I am a British girl, who drinks tea, tuts quietly to herself and complains about the weather. My boyfriend of nearly 2 years is Brazilian who drinks coffee, loves the beach, but to break the stereotype he hates football (shocking). Our relationship spreads between two continents, visiting each other’s hometowns and slowly learning about one another’s culture.
As with visiting an exotic country, dating an exotic human being can be quite the culture shock. Sometimes it can be small, mundane things that often escape your attention, like “How can one person talk so much?”, to the bigger things that can evolve into lengthy discussions until you accept its simply a cultural difference and that you’re never going to agree.
With time I’ve come to realise that there are some features of an intercultural relationship that can be frustrating or just plain weird, but they offer you a unique experience to share with another human being, and you find yourself learning to appreciate and treasure them.
Hopefully, by forming a relationship with another, there is a mutual language to share. This does not mean fluency is a guarantee. Sometimes the results are hilarious, and are great to tease the other person with when they come out with some weird expressions (a personal favourite of mine that my boyfriend has said is “Jack the Stripper” aka Jack the Ripper, a Victorian serial killer who hunted East London prostitutes at night. Not a saucy burlesque performer). Other times one person can say one thing, whilst meaning something else and cause offence.
I don’t think meeting your partner’s family can ever not be awkward, but it doesn’t help when you don’t speak their language, and they don’t speak yours. I have found that Latinos, who are warm and friendly, talk a lot, and they can also be LOUD. Us Brits can be quite timid and mild mannered, and so when dining with a family who talk over one another, are very expressive in their emotions and laugh and joke in a language you cannot understand a word of, it can be quite a bizarre experience. Equally my boyfriend found it bizarre when meeting my mum for the first time in Camden Market. In his culture meeting the parents is a huge moment, and so I think he was expecting something like an interrogation, whereas my mum simply said “Hi” and carried on shopping.
Sometimes big romantic gestures are a wonderful surprise, but in the 21st century when we expect less handwritten letters and more cryptic text messages to over analyse, it can be a surprise to meet someone who is, to put it simply, soppy. Some cultures are more openly affectionate than others, and so when two worlds collide both sides can be left feeling confused by the other’s actions. You learn to adapt, and even pick up on one another’s habits to either openly or quietly show your affection.
With different cultures you can expect to try all kinds of new and exotic recipes and cooking methods. I think my boyfriend and I will forever disagree as to whether to add salt to rice, or whether something is too spicy or not, or if tea needs sugar. Catering for two very different tastes can potentially be hazardous, but at the same time cooking is always fun to do together as you learn their favourite dishes, and of their culture at the same time. Incidentally I will always remember the first time he cooked me a “traditional Brazilian dish”, and produced stroganoff. Tasted great though.
You learn so much
Seeing as these points had as much to complain about as to appreciate, I thought I’d end on a (corny) high note. Dating someone who comes from a culture completely different to your own is a completely eye opening experience. It makes you try things you would never have thought to try (before going to Brazil I had never tried papaya or coconut water, now I can’t get enough). I haven’t attempted to learn any Portuguese except for “obrigada”, but dating a multilingual guy has made me appreciate how useful a second language is, and now I go to Spanish classes. Before I knew nothing about Brazil, but now I can only admire their constant friendly and welcoming nature, their love and pride for their country, and their use of “huehuehuehue” to express laughter online. Plus, I am proud to say that my boyfriend has grown to love tea, and is as affectionate for Britain as I am. It reinstates a pride and love for your own country when you see it through another’s eyes.