accept our differences

I only wanted one

In the late 1980s, I was stationed in Germany. On my second weekend in Germany, my squadmates invited me to join them in what would become one of my favorite events: attending wine festivals. During wine parties, you wear a lanyard around your neck that holds a glass slightly larger than a shot glass.

As the winemakers’ floats passed by, you would hold your glass and be served a sample of their wine. If you weren’t careful, you could be quite drunk by the end of the festival. Eventually, I got hungry and saw festival goers eating what looked like steak sandwiches.

True to my Nebraska heritage, I never passed up a good steak sandwich back then. Although my only German at the time was “Sprechen sie English?” I found the stand where they sold the sandwiches. The line was long, but no more than about a 15 minute wait.

A good sign, I thought the sandwiches must be really good. Having my fingers to point at what I wanted and a pocket full of markings I felt more than ready to get my steak. I entered the queue. When it was my turn to order, I pointed to the sandwich and held up my index finger.

The vendor nodded and, to my surprise, returned with two sandwiches, not one as expected. Oh, I must be wrong, and I held up my index finger again this time with more emphasis so that he would know that I only want one. Instead, the clerk pointed to the two sandwiches and motioned for me to pay.

I’m not going to pay for two sandwiches, I thought. To no avail, the vendor and I paced back and forth with my index finger and his holding out the two sandwiches. As the queue started to grow behind me, I realized it wasn’t worth being the ugly American, so I reluctantly paid for two sandwiches.

I paid for what I learned with my disappointing first bite that it was not beef, but rather schwenkbraten (pork fillet), which is not one of my favorite meats. I shared the incident with my squadmates but all I got was sympathy with no reasonable explanation.

It wasn’t until several years later that I found out what happened. Index finger in German means two, thumbs up always means one. Additional finger raising is added to the thumb even though the thumb is not raised. Issue resolved I received exactly what I ordered.

Accept our differences within the blended family

As stepparents, when we join our blended families, we quickly learn that they have different ways of doing things than we are used to. The differences can be ethnic, cultural or even religious.

If you are new to your blended family, don’t go in trying to change things even if your way is more correct, efficient, etc. Unless it’s illegal or life-threatening, don’t mess with it just yet.

In the Air Force we used to say, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” His family’s way of doing things is just his way. Seek understanding and acceptance of new ways of doing things rather than looking to change things. Wait six months to a year before trying to implement changes, and whatever you do, make sure you have the support of your partner.

We all have our differences, whether it’s something small like the number of fingers we use to indicate two or something big like which church your family attends. Accepting the differences in your blended family is a big step toward gaining acceptance as a stepparent.

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