The Tale of Two Cities
About the Guest
Love is where you find it, and for one adventurous American woman seeking to do God’s work, Romania was the place she found the man of her dreams, Catalin. Marla Alupoaicei talks about the reality of being in an intercultural marriage, and points out just a few of the differences that she and her husband have had to face on the road to happily-ever-after.
Marla Alupoaicei talks about the reality of being in an intercultural marriage.
The Tale of Two Cities
Bob: Marla Alupoaicei grew up in the United States, her husband Catalin grew up in Romania. When they married, Marla began to realize there were cultural differences that were dividing them.
Marla: The European culture is quite similar to ours in some ways; it’s just more laid back, especially when it comes to meeting a friend or something like that. Maybe the party would start at seven o’clock, for me that means be there at seven. To him, it means, get in the shower at seven o’clock and start getting ready.
For me that was frustrating, because I felt like it was disrespectful to the people that we were meeting. So by the time he was ready and we arrived wherever we were going, I felt so frustrated, angry and embarrassed that we were late, that I really couldn’t enjoy myself. That’s a very common issue for intercultural couples.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, March 11. Our host is the President of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey and I'm Bob Lepine. How do two people from very different cultural backgrounds become one? We’re going to explore that today.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today Thanks for joining us. You know, I was thinking about what we’re going to be talking about today, and I started thinking about the late sixties and three events from the late sixties. Then I thought, our guest probably wasn’t even born in the late sixties. You know? In fact, let’s find out.
Dennis: Oh, no no no! You do not ask a woman when she was born, Bob unless she’s six or seven years of age.
Bob: Ok. I remember three things because I was growing up in the sixties. I remember three things that happened that really relate to what we’re talking about. The first thing I remember is a song that came out by an artist named Janis Ian. Do you remember that name at all? Janis Ian?
Bob: Doesn’t ring a bell. Let me ask Marla. Do you know the name Janis Ian?
Marla: No, I was not born yet though.
Dennis: You got the information you were looking for.
Bob: I got the answer I was looking for. The song is called “Society’s Child,” and it was about this young white girl who had fallen in love with an African American young man at school. But, they had to hide their romance because mom and dad didn’t approve and you just had to keep it in the closet. “Society’s Child” ring a bell?
Dennis: No, I’m sorry.
Bob: The second event that I remember…
Dennis: Are you going to continue to play the movie out?
Bob: Yes, we’re going to continue this out, second event that I remember, was reading a book that later became a movie, and the book was In the Heat of the Night, it was the story of a black detective in the South, who solved a crime. It was really my first confrontation with racial tension and the segregation that occurred in the South. Third event, my mom and I went to the drive-in movie and we saw Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. You remember that?
Dennis: He won an Oscar didn’t he?
Bob: I think he did. Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn were in the movie as well and it was all about this interracial marriage. I remember driving home from that with my mom and talking about interracial marriage. I remember her saying, “It’s not a good thing for couples to get married across racial lines.”
Bob: In the 1960s, given her background, what she’d grown up in…
Dennis: Are you going to get into trouble here on FamilyLife Today?
Bob: I think if she’s listening, I think she’d remember that and say, “I do remember saying that to you.”
Dennis: Well, we have the privilege of talking about that subject today—interracial marriage, intercultural marriage. But, we have a special guest with us who we need a linguistic expert to pronounce her last name. Her name is Marla and you spell her last name—just so you listeners who are smirking and snickering out there…
Bob: Here’s what Dennis is up against right here.
Dennis: If you wrote this out on a piece of paper I would challenge you to be able to properly pronounce her last name: A-L-U-P-O-A-I-C-E-I. At least I can spell it.
Bob: “Aloe poe CHAY” right?
Marla: It’s “Aloe PWY chay”
Bob: Oh, “Aloe PWY chay” I’m sorry.
Dennis: Well Marla, welcome to FamilyLife Today.
Marla: Thank you.
Dennis: Marla has authored or co-authored more than twenty books, lives with her husband in Frisco, Texas—Used to be a sleepy little town when I lived in Dallas back 35 years ago.
Bob: But it woke up since then didn’t it.
Dennis: It sure did. Her book is called Your Intercultural Marriage: A Guide to Healthy, Happy Relationships. She is a graduate of Purdue University, Dallas Theological Seminary, my alma mater, and has more than eight years of study around this subject of intercultural marriage.
Bob: And you got the last name Alupoaicei…
Dennis: Well, I feel that the broadcast needs to begin with saying: “It was the summer of 1998.” On the streets of … Targu-Mures.
Bob: Oh no, you just butchered that, too!
