cheaper either in Dearborn, Beirut, or Sydney. You know everyone in your village, even if you haven't been there in ages. Has anyone ever thought about why this happens? Why is family so important?

"Wahyyet Allah, if I EVER have to go to another one of these things, bkasirlak 2ijrik!"

French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu has a suggestion. It all has to do with social capital. Social capital includes all of the potential or actual resources available that are linked by a network shared by individuals (Bourdieu, 1986), and is paramount to understanding the way Arab families operate because "social capital [in the Arab world] emanates from social relationships" (Barber, 2001: 261). But before I continue, let's lay down some facts first to contextualize everything:

1. The family is a primary conduit of socialization, and our parents..."instill culturally prescribed values [and norms]" (Brown, 1999: 292).

2. "Families are everywhere one of the most, if not the most, important contexts for adolescent development" (Brown and Larson, 2002: 6).

3. Contextualized to the Arab world: "The family is the basic unit of social organization and production in traditional and contemporary Arab society, and it remains a relatively cohesive institution at the center of social and economic activities" (
Barakat, 1993: 23), and the Arab family is ranked first in terms of importance among all other social institutions (Faour, 1998).

4. It is an institution that (among other things) entails securing capital and resources (Eickelman, 1989; Barakat 1993; Sholkamy, 2002) while also providing stability, security, comfort, and a sense of social and personal identity (Khalaf, 1971, 2009; Hoodfar, 1997; Faour, 1998; Joseph, 2004).

5. As early as the late 1950s, William J. Goode (1959) identified common events that occur among Arab families including the importance of mate selection concerning kinship ties and familial investment in mate selection, as kinship ties are invariably linked to perpetuating social status and stratification as well as creating a link with another kinship line.

6. We exist in a culture where “family is valued over and above the person...[and]...kin idioms and relationships pervade public and private spheres, connective relationship...[are]...not only functional, but necessary for successful social existence" (Joseph, 1993a: 452-453).

Connecting the Arab family back to Bourdieu, kinship networks are incredibly valuable because it is traditionally through kinship that individuals and families may access social capital--that is, resources, jobs, information, capital, etc. 

Anyone ever heard of wasta??

So let's bring this back to the topic at hand: growing up in multiple cultures, having to balance an Arab identity on one hand, another identity on the other, and keeping with the theme of this blog, dealing with romantic relationships. Let's lay down just a few more facts:

 7. " plays a particularly central role in adolescents' pursuit of romantic activities" (Brown, 1999: 299), especially because "romantic involvement and love are strongly associated with support from one’s social network of parents and extended family members" (Parks et al., 1983, quoted in Beall and Sternberg, 1995: 423). Echoing Parks et al. (1983), Sprecher and Felmlee (1992), Bryant and Conger (1999), Felmlee (2001) each also conclude that there is a positive effect on relationship quality and longevity with support from social networks. 

8. Romantic relationships often act as ties to other kinship networks, reinforce family ties and interests, and preserve "private property through inheritance, socialization, and the achievement of other goals that transcend the happiness of the individual to guarantee communal interests" (Barakat, 1993: 107).

The success or failure of an individual member resonates throughout the family as a whole (Barakat, 1993). This importance of being successful, and the pressure of failure are inextricably linked to the mechanisms that govern the socialization of Arab children, and the preservation of social capital.

Just imagine: when you're getting married to someone, or at least romantically committing to them, you aren't just getting a life partner. You're gaining access to their/their family's resources. It's almost like the way it was in feudal times when people would be married off for diplomatic purposes (think princess of Sweden with a prince from Austria, etc.). Remember the saying "when you get married, you don't just marry the person, you marry their family?" Within Arab culture, the last part of that statement is generally more important than the first part.

"I'm getting access to Buckingham Palace!? SWEET!"

