By Sarah Pridgeon
Last week, my husband and I celebrated our third wedding anniversary. While I can barely believe he’s put up with me for so long, I have come a long way since the fateful day I pledged my life to a foreigner and his land. I still identify myself as “not from around here” the second I open my mouth, but I do have a slightly less vague concept of how to make this country work.
Out of curiosity, I asked Husband if there was anything unexpected or unusual about being married to someone from another culture. I then asked him to narrow down his answer from, “everything.”
After thinking about if for longer than I was comfortable with, he explained that the most formidable obstacle he has overcome in the last three years was to learn a whole new language. It might not be quite the same as becoming fluent in Greek or Spanish, he said, but my weird and wonderful speaking style takes a bit of getting used to.
For my part, I have tried very hard to adapt my speech and to let go of the colloquialisms that were once perfectly comprehensible to my peers. I learned after several false starts that he would never be able to fulfill my request to fetch groceries from the boot of the car, for example, and that he would simply snigger if I asked him to do the hoovering.
Once he had learned the nuances and worked out what I was trying to articulate, Husband quickly progressed to being both translator and guide. Before long, when I was let loose to talk to other human beings, he would automatically chime in whenever necessary, saying “sidewalk” each time I said “pavement” and “apartment” every time I said “flat.”
This was also his first indication that I might need more guidance than he had expected, a task he quietly and graciously took upon himself. Which was just as well, because I doubt I would have had as much success here without him.
When first we met, Husband and I reveled in the little cultural differences and found one another’s oddities both curious and exotic. When we spent time together on our respective home turfs, we could relax and leave it up to the other to guide us through the unfamiliar parts.
But when I upped sticks and moved to Wyoming, I could no longer leave the navigation entirely to him. If I was going to forge a life here, I would need to at least understand the currency, and probably one or two of the road signs.
Husband agrees that schooling me in these things counts as the sort of wedding vow not many people have to make. Had he married a local, he probably would have spent much less time devising teaching programs focused on how much each individual coin is worth and how to tell the difference between them. He wouldn’t still be giving his wife weekly lessons on telephone area codes, either.
Much like a worried mother sending her erstwhile child to preschool for the first time, for many months Husband was obliged to check my handbag each time I departed the house. I could not be trusted to understand the weather in this part of the world and, without guidance, consistently failed to carry spare socks and gloves or even wear a proper coat.
In a moment of inspiration, he made me watch a documentary about blizzards. It was the sort of documentary that foregoes realism for impact and involved a significant number of victims now lacking fingers, toes or, in some cases, wives. I finally got the point.
Unfortunately, this schooling did not extend to the summer months. When July arrived, I was still carrying a pair of gloves with me everywhere I went, but neither sun cream nor water. Once I had sunburned the tops of my ears for the third time, he resumed his patient vigil over my handbag.
Nor, had he married someone with a proper speaking voice, would he have made nearly so many phone calls over the course of the past three years. I learned swiftly to recognize the tell-tale hesitation on the other end of a call that meant the person had absolutely no idea what I was saying. I also learned that it was much easier to ask Husband to make the call for me.
After a while, this call-making and immediate translation became a pattern and I clean forget that I speak strangely, especially once my friends and acquaintances in town grew used to me. I stopped expecting to be questioned by curious people along my journey.
I even ceased to conceal the odd habits that are not like everybody else’s habits, such as being unable to help myself when it comes to bagging my own groceries. But it was only when I was quizzed by a gentleman in a Spearfish store that I realized how much things had changed. Where did I come from, he asked. “Sundance,” I replied.
He stared at me and I stared at him. He couldn’t work out why I would give such an answer and I couldn’t work out why he would ask such a question. The uncomfortable silence stretched out for several hours before I remembered that my voice is still intriguing to those who have never before met me. But, by that time, it was far too late to correct the misunderstanding and I quietly returned to bagging loaves of bread while the grocery-bagging person glared at the side of my head.
Such is the gift that my husband gave me, willingly and without a single complaint. He helped me reach a level of comfort in a strange and foreign land that made a potentially terrifying life change so much simpler to bear. I still don’t know how to register a car and I can’t tell a dime from a quarter, but I can get by in life without too many mishaps.
Like most people, I celebrate each anniversary knowing that I have found the person I will always be glad to come home to. But I do so with one small difference: without my husband, it wouldn’t yet be a home at all.