Dennis: “In Romania, it was a small town in Romania, the sun was setting and there was a young couple in the summer who instantly saw one another.”
Bob: Except it didn’t exactly happen like that did it?
Marla: No. It sounds really good though.
Bob: Tell us about what happened and how you met your husband.
Marla: I went on a mission trip with a group from Dallas Bible Church, in the summer of 1998. My husband Catalin was working as a translator and a counselor for an orphan ministry over there, Buckner Orphan Care International. But we didn’t have a chance to really interact at that time.
Bob: Did that influence at all your decision to go back to Romania the next summer?
Dennis: Now come on. Be honest.
Bob: Were you thinking “I wonder if…”
Dennis: I mean, this is a spiritual mission you are on.
Bob: Were you thinking, “I wonder if that cute guy will be there?”
Marla: I might have wondered that. But I really loved that ministry.
Dennis: Did you know that he was going to be there?
Marla: No, I didn’t know that he was going to be there.
Dennis: Well, OK. That takes care of your motives to that.
Marla: I did not know.
Bob: So, you wind up back in Romania and sure enough, there he is.
Marla: Yes, that’s right. And that year, he was the main translator for all of the camps even though he was only 18. So I had a chance to see him—it really requires a lot of work and patience to be translating for thirty Americans and British and all the kids. There were hundreds of orphans and they were all tugging on him. “Tell her this.” “Tell him, I said this.” So it was a lot of responsibility for him at a young age. I just was really impressed with his heart for the Lord and how hard he worked and how he loved the kids.
I just felt like we had a special connection. I had just been on a trip to Paris and he was looking at my album and my pictures of being to France, and he said, “You seem more European” like I seemed interested in their culture and so forth. So, we just created a connection that way. Actually when I went home, I told my mom “I’m going to marry him.”
Dennis: Oh you did?
Bob: So, how long from you telling your mother you’re going to marry him until he got interested?
Marla: Well, we actually lost touch. I didn’t hear anything from him till 2001.
Dennis: Wow, so this relationship started back in 1998.
Marla: I’m not sure if it really started I just feel like maybe it was woman’s intuition, or God just planted that seed on my heart. There was just a connection there for me. But he was still pretty young. He’s six years younger than I am.
I was in seminary, he just went through some things he stopped working for the Orphan Ministry and went back home. God was doing a work in both of our hearts. So then when it was the right time, I went back to Romania in 2001 and stayed with his family for a couple of weeks and took over some donations for the Orphanage that I had gathered, and he asked me to marry him.
Bob: Like that?
Dennis: Without dating?
Bob: OK now, we have to…
Dennis: I feel like we—you remember the old records that used to use a platter that was spinning. We just skipped several songs.
Bob: So, you jumped into an intercultural marriage that was a…
Dennis: Well, she didn’t say yes yet.
Bob: But you knew that was coming.
Dennis: I do.
Bob: She said yes in 1999, he just didn’t ask her till 2001.
Marla: That’s right. Good point.
Dennis: He was a little slow, we’re saying.
Bob: Slow. The yes was already there. I’m just curious here’s a low courtship, you really didn’t know one another very well and you come from very different cultural backgrounds, and all of a sudden you’re standing at the altar going, “I do and I will. And I promise till death do us part.” Were you at all scared by what you were saying yes to?
Marla: I was. That really was the point where I started doing my research on the topic. Because, I knew that it would be a challenge, but I felt positive that God had led us together, and positive that I wanted to marry him. But I wanted to feel more equipped for our relationship, and be able to build a positive relationship. As I started doing research I realized that there really weren’t many resources out there on intercultural and interracial marriage. Especially from a Christian perspective, there were none.
So I started interviewing people, doing research, gathering information because I felt like I really wanted to offer this resource to other people. Once I got more experience in my own relationship and had experience with having children, and just talking with other people about parenting, and helping other people overcome obstacles.
As we started preparing for our marriage, there is a lot of paperwork you have to do, applying for the visa. The process of trying to get married can be very difficult, in trying to get your visa, get all your paperwork together, and plan your ceremony, because we got married in Romania.
Dennis: So, you established the fact that you had a mission match. You had a similar calling.
Dennis: Because, that’s how you met in the first place
Dennis: One of Bob’s favorite quotes for single people is to run toward the finish line…
Bob: Yes, it’s one I heard Tommy Nelson say years ago he said. If you’re single, he said “Run as hard and as fast toward Jesus as you can. And if you notice somebody out of the corner of your eye running in the same direction at the same speed, take a second look.” I just think that’s great advice.
