Marco and I had been married for nearly four months when our parents met each other for the first time.
My parents had met Marco, and his parents knew me and each had to hold that as good enough for a marriage. Trans-atlantic relationships being what they are, the two sets of parents had never met by the time we were lining up at the town hall.
Of course they had to meet sometime, and that time came when my parents came to visit the August after my move and marriage. It was a true test of maturity. The four of us would be staying in my 500-square-foot apartment, traveling in a foreign land and spending every second of two-weeks together. And of course, there’d be the dreaded parent meet-up.
My elegant in-laws would be meeting my helplessly politically incorrect hippie parents. It can be a nerve-wracking time for any couple, but we had the language divide to navigate as well. Anyone who has translated for a full day knows how exhausting it can be, and we weren’t likely to get any rest.
Dinners and outings were planned, day-trips and cultural monologues. If it were up to my in-laws every day would be spent together, never mind that my parents had traveled this far to see a bit of the peninsula as well.
For three days I translated between the families from morning to night, with only a slight reprieve when Marco came home from work and could take over translating duties for a bit.
It was just as exhausting as I expected, but I slowly started to realize that though difficult, the language barrier wasn’t so damning after all.
No, it was a blessing in disguise.
When my father made a semi-racist comment at the dinner table and my in-laws waited for the translation I told them, “he said the food is good.” When my mother said something that barely made sense I was able to turn it into a cultural curiosity. It’s not that I did it out of spite or embarrassment, but rather pure translating and relationship-cultivating exhaustion.
Though my mom usually zoned out after a bit, too tired from the dozens of cultural and linguistic differences, my dad was curious, alert. And he slowly began to notice something was up. “Hey!” he exclaimed more than once, “Did you tell them what I said?!” Then I’d sigh and explain better, until my in-laws responded appropriately to his comment.
It was a long car-trip alone with the sets of parents that sold me out.
I was jammed between my dad and my mother-in-law. My father-in-law was driving and my mom was ruling the roost in the passenger seat.
My father-in-law was holding court, oblivious to the difficulties the language barrier posed. Veering into the center of the road he pointed to a mountain in the distance, jagged like teeth of a saw. My mother curved her body against the flow of traffic, as of by sheer willpower she could force the vehicle back into its own lane. “See those mountains,” Nino began, “in 1865….” I think I may have lost the will to live.
My mother-in-law was an impenetrable wall, her ears firmly shut from her husband’s monologues. My mom, being in the front and further from her translator, was making small noises of fear and worry each time the car veered too far this way or that. Impervious to the fact that I hadn’t yet translated anything, my father-in-law began to parenthesis into another tangent.
Until then my dad had been sitting, attentive but relaxed. He could feel my frustration with translating, but was curious nonetheless.
Leaning in he asked, “what’s that he said?”
My father-in-law had been talking non-stop for at least 15 minutes while the rest of the car waited for my translation. Words came floating to the surface, buzzing around like mountain flies.
I wasn’t sure where to begin, what was important, why he was telling us all this.
With a big sigh I answered the best I could: “He said the mountains are beautiful.”
With a laugh my dad gave in, “fair enough,” he said.