But in a culture that emphasizes personal happiness and romantic love on the outside often puts you at odds with a culture that emphasizes pragmatism on the inside. Obviously, this isn't every Arab family. But it's many of them. The whole point is, family is incredibly important to maintaining resources in the Arab world, especially in a place like Lebanon. In other places, like America, Canada, Australia, France, or Brazil, there's a bigger and more reliable government safety net. So maintaining resources isn't necessarily a family affair, thus, people generally have more freedom to go out and do more of what they want such as work towards fulfilling their personal desires because their families are theoretically better taken care of than they would be otherwise.

Of course, this reality doesn't always translate. Some great research on growing up in two cultures was conducted by Wakil, Siddique, and Wakil (1981) (henceforth, WS&W), Zhou (1997), Sam (2000), and Dion and Dion (2001), but especially the first two and the last. The study by WS&W was one of the first of it's kind, and singled-out dating and marriage as a particularly contentious arena for children of immigrant parents. Each of these studies all found that individuals growing up outside of their ethnic country of origin all were faced with challenges of balancing both cultures, especially when it comes to dating and marriage.

There's so much more I could say about this, but I think you get the point. So now to the really important part: what you can do about it.

This, sadly, is where I don't have any answers. As I've spent this post and the last highlighting, growing up in between two cultures, being held up to two contradictory standards, and expected to respect and demonstrate contradictory values is incredibly tough. But navigating that tiny space between them is something that above all else requires open communication, mutual respect, and most importantly: patience. Unfortunately, I don't know where the answers are located either. Though a bit anticlimactic, I'm here only to explain. Not give advice (remember, I'm not Abby). And I couldn't find many resources available with information to help two(+)-culture children adapt (I did find one basic one here).

Realizing that all of us that fall into this category are in a unique position, and cultivating dialogue with each other if we cannot do so with our parents is key to easing any feelings of isolation, alienation, or frustration. Talk about it here on LOVEanon. Talk about it on Facebook. Talk about it on Twitter, in coffee shops, in nargile lounges. In bars. In restaurants. In schools, universities, fraternities, sororities, churches, mosques, synagogues, temples, atheist meetings... talk about it everywhere. It's especially tough if you didn't grow up in an area surrounded by other Lebanese/Arab individuals because then the outside pressures are perhaps even greater.

How do you deal with it? How does this effect you? Are you tried of being told to get married, have babies? What is the solution? What do YOU do?

Come together. Talk about it. Spread the love,



Barakat, Halim. 1993. The Arab World: Society, Culture, and State. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Barber, Brian K. 2001. "Political Violence, Social Integration, and Youth Functioning:  Palestinian Youth from the Intifada." Journal of Community Psychology, 29(3): 259-280.

Beall, Anne E., and Robert J. Sternberg. 1995. "The Social Construction of Love." Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 12(3): 417-438.

Bourdieu, Pierre. 1986. "The Forms of Capital." Pp. 241–258 in The Handbook of Theory and  Research for the Sociology of Education, edited by John G. Richardson. New York, NY: Greenwood Press.

Brown, B. Bradford. 1999 "You’re Going Out With Who?: Peer Groups’ Influences on Adolescent Romantic Relationships." Pp. 291-329 in The Development of Romantic Relationships in Adolescence, edited by Wyndol Furman, B. Bradford Brown, and Candice Feiring. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Brown, B. Bradford, and Reed W. Larson. 2002. "The Kaleidoscope of Adolescence:  Experiences of the World’s Youth at the Beginning of the 21st Century." Pp. 1-20 in The World’s Youth: Adolescence in Eight Regions of the Globe, edited by B. Bradford Brown, Reed W. Larson, and T. S. Saraswathi. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Bryant, Chalandra M., and Rand D. Conger. 1999. "Marital Success and Domains of Social Support in Long-Term Relationships: Does the Influence of Network Members Ever End?" Journal of Marriage and Family, 61(2): 437-450.

Dion, Karen K., and Kenneth L. Dion. 2001. "
Gender and Cultural Adaptation in Immigrant Families." Journal of Social Issues, 57(3): 511-521.

Eickelman, Dale F. 1989. The Middle East: An Anthropological Approach. Englewood Cliffs,  New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc.

