The world becomes smaller, boundaries become transparent, people become mobile. Europeans enjoy freedom of movement that allows them to travel and live in different countries. Young people take part in Erasmus programs to study abroad and to have new experiences. People become closer to each other and many nationalities and origins live under one roof. But what happens if two people from different countries and cultures fall in love? Is there a “happily ever after” for them?
Yo!Mag spoke to a bi-national couple who was ready to share its story and offers a piece of advice for others in cross-cultural relationships.
Tatiana and Alpin are a bi-national couple living in Berlin. She is Russian, from Kazakhstan, and he is from Turkey. They met in 2012 during a trip to the city of Leipzig, but after the trip they had no contact with each other. Almost two years later they randomly met up again at the annual International Consumer Electronics Show (IFA) in Berlin. At that point their relationship began.
When I met up with them, they had just begun living together in a quiet district Berlin-Lichtenberg. The flat they rent is a classical example of a GDR Plattenbau, panel house. It is a spacious and bright apartment with mixed decorations on the walls. It felt that Tatiana and Alpin had transferred their cultures into their living environment with the motto “dignity in diversity” united in love and respect toward each other. “I believe that we have much in common, not only our temperaments, but also mentalities. For example, family values are very important for both of us”, Tatiana says. However, to keep strong relationships some rules should be followed.
Be open towards other cultures
You need to accept the mentality and cultural features of your partner, his or her cultural standards and values. After being together for two years they came to the conclusion that they both have to keep an open mind for their cultures and background to avoid misunderstandings. “For example, he believes that I should visit all the weddings and family events we are invited to. At a traditional Turkish wedding there are usually more than hundred people and it is a cultural duty to go. In my view, the wedding should be just for close friends and relatives. It should not be an obligation”, Tatiana shares her thoughts. But with some patience and respect they learn to tolerate the cultural differences.
Learn your partner’s mother tongue
Never underestimate the importance of the language your partner speaks. You can learn a lot from it and may be able to understand your partner better, because the soul of nation is in its language, especially in proverbs and idioms. Some words and phrases can be learned in the process of living together. “The language we speak is actually German which is neither mine nor his mother tongue. But when Alpin talks in Turkish to his friends or relatives on the phone, I listen to the conversations and after it I ask how some words are translated”, Tatiana says.
It is essential to show interest in the native language of the partner. It brings people together.
Find a compromise even when it comes to tradition
The very best example is celebration of Christmas. People in Turkey don’t celebrate Christmas at all, because the majority are Muslims. In Kazakhstan the New Year is the most important family feast day, in Germany people celebrate Christmas. “Fortunately, we’re both not stuck in the traditions, so what we celebrate we call “Fat Turkish Christmas”. It means, we invite friends and relatives on the 24th of December but on our tables there are Turkish dishes”, Alpin says.
He is convinced that is one of the best things about a bi-national relationship – you can pick and choose the favorite traditions from each culture.
According to statistics, intercultural couples sometimes have to face not only cultural but also social challenges. The German Association of Bi-national Families and Partnerships (http://www.verband-binationaler.de/) reports that often such couples must marry prematurely if one of the partners has no secure residence. This can be a burden on the relationship. In addition, often there are problems with the authorities or with housing. Many couples report that they could not rent an apartment when a non-German partner appears on the scene. The darker the person’s skin color, it seems, the more often these experiences take place. In addition to this, bi-national couples often have to face reservations or prejudice in their social environment. This is a stress test for a relationship.
Tatiana and Alpin had to go through many experiences together: graduation from university, searching for a job, applying for German citizenship, finding a nice place to live. But they are convinced: love can conquer everything, because it knows no borders, has no nationalities, and doesn’t need a visa.