Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

"By Tenderness and Flattery": Construction and Reconstruction of 'Cultural Difference' in Research on Intermarriage

Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

"By Tenderness and Flattery": Construction and Reconstruction of 'Cultural Difference' in Research on Intermarriage

Article excerpt


In Mozart's "Abduction from the Seraglio," the British servant Blondchen teaches the Turkish guardian of the harem Osmin the British rules of seduction: "this never ending squabbling, ordering and grumbling. Girls are treated differently in Europe", namely "by tenderness and flattery, courtesy and gentle fun." Mozart demonstrates that seduction and relationshipswhether for one night or the rest of one's lifeare culturally specific practices, which therefore do not translate easily. The successful would-be Don Juan, although he tries to stand his ground ("But we are in Turkey and things are different here. I am the Lord, you are my slave, I command, you must obey"), would thus have to master the different mies of the game, which are culturally and gender specific.

Binational couples and intercultural encounters are not only a popular topic of examination and fascination in the opera and theater. Modern literature like "die weiße Massai" (the white Massai) by Corinne Hofmann (1998), an experience report by a Swiss woman who falls in love with a Kenyan Massai, or the more sinister "Not without my Daughter ( 1987) by Betty Mahmoody, also dwell on symbols and imaginations that refer to an understanding of intermarriage as unusual and vexing, but at the same time inspirational and fascinating.

In the research of social science binational couples also are the object of frequent, although somewhat more ambiguous, analysis. Trying to sort through the mêlée of perceptions and imaginations, different kinds of views can be distinguished: Looking at intermarriage from the point of the vestige of social theory, binational couples are interpreted as a kind of case study for assimilation, as they are regarded as entailing a substantial potential for disintegration. From the perspective of the state, to the extent that the maintenance of boundaries is constitutive for its continuity, relationships of women with 'foreigners' are perceived as a threat.

Ethnic endogamy is seldom strict. . . . Generally, it is merely preferential and, most importantly, asymmetrical by sex. The double standard of our behavior ... is also glaringly present in the application of ethnic endogamy" (Berghe 1987 in Kienecker, 1993,p. 5.)

Therefore it comes as no surprise that women are not permitted relationships across cultural and national borders quite so readily, as they are still assigned the responsibility for the biological survival of'the nation.' Thus, homogony, meaning in this case marriage between people from the same cultural or ethnic background, is much more carefully maintained regarding women than men. However, binational couples are also seen as an expression of the most stable form of interethnic relations. Migrants who marry into the ethnic majority population are regarded as socially better integrated, (social) assimilation is viewed as accomplished (Nauck, 2009, but also earlier Merton, 1972 [1942]).2


The attitude of the majority of society towards binational couples reflects the rather inconsistent readings towards immigration in general and binational couples in particular. Migration has been, and still is, an important part of the German society, in statistics as well as in discourse. Nevertheless, statistics show a decline in immigration and an increase in emigration in recent years; in 2008 approximately 680, 000 people immigrated into Germany, while more than 730, 000 emigrated (for an overview Migrationsbericht 2008). Most of the people immigrating to Germany come from other European states, as the Eastern expansion of the EU leads to an increasing immigration population from Poland and Rumania. Germany has a restricted migration policy, leading to rather difficult possibilities for migration to Germany. As a result, more than one fourth (1/4) of all immigration processes take place as a family reunion (Migrationsbericht 2008, p. 135). …

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