Faour, Muhammad. 1998. The Silent Revolution in Lebanon: Changing Values of the Youth.  Beirut, Lebanon: American University of Beirut.

Felmlee, Diane H. 2001. "
No Couple Is an Island: A Social Network Perspective on Dyadic Stability. Social Forces, 79(4): 1259-1287.

Goode, William J. 1959. "The Theoretical Importance of Love." American Sociological Review,  24(1): 38-47.

Hoodfar, Homa. 2009. "Marriage, Family, and Household in Cairo." Pp. 262-277 in Arab  Society and Culture: An Essential Reader, edited by Samir Khalaf and Roseanne Saad Khalaf. London, UK: Saqi.

Joseph, Suad. 2004. "Conceiving Family Relationships in Post–War Lebanon." Journal of  Comparative Family Studies, 35(2): 271-293.

----. 1993a. "Connectivity and Patriarchy Among Urban Working–Class Arab Families in      Lebanon." Ethos, 21(4): 452-484.

Khalaf, Samir. 2009. "On Roots and Routes: The Reassertion of Primordial Loyalties." Pp. 192-207 in Arab Society and Culture: An Essential Reader, edited by Samir Khalaf and Roseanne Saad Khalaf. London, UK: Saqi. 

----. 1971. "Family Association in Lebanon." Journal of Comparative Family Studies, 2(2):  235-250.

Parks, Malcome R., Charlotte M. Stan, and Leona L. Eggert. 1983. "Romantic Involvement and  Social Network Involvement." Social Psychology Quarterly, 46(2): 116-131.

Sam, David Lackland. 2000. "Psychological Adaptation of Adolescents With Immigrant Backgrounds." The Journal of Social Psychology, 140(1): 5-25.

Sholkamy, Hania. 2002. "Rationales for Kin Marriages in Rural Upper Egypt." Pp. 62-79 in The New Arab Family, Cairo Papers in Social Science Series, 24(1/2), edited by Nicolas S. Hopkins. Cairo, Egypt: The American University of Cairo Press.

Sprecher, Susan, and Diane Felmlee.
1992. "The Influence of Parents and Friends on the Quality and Stability of Romantic Relationships: A Three-Wave Longitudinal Investigation" Journal of Marriage and Family, 54(4): 888-900.

Wakil, S. Parvez, C. M. Siddique, and F. A. Wakil.
1981. "Between Two Cultures: A Study in Socialization of Children of Immigrants" Journal of Marriage and Family, 43(4): 929-940.

Zhou, Min. 1997. "Growing Up American: The Challenge Confronting Immigrant Children and Children of Immigrants." Annual Review of Sociology, 23: 63-95.


  1. i think some of the issues you are crossing over into is if someone comes from two different cultures like yourself, dating someone with a strong identity and one culture can be difficult or challenging. These are some of the challenges brought upon by being a THIRD CULTURE KID. I would recommend reading the book and searching for info on this. It actually helped me incredibly when someone recommended this book to me in Beirut this summer. Anyway!

    Being a third culture kid myself from europe where family is not always seen as so important or time consuming, i often thought no matter how romantically in love with a certain lebanese person I was dating that there would probably be no future seen as for their family, family really IS and was a huge part of their lives. And with a language barrier, I would even go so far as to say that I would believe it if a lebanese family recommended NOT to marry someone who did not also hold family values up high and did not come from a traditional family background (ie no divorces etc).

    I dont think a marriage could work between 2 people where one had a strong and huge family with someone who didnt grow up with those values at all and came from a totally different culture and background.

    1. Thanks for your reply Anon! I have heard of/am family with Third Culture Kid.

      I completely understand what you're saying, and I agree to some extent. And for many, family values are arguably very important part of a relationship (as are similar values in general). What I would say is that it really goes back to compatibility. That's not to say two people from similar cultures are never similar, but if the basic values aren't the same, it could definitely be problematic.

      Also, in the article, I was just trying to contextualize many (Arab) individual's problems with their family and why they are placed under so much pressure.

      Thanks for reading and commenting though :)