Intercultural relationships
I Am An Expat, My Expat Life

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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15 Comments

  • Reply Lynn @ Nomad Parents July 4, 2012 at 4:20 pm

    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.

    • Reply The European Mama July 4, 2012 at 9:44 pm

      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!

  • Reply Tarja July 4, 2012 at 4:52 pm

    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. 🙂

    • Reply The European Mama July 4, 2012 at 9:45 pm

      “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.

  • Reply De Su Mama April 19, 2013 at 5:05 pm

    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.

    • Reply The European Mama April 19, 2013 at 5:14 pm

      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?

  • Reply Elle February 1, 2014 at 5:47 pm

    A lovely read Olga – and heartwarming to hear how happy you and your husband are.
    I think that marriages where the two are worlds apart in terms of religion can struggle… but I think that today’s generations are much happier to have found the perfect mate regardless of where they were born. I am married to a fellow Brit… and we’re very different in politics and religious views (I believe in a God – he doesn’t) – but we’re very alike in most other things. That means we’re work very well together… but can “enjoy” some pretty fesity debates too.
    Elle recently posted…Moving To Spain – Part 1: The Idea SproutsMy Profile

    • Reply European Mama February 1, 2014 at 5:52 pm

      Thank you, Elle! Glad that you enjoyed this post. I agree these days intercultural/interracial/interfaith marriages are becoming more and more common- one one hand and then “traditional” marriages where both come from the same country are deal with other differences (for example social status, religion or the lack of it, age etc, and even region). I will post about it as well 😀

      • Reply Elle February 1, 2014 at 5:59 pm

        Yes, enjoyed it very much!
        I guess I’m the kind of person who likes to be challenged… so differences between people is something I embrace and probably veer towards. If I were not with my other half… I would not be averse to dating someone from another country. I hear Italy is quite nice 😉 OH and they have great food and wine too x
        Elle recently posted…Moving To Spain – Part 1: The Idea SproutsMy Profile

  • Reply Tamara February 1, 2014 at 5:53 pm

    Very interesting, thank you for putting up a thought-provoking post. I’m in my mid-50s and am single again after a long relationship. Having moved to Spain I am exploring relationships with Spanish-speaking men (so far a Portuguese, a Cuban and a Venezuelan!). We’ve had some interesting mis-communications, and I would say overall that gender equality is less advanced in Spain than in some other European countries, but all in all have not found any cultural problems. As you said (though not in these words!), if a bloke is a dickhead, he’s a dickhead in any language!
    Tamara recently posted…90 – A Grubby Coat in JerezMy Profile

    • Reply European Mama February 1, 2014 at 7:38 pm

      Hi Tamara, thank you for stopping by. I think you have described my post perfectly: “If a bloke is a dickhead, he’s a dickhead in any language”

  • Reply Kirsty Rice February 1, 2014 at 7:33 pm

    Where do you guys plan to settle? Where is home?

    • Reply European Mama February 1, 2014 at 7:36 pm

      Hi Kristy, welcome! Glad you stopped by. Your first question is rather easy to answer: most likely the Netherlands. The second one is more complex because I feel I have many homes- that’s just one of the many post ideas for the future that I have.

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