When I met my husband nine years ago, I knew nothing about the culture and the social rules here. Now I know a lot and can handle myself pretty well in the family and society. The family has learned how I work and have great patience with me, and understand that there are things I just can not embrace. Of course, I’ve learned how they work and accept their way in most things regarding the social life, even though we can have long discussions about the social phenomenon I just do not understand.
They have long ago accepted that I’m an atheist, which is largely incomprehensible to a Muslim, it is still not an alternatives in government papers. There, I had to write a Christian or else there would have been problems. They have no problem accepting other religions than their own but not having any god is is beyond understanding. I have spent many long discussions on the subject. Nowadays, such talk is simply not there, so the issue was resolved. They know that I respect their choice and they let me be.
A few years ago a funny thing happened. I had met a very nice woman in the village who was a seamstress. She had lived for a while in England, and her daughter lived in Austria. She was very curious about other religions and had read the Bible. She had a women’s circle, where they invited the faithful of different religions and so they discussed, studied and worked for a better understanding of other religions and philosophies. I was impressed when I lived in the delusion that most Muslims were very fanatical in their beliefs.
One day while I was waiting for the bus to work, she asked me about my faith and I explained that I was an atheist. She was confused but we did not have time to talk more because the bus came. A few days later she came running after me and cried, she said she needs to talk to me so I went with her into her store.
She told me that she had thought a lot about me since we talked last and was very concerned for me. Why? I asked. Well, she thought it sounded strange that I was a satanist and was very concerned when she just read about satanists rampage at a cemetery in Turkey. “Nooo,” I laughed. “I’m an atheist. It means that I do not believe in god or the devil. For if God does not exist then there is no devil either, “I explained. We had a long discussion and she accepted my attitude even if she did not understand. We are still good friends.
I have never experienced anyone here who insist that I should embrace the religion or someone preaching to me. On the contrary, I think they are very relaxed in their faith.
That I would be worth less as a woman or a foreigner, I have never noticed. On the contrary, I think they are listening with interest to what I have to say. Sure, sometimes you can run into some resistance if the spouse is with me and we “negotiate” with a salesman from the mainland. They have a completely different view of women and can totally ignore me even though it’s quite clear that I know what I´m talking about. I Can safely say that I get “somewhat” upset. My husband, however, is a gem in such situations and says simply: “I have no idea, it’s my wife who knows. Discuss with her!” They can be disturbed by that, and it is a great bargaining position. Then we laugh heartily at their faces.
In some situations, however, I must hold myself simplybecause it is a man´s thing, which in the beginning was difficult, but I’ve learned to relax. A man´s thing for example is to do the hard work, heavy lifting, ordering in a restaurant, etc..
In order not to embarrass my husband and let him become a gossip item in the village I keep quiet. It is extremely important for men to be men and not lose face. I learned from my father who was Hungarian, and I find nothing strange in it, on the contrary, I feel a confidence in not having to constantly steer and adjust everything.
We have a sort of funny relationship, my mother in law and I. I am a month older than she is. In the beginning I did not know how I would talk to her, when here you are always very polite to those who are older and if you are married you call mother in law and father in law for mom and dad. It felt completely wrong to me so I did not but I shilly-shallied between you / Mrs and her name.
Today we have this sorted out and we are now “you” to each other, which feels good to me. Nor do I kiss hand and pressing against the forehead, which this is a mark of respect to the elders. This is entirely acceptable, but of course I´m a foreigner, so there has never been a problem.
I’ve never really had problems here either with regard to the social, religious or cultural rules. On the contrary, they have been very indulgent if I ever did something wrong and patiently answered my numerous questions. Sometimes with a lot of laughter when I completely misunderstood something.
I think if you adapt to the customs you will manage well. Dare to be ignorant, not to be rude but respond to people in the same way they respond to you, and respect that they have a culture that is slightly different than ours.
This does not mean that we should not get angry if someone is behaving badly, then it’s just like home, you speak up.