Every Savage Loves His Native Shore

Our read aloud this month is, When Jessie Came Across the Sea, written by Amy Hest and illustrated by P.J. Lynch, a beautiful tale that will resonate with any of us who have had to pull up our roots and move to another land.

As I re-read this story, it brought back memories, sometimes painful ones, of my own experience at moving to another land and adjusting to another culture.  But it also brought back fond memories of what it was like to marry a “foreigner”someone who had grown up with roots very different from my own.

Here is an excerpt from a piece I wrote for a magazine article many years ago called

Every Savage Loves His Native Shore.”

During my formative years my parents doled out their fair share of advice and guidance, but they were remiss in one respect: they never warned me about the dangers of marrying a foreigner. They never told me, “Every savage loves his native shore,” or “Birds of a feather flock together.” It was a surprising oversight for a couple who were themselves an example of a mixed union, my mother being Scottish and my father Irish.
My marriage, however, was even more mixed than theirs, since I ended up marrying an American. I suppose I must have been acting under the naive assumption that Americans weren’t really foreigners: after all they had been our allies in the war, they shared a common heritage, and they spoke the same language, or sorts. It was only later that I learned the folly of such logic.
During our courtship a number of cultural improprieties surfaced. When I brought this American home for the first time, he boldly marched over to our fridge, opened it, and began rummaging around inside. My parents stared at him as if he had just stripped naked and was shouting a stream of obscenities at them. Later, my mother confided to me, “He’s a wee bit cheeky, isn’t he?” And whenever we went out to restaurants I spent most of the evening with my index finger clamped to my lips, hissing, “Not so loud!” I also noticed a strange aversion to queues, an obsession with doing, and an over-familiarity with strangers. But during the first blush of romantic love, it was easy enough to overlook such peccadilloes and simply write them off as personal quirks that would remedy themselves in time.
After our marriage though, more serious differences in our view of the world began to emerge—startling reminders that I had indeed married a savage from a very different shore. One major source of strife was, “inventory control.”
I had been raised in a culture where people frequently ran out of any number of household supplies” bread, milk, cereal, and even, on occasion, toilet paper. The theory behind our lackadaisical approach was simple: our fridges and cupboards were too small to accommodate hoarding, and since the shops were usually within walking distance, it was no hardship to nip out, stock up, and catch a wee breath of fresh air into the bargain. And if the shops were shut, then you either improvised or did without. You only have to look at our impressive list of inventors: Fleming, Bell, or Macadam, to name a few, and you will realize that the Scots place a lot of credence in the maxim, “Necessity is the mother of invention.”
Unfortunately, my American husband failed to see the benefits of such a philosophy. He had been raised in a culture where convenience tops the list of cardinal virtues, where stores are open twenty-four hours, and fridges are bigger than our bathrooms. He reached his Waterloo the day that our missing household item happened to be toilet paper. Apparently, improvising or doing without on this score, was simply not in his realm of consciousness. He then did what most Americans do best—he took charge, and became Chief-Inventory Controller First in Command.
When children came along, our parenting techniques revealed yet another gaping chasm between the cultures. We Scots are a pragmatic race who exercise a certain common savvy about raising children. Praise and affection are doled out as sparingly as pocket money. We believe that self-esteem is merely the fruit of such qualities as perseverance, hard work, and respect for others. We are not averse to saying, “no,” to the numerous mercenary demands that children are wont to make. And we never indulge in psychological discussions with our offspring, knowing that adults always end up the losers in such silly shenanigans. I firmly believe that if child rearing had been left up to my American husband, then my thirteen-year-old daughter would still be going to bed wearing diapers and clutching a bottle!

Read Part 2