Surviving a Trip to Mate's Foreign Family

Q: I am newly remarried after being a widow for several years. My second husband is originally from Italy and is bilingual. I have found our cultural differences exhilarating and consider myself an adaptable person, but I don't speak Italian and am worried about our forthcoming trip to visit his family. We'll be spending three weeks in a small town in Italy where they don't speak my language. Any thoughts on how to get by in a foreign land? — Melissa, 59

Dr. Susan: Funny you should ask me this, as I had such an experience a long time ago. Just married, we visited my new husband's village in Lebanon for a month. Now, I'd taken Arabic in college, but was useless at conversation. His family were impressed that I tried, so I suggest you learn just a few words to show you care, and bring a phrase book with you. Be prepared for everyone to be extremely social, if my experience is any gauge. Be a good sport about endless social calls, even when you are becoming bored from not understanding the conversations swirling around you. Ask your husband to translate as much as he has patience for.

My biggest hint, though, is to get your mate on your side ahead of time. Let him know of your anxieties, and ask him to promise you that he and you will debrief frequently throughout the day so you stay connected. My own then-new husband at times joined his relatives in making a bit of fun of me, which pleased everyone but me. I suggest you try to be less touchy and more supportive of your husband's various loyalties. Have a good time!

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