When dating a foreigner
Today’s world is so global and some of my closest friends are in a relationship that consist of people from different countries, cultures and languages. Just like mine. I think it has a lot of amazing parts, but also the ones that make you wonder if it’s worth it at times. I thought I’d share with you my insights and illustrate them with pictures from the Liége Christmas Market.
For me, it’s the thing that comes to mind the first and is the biggest struggle of them all – language barrier. Although I’d say I’m pretty fluent in English, it’s not my mother tongue and I feel often stuck because of certain expressions that do exist in Estonian but can’t be translated to English. As my better half in also not a native speaker, it’s double to trouble + I can be somewhat grammar nazi and let’s just say French speakers speaking English give a lot of reasons. Secondly, there’s the family and language problem – have you ever been to a dinner party that almost none of the people speak even bare minimum common language with you? It’s an interesting situation. You concentrate on your food. A lot.
In the same time it gives you an opportunity to learn each other’s languages. I think finding motivation to learn a language it’s difficult anyways, but then you’ll have a goal why. To talk with their relatives or feel a bit more at home when visiting their country etc. Also, looking long term and children, it might get a bit awkward if you don’t understand what your kid is talking about. So, bare minimum in other’s language would be welcomed. I’m personally struggling with that point and am working on it.
Another thing that you’ll realise pretty soon is that you can be from pretty different cultural background. I think it’s not something that you realise right away but these little things that make you go ‘What the hell?’. We never wear shoes indoor and I’m always taking mine off even when others are wearing theirs. A month or two in, I was told you do that only in your really-really-really close friends’ place. I guess I feel like home everywhere. Ups.
Living in Cyprus and Spain, I was used to greeting everyone with kiss(es) on the cheek. Estonians either wave at you if there’s a lot of you, handshake with you if it’s rather formal or you don’t know the person that well or hug you if you’re close to each other. It still puzzles me why do you have to kiss everyone when you arrive to (or leave from) a group of ten or more people. Which means a lot of wiggling around the table/room and for me it’s just uncomfortable and unnecessary. I can just wave bye and that’s it.
All these things that seem unknown for you on your significant other’s behaviour, you automatically place them to the whole nation. So, probably A’s idea of Estonia is mainly forest and country house with big dogs and sauna. That’s how he has seen my parents live and even though we spent time in Tartu and Tallinn as well, there are the Estonian customs he has seen the most.
You will learn not to assume people are acting the way you’re used to. You’ll learn how to express your feelings and talk about things that you might not want to talk about. This goes to me. I’m not extremely good at expressing my feelings, especially if they have been hurt, but I think I’m getting better. I haven’t felt that the language barrier has been part of any misunderstandings, but the cultural aspect for sure.
The really-really cool thing is that you get a intensive course on the country they’re from and its history and present situation. Even if you don’t live their country, you get these bits of information every now and then and try to from a picture. I’m so lost on how I see Belgium and what this country really stands for – on my darker days I’d say public transport (always) being late and protesting yet about something. You’ll become the country’s unofficial ambassador because you have to constantly explain where your other half is from and what is it special for or how it is to live there. It is the cutest thing to see A talk about what Estonia is known for.
It can become pretty lonely if you’re living in their country. Somehow it can become lonelier to live in their country than to choose a different country together. I feel so grateful that his family has welcomed me to their family 100% and I often spend more time with them than him, but all this language barrier, cultural differences can still make you feel left out or not understood at times. I feel I’m more connected to my friends abroad now than I was before, because I’m constantly looking for that understanding and ‘feeling at home’. In some days you feel like it’s your world and you fit in and in more difficult days it can feel like you’re running against the wall and still don’t get why certain things are done in this way and not the way you’re used to. But everyone who has ever lived abroad for more than a month get the same feeling.
What do I suggest to the ones in a cross-cultural relationship and from time to time have to remind myself as well?
1. Take it as a gift that you can learn so much about another culture and that your world view is so much wider thanks to it. Also, you have second home in an other country where you’re always welcomed and you get to grow your empathy and patience level.
2. Keep an open mind and stop comparing. That’s goes also for couples from same culture but different background or just people deciding to live abroad. It’s natural for us to compare what we’re experiencing and what we’re in general used to have or do. You are choosing the place you are living and with whom, embrace it and look for positive sides and what you like about the new ways of living.
3. I thing having a cross-cultural and lingual relationship can leave you often puzzled, so it’s important to communicate. What seems so natural for you, it doesn’t even cross their mind. Stop being offended and talk what bothers you or what you expect. Again, goes actually for every relationship but it’s just more visible living with a person from different country (and customs).
4. And this is just a hurtful reminder for me – learn their language. They don’t say without a reason that learning a new language makes you see the world in a new way. You will feel so much more comfortable in their environment when you understand what is going on and are able to communicate with whomever you want, and not just talk with people whom you have a common language with.
An advent calendar I made for A the last time I was in Estonia. It contains different Estonian sweets, such a chocolates, candies etc.
In the end I think every relationship needs these three parts, but living with someone from different culture can make things tiny bit more complicated so it is just more visible. Every relationship needs work and constantly understanding where the other person is coming from. I hope you liked this more personal kind of post, if yes, let me know and let’s have a discussion. It actually means so-so much to me when someone writes and gives me insane motivation to continue what I’m doing.