Moving to the Netherlands, I dreamed about meeting wonderful people from all around the world and learning about their cultures. Little did I know that I would fall for one of them. The romantic idea of falling in love with someone different is as old as time. But what’s it actually like – being in a relationship with someone from a completely different culture? With the help of some friends, who agreed to share their experiences, I attempted to show the beautiful and sometimes funny side of international relationships.
I’m from Russia and my partner (Pablo) is from Argentina. Our countries might seem the exact opposites – different weather, different cultures, different people. But what surprised us both as soon as we got to know each other, was how similar our backgrounds actually were. Even though Russians have a reputation of being cold and unwelcoming, after getting to know my family and friends, Pablo quickly realized that they are as warm and open as Argentinians. I’m sure any foreigner who has ever been welcomed into a Russian home, would agree.
Obviously, there are many differences between us as well. It took him over a year to stop wearing street shoes at home, and me to understand how someone could even think about doing such a thing. He even got used to drinking dozens of tea cups a day. As for me, I’m still learning to be as relaxed as he is. In Russia, especially in Moscow, we tend to struggle with workaholism – when I’m not working, I’m thinking about work.
Living in one country all your life, surrounded by people who share your background and speak the same language puts you in a bubble. It’s very difficult to step out of the values and habits that have accompanied you from the very first moment.
Learning from each other is one of the most wonderful things in a relationship. Of course, we learn something from any partner, but in an international relationship, you get a unique opportunity to dive deep into a different culture. Living in one country all your life, surrounded by people who share your background and speak the same language puts you in a bubble. It’s very difficult to step out of the values and habits that have accompanied you from the very first moment. But when you’re a curious person, like I am, you always wonder if there’s more. That’s why I moved to the Netherlands, and that’s the reason I feel so lucky to be in an international relationship. Only through immersing myself in other cultures and welcoming new languages into my everyday life, I could get myself to truly open my heart and mind.
I asked some of my friends who are also currently in international relationships to share their experiences. While listening to their stories, I couldn’t stop smiling and hopefully so won’t you.
Michael (US) & Alla (Russia), 20 years together.
I was very excited to have Michael and Alla participating in this article, as they have such a great experience to share. They met in Russia, then lived together in Kazakhstan for a few months, and eventually moved to the US. At the time, Alla already had a daughter, so, as Michael described it, they “have had the joy of raising a multilingual, transnational daughter who moves between languages and cultures with considerable ease”.
It encourages you to explore, question, and understand yourself, your assumptions, and your values. You do have to work a little more to communicate. You have to explain more things to each other, but maybe that’s something all couples should do”.
When I asked Michael what the best things about being in an international relationship are, he wrote:
“You are living with someone brave and adventurous enough to start an entirely new life in a new country, speaking/learning a new language. Someone, who is not embedded in your own culture and history. It encourages you to explore, question, and understand yourself, your assumptions, and your values. You do have to work a little more to communicate. You have to explain more things to each other, but maybe that’s something all couples should do”.
Through Alla, Michael got to know the Russian expatriate community in the US. Many women within the community are married to Russians, and even after migrating, they continued to live their lives as if they never moved. As a consequence, many of them are still living hand in hand with the ghosts of their past. Alla would sometimes find herself drinking tea with some of these women. She would find their conversations annoying, and she would recur to the same old excuse to get out of it – the hungry husband waiting to be fed. Relatable for many, Alla says “This made-up excuse was cheaper, faster, and more effective than antidepressants and it maintained social networks”.
Olga (Russia) & Bart (Netherlands), 2.5 years together.
“The best thing about being in an international relationship is that you’re guaranteed to discover a new culture. How else would you do it? There’re so many things you can learn about each other, there’s always something new. You belong to two countries now – yours and your partner’s” – they said.
“We both speak English as a second language, so sometimes we have to work a bit harder to explain things to each other. The key is to never forget to try to understand your partner”.
Bart also says that one of the most difficult aspects of being in such a relationship is that one (or both) partner is always away from his/her home and family.
“It’s also challenging sometimes to communicate with each other’s family, as the conversations usually take place in one’s native language. So, when Olya is with my family, it’s difficult for her to follow, and vice versa”.
Once, while Bart was visiting Olya’s family, they both accidentally drank plant fertilizer, because he couldn’t read the label on the bottle.
Anne (Netherlands) & Borja (Spain), 2.5 years together.
Borja and Anne communicate mostly in English, sometimes in Spanish, and only when they talk about food, in Dutch.
“The best thing about being in an international relationship… The food that he cooks, that’s pretty good” – Anne said.
“Many of my friends from Spain don’t picture their life outside of their country. So, it helps that we’re both willing to live abroad and have a similar outlook on life” – Borja added.
“Now I feel like your answer was so meaningful and mine was… about food” – Anne replied.
When I asked them about the main difficulties of being from different cultures, food came up again:
“The main issue we have is around food. She likes to have dinner at 6.30-7, and I like to eat at 10-10.30…” – Borja said.
“And he calls 9.30 a compromise. That’s mathematically not a compromise!” – Anne added. They both laughed.
Anne also mentioned that what she finds strange about Borja’s habits is his siesta (nap). However, this comment was immediately overruled by Borja:
“That’s not true, I don’t nap. In fact, I’ve seen you napping at 3-4 pm when you should be working”.
“That’s your Spanish devil on my shoulder”- Anne replied.
Adelina (Kazakhstan-Italy) & Mathijs (Netherlands-Germany), 7 months together.
Adelina and Mathijs don’t live together, so last year they spent some time apart due to Covid.
“I haven’t seen Adelina in a couple of weeks now. It can be tough at times, especially when I do something exciting and wish I could share that moment with her” – Mathijs wrote.
At the beginning of their relationship, Mathijs once drove all the way to Italy from the Netherlands just to make a big romantic surprise for Adelina. “She couldn’t find the words, she was speechless when she saw me. All she did was laugh out of joy”.
He mentioned that one of the greatest things about being with Adelina is that she’s a great cook. In both the Russian and Italian cultures, people care a lot about food, so they usually know how to cook quite well.
Adelina said that what she loves but doesn’t understand is Mathijs’ “Dutch ability” to always be on time.
“Unlike him, I’m always late. I admire that habit of his, but at the same time I feel bad that he always has to wait” – she said.
However, Mathijs had a different view on this:
“The upside is that I have time for other things and Adelina always looks splendid”.
So, does anything get lost in translation?
Sometimes you fall in love with someone from a different country, and you might not even speak the same language. You have to work a little harder to communicate, and often it’s not that easy to understand each other. But does it make your relationship any lesser? I believe the people in this article are the proof that it doesn’t. In fact, it makes it richer and even more beautiful. When people let you in their hearts, they also let you in their culture.
Editor: Cecilia Begal