Considering that I'm a Black, Native-American, Russian woman and married to a half-Christian, half-Jewish man whose brother married an Indian Hindu woman and that my Buddhist cousin's wife is an Indonesian Catholic, my father is dating a Mexican Jewish-convert, and my mother is now a born-again Christian, I know a thing or two about cross-cultural holidays. My husband and I each grew up with a star of David tree-topper on our Christmas trees and thought nothing of it until we had our daughter and realized how much harder it is to sweep tradition and culture under the rug when you're responsible for teaching it to the next generation.
As a dating coach, I've worked with women who said the most important aspect of their ideal husband was that he was Jewish, as well as Jewish men who insisted on marrying an Asian woman. Holidays are stressful enough without factoring in the many cultural codes and nuanced personal preferences. Having been a guest at some very awkward holiday gatherings, I've composed a list of DOs and DON'TS to consider when crossing cultural lines this season.
1. DO - Make an effort to experience the culture. Even though you're not used to taking off your shoes or eating things raw or pickled, when in Rome, do as the Romans do. In most cultures, you won't be shunned for doing something wrong, but rather praised for embracing their preferences.
2. DO - Ask your partner questions before you arrive. For example, knowing that you're not supposed to blow out the menorah candles and that your date's mother is deaf in her left ear will inform your actions.
3. DO - Have a safe word. If either of you becomes uncomfortable, you need a way to convey that to your partner without creating a stir at the dinner table. Agree that if you say a phrase like, "I think I left something in the car," it means, "Get me out of here!"
4. DO - Bring an appropriate gift. The key word here is "appropriate." Generally a bottle of wine would be appreciated unless there's some 12-step history in the family. Ask your date if alcohol is on the approved list. If it's not, try flowers.
5. DO - Your cultural homework. I recall an awkward event at my sister-in-law's parents' home where a playful game of footsie caused a big stir. Perceiving feet as the most impure part of the body, Hindus see pointing your foot at someone as a sign of extreme disrespect.
6. DO - Dress appropriately. One thing devout Muslims and Jews have in common is a disdain of tattoos and piercings. Cover them up for the day so you can to save yourself from having to explain why your bicep says things in Chinese that you can't read without a translator.
7. DO - Ask if you can bring something. You can break the ice by sharing your own traditions, culture, and food.
The DON'Ts vary from family to family, but here are some universal no-nos to keep in mind.
1. DON'T - Stare. Even if it's because you think they are "exotically beautiful."
2. DON'T - Use the terms "you people" or "your people."
3. DON'T - Be too PDA happy. In Dubai kissing and hand-holding in public can get you thrown in jail. Although that is unlikely to happen at a private dinner, too much affection at the table is bound to make others uncomfortable.
4. DON'T - Mouth the words to songs in their native language as if you know what they're saying.
5. DON'T - Get wasted. Even in a mono-cultural setting it's likely to offend your date's parents.
6. DON'T - Try to convert anyone.
If you have the good fortune to experience the best of both worlds in a dual-cultural household, these guidelines can lead you to a comfortable, and even educational, holiday season.