Understanding family culture

Families have incredibly complex micro-cultures.

You can take two middle class Aussie families and, on the surface, they appear similar. They live in brick and tile houses, they spend Christmas together, they go on holidays to Thailand, or Fiji, or New Zealand.

But the minute you start to investigate, gaping differences appear.

It’s not just around which football team you support or whether you’re religious. After all, football is religion in some homes. It’s things like who you invite to dinner and how you invite them; what you eat and how you eat it. Do you share dishes when you order Thai or Indian or do you get your own? Is it OK to get drunk or is it frowned upon? Is there a culture of gluten-free or white bread?

Australia’s immigrant culture means that many families are influenced by the home nation of their parents and grandparents. My Mum was born in Switzerland and embodies Swiss-German values when it comes to her commitment to perfection, cleanliness and organisation. My grandfather was Polish and, like so many Polish people, drank immoderate amounts of vodka on a daily basis. My Aussie grandmother, on the other hand, might have a shandy once a year.

Marriage is an ongoing exercise in trying to understand someone else’s family; a process that becomes even more complicated when you take blended and broken families like mine. My Mum and Dad live in totally different ways. My stepmum and stepdad bring their own cultures to the mix.

When you start work at new company, you get an employee manual that explains everything, right down to the appropriate pants-length on Casual Friday.

Wouldn’t it be great if families came with a guide? Imagine the angst you would avoid; the fights and faux pas.

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