Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Inter-Family Marriage: Taboo or Tradition’

“You know you are from Kentucky when .” [Insert one of numerous punch lines on inter-family marriages]. I am from Cincinnati, the good old Midwest; I can appreciate the “over the Ohio river” humor. I could, at least, when the idea of inter-family marriage was nothing more than that – a joke. But now, removed from the barriers of my hometown, there is the great expanse of the Atlantic Ocean and a differing social mentality pushing me away from what I had always considered a grave faux pas – tying the knot with, gasp, a cousin.

When my aunt was briefing me for my overseas expedition, she made sure to include a “beware of the charms of your second cousin” section. I, of course, believed she was suffering from an overactive imagination – remembering a past tradition that I thought had long since disappeared. I have since discovered that it is still alive and kicking. Upon questioning my mom on the validity of my aunt’s suspicions, she calmly informed me in a voice that held no indication of surprise, that yes, her side of the family has their eye on me and that I should be careful. “Decline excess invitations politely and remain distant without being rude,” she instructed. As a result, I’ve had numerous “American University in Cairo obligations” to attend.

Fortunately, I am not alone in this clash of cultures. My friend Dina, Egyptian-American like myself, has had to deflect the “bordering on amorous” affections of her first cousin. Studying in Egypt this year to unearth her roots, she didn’t realize that she was going to dig up potential interfamily marriage proposals in the process. “I am just angry more than anything,” she said. “I feel so imposed upon. How could he assume that as an American I would think this is OK?” In the United States, not only is it not OK, but it’s often illegal. So how do Dina and I, as a mixture of American upbringing and Egyptian heritage, successfully (excuse the pun) wed the two?

In my parents’ time, family members married as a means of consolidating wealth. This way, inheritances didn’t disappear into the hands of numerous newcomers and their families. Today, this act of preservation no longer seems necessary since these fortunes have long since become a memory. And yet inter-family marriages are still practiced and accepted. Perhaps the saying is true: old habits do die hard.

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised; the concept was never foreign to me. My mom would tell me stories about how her grandfather had paired all of her first cousins up into future marriage partners – desiring to maintain the homogeneity and purity of the family’s blood. But because I have grown up so completely removed from this mentality, I never felt it would affect my own life. Little did I know I would sit on a pincushion and pop my American bubble of comforts and familiarities.

In coming to Egypt, I was suddenly confronted with the eerie possibility that yes, I could become instantly married. And to family, no less. I could have a ring on my finger, keeping house, kissing my husband/cousin good morning. My friends and I have childishly giggled numerous times over this picture, often repeating the same “Ew! Ew!” sounds over and over again. Clinging to my upbringing and locking the door to this unwanted possibility, I refused to believe I was even having this conversation.

But I have come to understand that the rules have changed. It’s like playing a game of Monopoly and switching to Clue midway. You can’t collect $200 in the ballroom or buy boardwalk from Professor Plum. Likewise, I have to leave my haughty “but we don’t do that from where I come from” attitude behind if I want to comprehend where it is that my roots are ingrained. It wasn’t until I was put physically into a situation that never seemed possible that I discovered how insensitive certain remarks I used in the United States really were. I don’t have to submit to the terms nor do I have to accept a ring. But I hope to find the courage to push the door open, peeking my head through this abyss of cultural differences in an attempt to come to terms with a practice that once was a source of humor.

Yasmine Noujaim is a junior in the College and is currently studying at the American University in Cairo. Salamat appears every other Friday.

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