07 Mar When America & the Czech Republic Marry
Naomi Kaye Honova grew up in the Bay Area, California and has also lived in NYC, Prague and Jerusalem. She currently lives in Munich, Germany with her Czech husband Jan. She has a Master’s in Social Work and also studied creative writing at her undergrad, Sarah Lawrence College.
Naomi has been published at The Rumpus and in the National Geographic Glimpse. She wrote about traveling and eating in an interview with the Globavore at Travel Eater. She also wrote the epilogue for Shalom Auslander’s recent novel for the Czech edition, 2014.
I was really pleased to ‘meet’ her online and talk to her about her cross-cultural marriage.
When America and the Czech Republic Marry
- How did your lives intersect?
We met on my semester abroad studying in Prague with School for International Training, in 2007. My husband was a student panelist discussing his childhood experiences in Communist youth groups in the Czech Republic. We weren’t sure at the time if we were ready for a long distance relationship, but got back together in 2009. I ended up living in Germany as an au pair, and later, he spent a semester in Berkeley. We got married in 2014.
- What languages do you speak in your home?
We speak English together at home, and sometimes we speak German when we are out and about with German friends or shopkeepers, although we’ll usually lapse into English when speaking to one another and then address other people in German.
We’re expecting our first child this summer and the plan is for my husband to speak exclusively to our child in Czech and for me to speak in English. Jan teaches German medieval literature at Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich. He has a minor specialization in medieval Slavistic studies. His these focuses on Czech translations of German novels in the 16th century. While our future child will be trilingual, I’m not sure she/he will be so advanced as to know medieval German!
Photo: Wedding cake at our Oakland wedding, in both English and Czech
- Do you currently live in your home country or his?
Neither- we live in Munich, Germany, at the moment. However, it’s not very far from Prague, about a 3.5-hour drive away.
- Tell me something about your wedding?
We actually had two weddings, one in Prague and one in Oakland, California.
The legal wedding was in Prague and the ceremony was held at the Brevnov monastery (though not in the actual monastery but one of the side buildings where the Empress Maria Theresa had her coronation). We had a wedding lunch which is a Czech tradition, at the Jewish community center and then had a party at a nearby farmhouse in a town called Unetice with a klezmer band: a Czech rock band. We used a catering company that hires refugees to cook native foods. The evening included lots of beer, dancing and jollity!
The second wedding was a Jewish ceremony held at the Oakland Zoo. We had a wonderful rabbi officiate at our ceremony, which was a liberal but overall traditional Jewish ceremony with chuppah and glass-breaking. We danced the night away with the classic Jewish hora, chair dance, and just plain old rocking out. All the tables were named after our favorite books, since we both love literature. Some of the book titles we used were A Tramp Abroad, Moby Dick, I served the King of England, The Complete Short Stories of Flannery O’Connor and Parsifal.
- What’s the best thing about having an international marriage?
We’ve each become so immersed and tied to each other’s culture and homeland, which I doubt would have been possible otherwise- it’s not like being a tourist or a visitor.
- What surprised you most about being in an international marriage?
That there are way more folks out there than I ever could have imagined in similar situations!
- What are some of the difficulties related to living in a cross-cultural relationship?
The main difficulties I find are related to bureaucracy and also inevitable long distances between one side of the family. Paperwork and taxes are more annoying, and no matter where we live in the world we’ll be far away from one side of the family and hometown friends (right now it’s mine), which is challenging.
- Tell me about a funny misunderstanding.
One year at a family birthday celebration (my husband, his father and I all have September birthdays) my husband’s grandfather handed me what looked like a massive plastic water bottle. I was a little surprised, but thought “Okay, maybe there is a Czech custom of giving water on someone’s birthday for a symbolic reason that I don’t know about, so I’ll go with the flow.” I unscrewed the cap and was about to take a swig when everyone shouted, “Wait, stop!” Turns out the bottle was filled with strong homemade slivovice– Czech plum liquor!
- What parts of your husband’s culture have you embraced? Or chosen not to embrace?
I like to my pepper my speech occasionally with Czech words and we wear “house shoes” in our apartment, which is a very central European tradition (Germans wear house shoes as well). There are some Czech food items which I’ve developed a passion for, some of them pretty odd. An example is Pribinacek, which is a dairy pudding meant for small children that I’ve come to enjoy.
I also like the Czech sense of humor, which is very sarcastic and kind of anti-authoritative. I have observed that sometimes Czech gender roles can be a bit “traditional,” i.e. women staying home and taking care of the kids when on maternity leave and husbands not necessarily participating much in childcare, which isn’t necessarily our style per se.
Photo: in Aberdeen on our honeymoon in Scotland
- How do you make your home feel like “home” when home is represented by different art, style, and cultural norms?
We feel like home is wherever we are together (which I suppose sounds a bit sappy, but true). We have a fairly similar aesthetic in terms of what sorts of art and furniture we like, though frankly neither of us are huge interior decorating experts. Some things I had to adjust to in terms of European apartments/house life, such as the way blanket duvet covers work (you buy the blanket and then a separate cover for it). We have mezuzahs on most of our doors (a Jewish signpost marking) which isn’t a common sight here in Munich. Mostly we try to make everything feel cozy and welcoming.
- Is food an issue?
Overall, not really; my husband and I are huge foodies and share a love for cooking as well as trying many different cuisines. We don’t eat pork at home, though, due to my Jewish upbringing, although pork is very popular in the Czech Republic.
- How do you keep family connections healthy and alive when you live in different parts of the world?
My husband’s family and friends live about 3 hours away by car so we do see them quite a bit more than my friends and family from the US. I keep in touch with my friends and family from back home mostly via Skype, email and landline phone calls, as well as good old handwritten letters and postcards.
We visit the US on average of once a year and my family has come to visit once or twice a year, as well as a few friends–our families will come more often this year due to the upcoming arrival of our baby.
It isn’t easy though, and I would certainly say it is one of the largest challenges of an international marriage. I think especially now that we are having a kid, it may be even harder not having more family and friends around to help out and be a source of support. However, we’ll make it work as we always have!
Photo: With our friend’s daughter, dressed in Bavarian garb at our Prague wedding party.
Many thanks to Naomi for sharing a part of her In-Between Cultures life! I hope she checks back in with me after her baby is born. I want to know if the child’s name will be taken from his American, Czech, or Jewish heritage.
To read more of Naomi’s writing, check out her recent story at Kveller, “What It’s Like to be Jewish and Pregnant in Germany.”