Sun, 05 Nov 2000

What's it like marrying a foreigner?

JAKARTA (JP): All of us are driven by that thing called love, and sometimes it leads us to people who come from distant lands and cultures.

Indonesians and expatriates talked to The Jakarta Post about their crosscultural marriages.

Irma Schwarze, an Indonesian woman married for more than 30 years to a German; they have four children.

The first time I saw him, I didn't feel anything but then it clicked. My parents didn't agree -- they were screaming, "you don't know him or where he is from". But I knew he was responsible and diligent.

We were different religions, but God is one. Among my children (one of them is TV presenter Briggita Priscilla) there is a Buddhist, another a Muslim, one a Protestant -- we are a real Pancasila family. And the other thing is that, after a while, all men are the same, whether they are German or Javanese.

We were from the same kind of backgrounds, the same milieu, which is probably why we are still together. After a couple of years, many of my friends who married foreigners got divorced, telling me they couldn't take this or that about living with a foreigner ...

I think there have been changes in attitudes today because there are many more crosscultural marriages. It was harder in the past; people used to shout at me on the street, "hey hostess, hostess" but I didn't care even when I was pregnant and walking with my husband. Even my grandmother said to me, "Why do you want to become a nyai (concubine)?"

Bill, an American in his 50s, who has been married for 12 years to a younger Indonesian woman. They are the same religion:

I don't think spouses in a mixed marriage are treated any differently than anyone else here. You're expected to work wherever you are, and the people who complain about not having a work permit do not fit into Indonesian expectations of what foreigners should be doing here in Indonesia ...

Atty Meigh, 44, married since 1982 to an Englishman. They have two daughters:

My father was in the military and had traveled all over the country and was quite broad-minded. It was his family, actually, not him, who had the problem with me marrying a foreigner. My husband converted because we believed it was the right thing to bring the children up as one.

We met in Bandung, where I'm from, and then I was sent by my company to work in England. I met his family -- they are from the north of England and are very nice, very close-knit. I decided I could live with this ... our exposure in the 1970s, when I was a teenager, to western ways was very limited and I was expecting life in the UK to be more or less the same as it was, but still it was a shock. But I enjoyed the freedom, the privacy.

When we were living in England, we spent holidays in Indonesia every two years. I taught the children about Islam and I showed them that I am an Indonesian but they were still free to speak their minds. But I also gave them the understanding that no matter what, I am still from the East ...

Anne Parapak, an Australian married for almost 30 years to former government official Jonathan Parapak. They have three daughters:

I have now spent more of my life in Indonesia than in Australia, but once you're past the age of 12 your cultural formation, like your accent, is already there. I think it takes an awful lot of humility to come into a new culture as an adult and be considered impolite. I came here and to me using my left hand in everyday life was nothing strange, until people started telling me it was wrong and impolite. And all the while I was looking at them and thinking, "well, all of you eat really noisily".

But I think what was most important for me was living here for two years before I married my husband. It was at his insistence, so I would know what the way of life was like here. He also spent seven years in Australia, so he could understand my point of view ... At the end of the day, if the only person around you who understands you is your spouse, then that's probably enough ... I was helped by the fact that I never thought I must become Indonesian, but one thing I learned from my husband is that if you bash your head against a brick wall, all you get is a headache ... (Bruce Emond)