Marla: That is, I like that.
Bob: Marla let me ask you, how many marriages in the United States, what percentage of marriages that are taking place today are interracial or intercultural marriages?
Marla: It’s about 15%, so about one in every six.
Dennis: What is the definition of an intercultural marriage?
Marla: It’s just a marriage relationship between two people of different races, cultures or ethnicities.
Bob: Would that mean that if I grew up in the Suburbs in an affluent family and you grew up in a poor part of town are we having an intercultural marriage?
Marla: It could be in some sense. It depends really on how you define “culture.” Is it a race or a people group? Or are you saying a different background coming from a different place? Because, in a way if you define it your way, every marriage is intercultural…
Bob: Yes, that’s right.
Marla: because we’re from different cities, different families. You might be an only child whereas another person’s family might have had six children. And that’s a huge difference, so we have to overcome all of those in a marriage.
Bob: You and your husband are both Caucasian
Bob: But he’s from Eastern Europe and you’re from the United States, that’s intercultural. Interracial then would be if there’s a different ethnicity. If it’s an African American marrying a Caucasian, or an Asian who’s marrying a Hispanic. That’s interracial right?
Dennis: Marriage is really two people with varying backgrounds coming together with different cultures, different histories, different memories, different traditions, different love languages, coming together to forge this new relationship, this new union. For some of us, we married an American, but for you, you really did marry someone from a different culture. I mean, very different. What has been the biggest cultural difference that you two have shared?
Marla: We’ve shared several.
Dennis: I’m sure.
Marla: One of the main differences is the perception of time. Because, my family always valued punctuality, and we just were on time for everything, and I never thought about it. I just thought, “Well most people are on time.” And we actually were always early. We would be the first people at church, and the first people there. My parents just loved being on time. Well, my husband does not care that much about being on time.
Dennis: Is that because Romania is a culture that has no clocks? What’s up with that?
Marla: No, the European culture is quite similar to ours in some ways. At least they do use clocks and people have to be at work on time etcetera. But it’s just more laid back, especially when it comes to meeting a friend or something like that. He’s on time for work, and he would have school classes so he was on time for that. But for a more casual meeting, it seemed like he didn’t really care if he was late.
Maybe the party would start at seven o’clock, to me that means be there at seven o’clock. To him that means, get in the shower at seven o’clock and start getting ready. For me that was frustrating because I felt like it was disrespectful to the people that we were meeting. So, by the time he was ready and we were on our way and arrived at wherever we were going, I felt so frustrated, angry and embarrassed that we were late that I really couldn’t enjoy myself.
So that was something I had to evaluate. “Why does this make me so upset?” And talk to him and just work through that issue. It’s a very common issue for intercultural couples to face.
Dennis: You mentioned time, as the first cultural difference between you and your husband. I instantly thought, that’s not a cultural issue. That’s just two people’s values, how they value two different things. But you’re saying in the Romanian culture, if people arrived an hour or an hour and a half after the party started, that is culturally acceptable.
Marla: Yes. And, if you have plans and someone just drops by your house on their way to the store, you don’t have plans anymore. You’re just going to visit with that person. And, they’re fine with it. That’s the hardest thing for me because if I was “Oh, I was about to go somewhere,” and someone drops by, that’s a conflict for me. “Oh, well I was on my way out.” But for them, there’s no conflict.
If your friend came over, it doesn’t matter that I was going to go to this party. I’m just going to stay here and entertain my friend, hang out for hours. They just really prioritize the relationships. So, over time, I’ve really come to appreciate that. Because they just value people so much. People are more important than time, it’s more important than anything you have to do.
Bob: You got married in Romania, but you came to the United States pretty much right away. You came back to finish seminary and he came a couple of weeks later, and you’ve lived in the States ever since right?
Bob: So, I would guess that when it comes to cultural adjustments, Catalin has had a whole lot more to do than you’ve had to do.
Bob: So, what would he say has been the hardest adjustment that he’s had to make in an intercultural marriage, do you think?
Marla: One of them has been food. Food is actually the most sited area of difference for intercultural and interracial cultures, because you eat at least three times a day.
Dennis: This comes from all your research you’ve done over the past eight years.
Marla: Yes. So if…
Dennis: I could see how that would be a big deal for Bob.
Bob: Now, wait just a second…
Dennis: He loves to eat at the Cheesecake Factory.
Marla: Oh, my husband loves that, too.
Bob: Well, let’s hook us up and we’ll get down there. But I know what you’re saying if you’re sitting down for three meals a day and your food values are very different, or if you came from a culture where food wasn’t a big deal, somebody else comes from a culture where food is a relationship lubricant. All of a sudden it’s not just about what you’re eating, but it’s about what your values are.
