The Cultural Conundrum of Bed Sheets

One night on our honeymoon, my South African husband climbed into the hotel room bed before I did. I circled around to the other side and yanked the sheets from their tightly tucked position under the mattress.

As I got into bed and reached to put my arm around my husband, a barrier blockaded my hand.

“What in the world?” I said out loud. A thin white bed sheet separated my body from his.

“What are you doing?” I asked him.

“What do you mean?” he answered.

“Why are you not under the sheet?”

“What sheet?”

When we were dating and then later engaged, we expected to face a number of differences and challenges in our cross-cultural relationship.

We knew issues would come up regarding roles and expectations, family traditions and communication styles—but I never guessed that we would disagree about which sheets belonged on our bed!

As I soon learned, flat sheets were not used in my husband’s culture—just a fitted sheet to cover the mattress, with a blanket or duvet directly on top. No sheet to separate body from the comforter.

After our honeymoon, I made our bed at home with the new sheets we had received as a wedding gift—including the flat sheet the came with the set. At first, I didn’t even think about the fact that my husband wasn’t used to it—I just made the bed the way I always did.

But once again, when I climbed into bed at night, a thin fabric barrier separated us. Of course, we laughed. Then we playfully argued over who had to change positions. I can’t remember who won that night, but the next night I assumed he would get the hint and remember to fold back the flat sheet with the blanket.

He didn’t.

Eventually, I gave up. I took the flat sheet off the bed completely. At first, it felt awkward and uncomfortable. I didn’t like the feeling of the blanket directly on top of me.

Why did we have to get rid of it? Why couldn’t my husband be the one to compromise and adjust to the change?

Fast forward more than a decade of marriage and three kids later. Now, whenever we travel as a family to a hotel or stay overnight at a friend’s house, our kids see the flat sheet on the bed and ask, “What is that?”

I’m usually surprised to see it, too—I’ve lived so long without the extra sheet that I don’t even think about it anymore. The small sacrifice that felt significant back then has become the norm. I think God used that bed sheet conundrum early in our marriage to teach me an object lesson. If I wasn’t willing to give up a sheet for the sake of my husband’s comfort, how could I expect to make bigger sacrifices when necessary later on?


Read more about Kate’s cross-cultural marriage experiences in her memoir, A Place to Land: A Story of Longing and Belonging

Photo Copyright: viteethumb / 123RF Stock Photo


Kate Motaung is the author of A Place to Land: A Story of Longing and Belonging (2018), A Start-Up Guide for Online Christian Writers, and Letters to Grief. She is the host of Five Minute Friday, an online community that encourages and equips Christian writers, and owner of Refine Services, a company that offers writing, editing, and digital marketing services. Kate blogs at Heading Home and can be found on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram (@katemotaung).

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