My husband, despite having been born and raised in Morocco for 19 years, is not the most knowledgeable about cultural norms in his country. This is largely because he just doesn’t care about them, which is fine if you are from that country. However when it comes to me, his foreign spouse, I want to do the right thing as I think it is important to respect traditions and norms when in other countries.
The thing is, it took me a while to catch on to how clueless my husband was about his own culture. Since I didn’t yet know the culture, I always assumed his answers to things were the correct ones. After all, it’s his country, he of course knows how things work, right?
The first trip to Morocco with kids was when Jasmin was four months old. While I felt my cultural knowledge of Morocco had certainly improved at that point (I wouldn’t make mistakes like eating with the wrong hand or being touchy feely with my husband in public), I still had questions about things like breastfeeding. Could I breastfeed in public with something over me? Could I breastfeed in front of his dad and brothers? What about cousins and uncles? His answer: anyone in the family was fine (including uncles and cousins). Anyone not in the family was not ok. I found this somewhat surprising seeing it was not ok to air kiss cousins hello, yet I could show them my breasts? I surmised that Morocco obviously had a deep respect for breastfeeding women, as it should.
The first night we arrived and the house was filled with relatives. The rules seemed pretty clear so I went to feed Jasmin, not thinking much about it. When I was finished, his sister pulled me into the other room, concerned and straight-faced. “You can’t do that in front of everyone, especially not my uncles and cousins!”
“But your brother told me I could and it was no big deal!”
“Yes, but don’t you know my brother is clueless about this stuff? Ask me from now on.” And from that point on, I always did and still do.
Still doesn’t mean I don’t make mistakes though. The latest mistake I made? Letting my little girls (then ages one and three) run naked in front of their grandfather while changing them for bed (disrespectful). While most of the cultural norms I can usually understand, that one was hard for me to grasp.