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Wednesday, 4 July 2012

And not because he’s German: my take on intercultural relationships

Can intercultural relationships survive? And if they can’t, is it because of cultural differences, or maybe because of societal pressure? Or maybe there were other things at play?

There is a story by Bernhard Schlink (the same author who also wrote “The Reader”. The book was turned into a film, and I recommend both), called “Circumcision”. It describes the relationship of Andi, a German student currently on a scholarship in the USA, and Sarah, a Jewish American girl. Andi considers Sarah to be the love of his life, and she loves him, too. However, they fight a lot because Sarah often mentions that she loves him “despite the fact that he is German”. Andi, on the other hand, doesn’t want to be loved conditionally. He just wants to be loved. In the end, he decides to get circumcised for Sarah’s sake. Only she doesn’t appreciate his sacrifice, and so he leaves her.

Maybe you think this is such a typical story of why intercultural relationships can’t work. You might say: “they’re too different, their cultures just can’t understand each other, no wonder it doesn’t work out“.

As you know, I am Polish, and my husband is German. Those two countries have a curious relationship with each other that covers everything from hate to respect and admiration. When we first started dating, somebody posed the question what my parents would think of me having a German boyfriend. My parents of course, didn’t mind. They were happy for me.

I guess that maybe I should have behaved more like the Polish princess Wanda who jumped into the Vistula river (oh, the symbolism, as the Vistula is considered the “most Polish of all Polish rivers) and drowned rather than marry a German man. That would be patriotic, and tragic, and I would be a hero. Only what good would it do me? Not much.

My husband is many things: kind, and intelligent, and hilarious, and well-educated, and handsome. He is a fantastic father to our two girls. He is tolerant, and open-minded, and he also happens to be German. We don’t really have the “because you are German” discussions, although we might joke about it. With him, I feel at home.

Somehow so many marriages fail, but if they are intercultural marriages, everybody assumes that it was because of the cultural differences that the relationship fell apart. Maybe it was. Maybe it wasn’t. There could have been other things at play.

I think whenever something is different from the norm, people tend to say that this marriage can’t work. The same things have been said about same-sex marriages, relationships between people of different ages, or anything else that is even a little bit out of the ordinary.

Intercultural couples are just like any other couple: they go through ups and downs, they argue, and they make up again. They just speak different languages, and they have the experience of having lived in different countries. And yes, both of them were shaped by their culture and their home country. However, marriages and relationships require mutual understanding and a big dose of diplomacy- and it doesn’t matter whether we’re talking about intercultural couples or couples from the same culture.

When we got married, we had picked a wedding verse that we liked: "Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay". There is no better way to describe an intercultural relationship. In fact, there is no better way to describe any relationship.

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  1. Great post - I completely agree with you. My husband is Italian and I am American and we have our ups and downs just like anyone else...but only a few of them are related to intercultural differences. I think that I would have bigger differences with someone from my home state of Mississippi who had never traveled than I have with my foreign husband. Being like-minded is much more important that being from the same country, in my opinion.

    1. Lynn, "I think that I would have bigger differences with someone from my home state of Mississippi who had never traveled than I have with my foreign husband." I think you have just put into a single sentence what I wrote in a while post. Thank you!

  2. Good post! I read somewhere that the number one reason intercultural couples divorce is arguing about how to raise children. Now I just can't remember where I read it.

    I always liked dating foreign guys for some silly reason when I was younger, but my husband was the first one I didn't even think about being *foreign* and therefore more attractive. He just was HIM and nothing else mattered. :)

    1. "but my husband was the first one I didn't even think about being *foreign* and therefore more attractive. He just was HIM and nothing else mattered." So true! Thank you for this.

  3. What a beautiful post - almost like I could have written it myself! Except the differences between my husband and I are obvious (our skin color). Its amazing how differences in culture, political ideology and religion can impact a marriage and our parenting. As if modern day society wasn't difficult enough to navigate through! Thank you so much for sharing. It helps me realize that my marriage isn't the only one combating negative stereotypes.

    1. Thank you for your comment, Vanessa! Unfortunately, there are many stereotypes impacting marriages, and and yes, there is politics and society and all that. Maybe we can prove all of these wrong?


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