Egyptian + foreigner = marital harmony or chaos?

Deena Douara
8 Min Read

What happens when an Egyptian – “conservative , “traditional – marries a foreigner – “liberal, and “independent ?

Cultural differences abound, and bliss would seem difficult to find within mixed marriages.

And indeed, it often is.

Kristine fled the country when her Egyptian husband started getting violent.

This, after she discovered that he was having conversations of a sexual nature, online. Jealousy and restricted movement caused conflict from the start, as did the interfering family.

Stacy too was surprised when her jealous Egyptian husband started beating her and tried to control all aspects of her life.

These women saw the worst of Egyptian men but these are hardly typical experiences.

For most, the differences are just challenges to overcome.

But first, there is attraction.

Many people are attracted to characteristics seen as ‘different.’ Amy says she was attracted to her husband’s “foreign good looks, politeness and charming manners, absent from her fellow Brits.

Noura, Egyptian but raised abroad, says Egyptian men can be especially generous and giving. Dina liked how her British husband minded his own business, was respectful, and “open-minded, in contrast to other Egyptian men.

Then comes reality.

Dalia, raised in Lebanon and now divorced, says she feels Egyptian men tend to be spoiled and irresponsible. She says she was used for her finances. Dalia explains this difference by suggesting that in Lebanon, the government “has no real role in our private lives . we don’t expect the government to help us, in turn fostering both entrepreneurship and self-reliance.

A common source of conflict in mixed marriages relates to women’s roles as wives. Dalia says of her husband, “he did not accept that I might have an objection to anything.

Elaine, an American Muslim convert, says she is “still adjusting, after 23 years of marriage, to the patriarchal nature of her relationship with her spouse, where “the man rules the roost.

Noura says she has to constantly fight for independence and to maintain her way of life.

“Initially I found it very stifling and restricting being newly married here, says Amy. “I was used to being independent. In the UK . I was used to being very free and doing what I wanted. Suddenly after marrying here, I couldn t go anywhere alone. Even her in-laws were worried about her and wanted to know where she was going.

Philosophies in child-rearing also differ. Elaine says the norm here is to belittle children’s problems rather than to respond sympathetically.

While Noura exerts a lot of effort to keep her children healthy and tame, she gets frustrated when adults here feed her children junk food without asking her, and teach her children to hit back if hit.

Kristine’s relatives did the same thing with her son. Instead of punishing violence or rudeness when in their care, his family would laugh and comment how “cute the misbehavior was.

Ann regrets that her husband “would never go to the club with the kids. For her, it is not about who does what chores but about quality time and communication with their children. To be fair, Ann says that men do seem to work much harder here and so inevitably come home tired. “It’s exhausting working in Egypt. She also feels that she is always being judged. “You are always doing something wrong, she says, which includes choices she makes regarding her children.

Marriage is not just about the big things either.

Elaine says in the US, couples have activities in common which they can share in.

“Egyptians don’t even really have hobbies. She also laments that she and her husband rarely go out together.

Dina sometimes gets frustrated that her husband does not regularly call her family, even on big occasions, which she thinks Egyptians understand.

With all these differences, would it perhaps be easier to marry someone from one’s own culture?

Nader, married to a German woman, does not think so. “Women are almost the same everywhere, he says. He thinks that the stereotype that Egyptians are more home-oriented is false, especially regarding foreigners from outside metropolises.

Differences that occurred in the beginning, like anger over phone calls with male colleagues, dissipated with time as both sides learned to compromise and moderate their behaviors.

Being married to a foreigner forced Nader to think deeper about his own religion to differentiate Islam from tradition and custom.

Noura, despite her many cultural conflicts, thinks it would have been even more difficult to marry someone from her own culture. “I would have been expecting a more liberal attitude and would have gotten the same thing in disguise . men are men.

She appreciates how she and her partner “teach each other along the way.

Dina says she “would never have married an Egyptian. She views marriage as an equal partnership, a view she has never found shared by an Egyptian partner. With many close male friends as well, she thinks she would have lost over half her friends if her husband were Egyptian.

Showing her own “Western values, Dina was willing to split expenses normally allotted to the male in order to make the marriage feasible.

Dina probably could have married an Egyptian like Ayman though, who lived abroad for many years. He is happily married to an American, whom he does not expect “to lift a finger to do anything unless it gives her pleasure. There is no hierarchy in his marriage. He says he “can’t deal with Egyptian things, such as nosiness, family interference, conservatism, materialism, and neediness.

After nearly 20 years of marriage, Hassan has trouble thinking of cultural differences between them, despite the fact that he is Muslim and she Christian. His living in England before the marriage may have helped.

“Maybe it would have been easier to have married someone from my own culture, says Amy, “but then again I don t think it would have been so exciting or challenging. She also loves having bilingual daughters with dual nationality, making them “a little bit special back in England.

The challenge is ‘exciting’ for some, too much for others. Much seems to depend on one’s own experience with the other culture. And while some generalities do seem to hold true, exceptions exist, and compromises can be reached. Whether or not the challenge is worth it is a question that can probably be asked of any marriage, regardless of background.

All names have been changed to maintain the privacy of those interviewed

Share This Article
Leave a comment