Marla: Yes. My husband’s culture really emphasized the shopping and preparing of meals. Every morning his mother would go to the store to buy the food just for that day, for what she was going to make. She would spend hours making soups from scratch, and cakes and bread and all kinds of delicious food. I definitely loved the food.
Dennis: Are you saying you do that every day now?
Marla: I do not. I wish I had time.
Bob: This is why he loves the Cheesecake Factory.
Dennis: And why she does, too.
Marla: It’s special, it’s a way for them to show love and that’s just what they’re used to. But for Americans, we’re used to gobbling something down and five minutes later we’re on the road. So, for me it was a challenge to just slow down the mealtime somewhat. And also in Europe they eat much later than we do. My husband likes to eat lunch at about 2:00. Then we’ll eat dinner maybe at—he’s moved it up a little—maybe seven or eight.
Dennis: Yes, the Europeans eat really late. I’ve got some friends who live in Spain, they’ll start the evening meal at 10, 10:30, eleven o’clock at night. No wonder they take a siesta during the day.
Bob: You know, we’re talking about this, I’m thinking about the cards that you and Barbara worked on that we’ve been sending out to listeners this week, The Five Essentials for a Thriving Marriage card, really what you guys tried to capture are some of the basics that transcend any culture. Things that every married couple need to keep coming back to and focusing on so that these other things that can seem like big things, we can wind up majoring on the minors and what you’ve done in these cards is point us back to what the major things ought to be.
I mentioned that because, again if any of our listeners want to get a couple of these five essentials for a thriving marriage cards, these work like bookmarks, they’re laminated, they can go inside your Bible or another book, just call 1-800-FL-TODAY and say “I’d like a couple of those cards.” We’ll send them out to you. We especially hope that some of our newer listeners will contact us to get these so we can introduce them to the ministry of FamilyLife and let you know a little bit more about who we are and what’s available. But it’s open to anybody. Call 1-800-FL-TODAY and ask for The Five Essentials for a Thriving Marriage card.
I’m also thinking here about the Weekend to Remember® Marriage Conference. At the conference, we talk about the difficult adjustments that couples have to make in marriage no matter what your cultural background has been. It may sound like something like showing up late for a party or how you approach meal time; you may think “Well, come on! These aren’t big issues.” But these are things that over time will wear on a relationship and cause this drift toward isolation that we talk about at the Weekend to Remember®.
Dennis: Yes, we begin the conference by talking about five threats to oneness. I think the very first threat we talk about is our differences and how our differences can really drive a wedge between us and we challenge couples to begin to interact around their backgrounds, their motivations for getting married and also their values. You take those three issues, your backgrounds, values and motivations and you can have a lot of wedges driven between a couple in a hurry in a marriage.
Bob: And that’s true for every couple. But as we’re talking about here, if you come from very different cultural backgrounds, you ought to anticipate that that gap is going to be larger than it might be for a boy and a girl who grew up next door to one another and went to the same high school, and fell in love and got married.
Dennis: That’s a very good reason, Bob for why a book like this can really help you point out where the landmines are. I mean, a couple getting married are walking off into a spiritual battlefield anyway. But if they come from cultural backgrounds as varied as Romania and America, you really need the help of someone like Marla who has really done the research on this to show you where the problems are and how you can adjust to one another.
Bob: I’m sitting here thinking of a couple I know who got married about a year ago, both of them from different cultural backgrounds. In fact, their story is very similar to yours, Marla. I’m thinking I’m going to get them a copy of this book and send it on to them. I would guess most of our listeners, if this isn’t their own experience, they don’t have to look very far before they’ll see couples who do come from very different cultural backgrounds. We want to encourage you, get them a copy of the book, Your Intercultural Marriage: A Guide to Healthy, Happy Relationships.
We have it in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can go online at FamilyLifeToday.com for more information about how to get a copy of the book. Again, it’s FamilyLifeToday.com; look for the book, Your Intercultural Marriage. We’ve got additional resources there that talk about differences in marriage and how we come together to reconcile those differences. So, again, go to FamilyLifeToday.com, for more information, or call us at 1-800-358-6329. That’s 1-800 F as in “family” L as in “life” and then the word TODAY. Someone on our team will let you know how you can get a copy of Marla’s book.
Well, tomorrow we’re going to talk more about what happens when cultures collide in a marriage relationship. Marla Alupoaicei is going to be back with us, hope you can be back as well.
I want to thank our engineer today Keith Lynch and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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