Valentine's Special: How Does It Really Feel to Date Someone from a Different Culture?

In honour of Valentine's Day tomorrow, three writers of the Savant team share what it means to have a partner from a different culture: the challenges and rewards it brings sans the filter

Collective article by Team Savant

Meri's Story:

How did you meet your partner? How long have you been together?

I met my husband when I was traveling with a friend - he was our Airbnb host. I had booked another listing of his for us, above a vegan restaurant in what could be called the local hipster neighbourhood. He told me he has an even better place for us, not ready yet, but he said it will be by the time we arrive. Completely taking his word for it (very naïve of me), I booked this new place and, so he tells me, he had to rush with his plans and build (read: renovate) a house for me. This was four years ago, we have now been married for two.  

What has been the strangest thing about dating someone from another country?

From the first moment, I have always felt at home with my partner. My place is next to him. Nothing really felt that strange with him – that is why I married him. When we were dating, I gave him a book titled “How to Marry a Finnish Girl” (I crossed ‘marry’ and wrote ‘date’ instead). The book perhaps already prepared him for the strangest elements of dating a Finn…

What has been the hardest?

Now we are parents as well, not just a couple in love. We have dealt with quite a lot of bureaucracy, as well as cultural differences. These can also be funny at times, with the right attitude. One of my favourite films is “Qu'est-ce qu'on a fait au Bon Dieu?”. it’s about a Catholic French couple whose four daughters each marry a man of different religion and origin. I can recommend for anyone that is dating someone from another country. The movie shows that, contrary to how it may seem at first sight, we may not be so different from each other at all. Plenty of funny anecdotes guaranteed in these types of relationships! 

"Completely taking his word for it (very naïve of me), I booked this new place and, so he tells me, he had to rush with his plans and build (read: renovate) a house for me."

How do you feel the general attitude is at home towards someone dating a person from a different culture?

Amongst my best friends, probably half of us have or have had a partner from a different culture. I don’t think anyone raises an eyebrow, in the modern city life. Today it is common to find a soulmate from a different country and culture. That special someone with whom you connect, with whom you feel more at home than with anyone from your own home country. 

Hanna-Amanda's Story:

  Paris, France. 

Paris, France. 

How did you meet your partner? How long have you been together?

To date, we know each other for less than six months (giggles). Perhaps it does not sound like a long time for many, but it honestly feels like forever because so many sparks were in the air from the start. We were social media acquaintances well before meeting in real life. At the time, I was busy working in London and he calls Paris his hometown. We vaguely agreed to meet in summer, and I almost flew to Paris only for that reason. Yet he couldn’t make it and even lied about a delayed train when getting back from holidays (in real, he was just hesitating about our meeting).

However, destiny does its own corrections, so it was only a month and a half later when we connected again online, and I had to accidentally travel to Paris the next weekend. We had two casual date nights, and one thing led to another and led to another. Four days later I had quit my office job in London and flown back to Paris on a one-way ticket. Needless to say I never left after that. And although I am still hesitant to admit it, he is the main reason to blame for this sudden manoeuvre of leaving everything behind and changing countries, and starting out with a clean slate. I do admit it was a risky step at that point, when our friendship was still in its infancy. However, sometimes all you got to do is ask yourself, “what do I have to lose if we only have one life?”. More often than not, things have a way to figure themselves out. So no regrets at all. 

What has been the strangest thing about dating someone from another country?

Cultural differences are perhaps not as significant because I have always felt a degree less Scandinavian than I actually am (with bold gestures, willingness to open up immediately, a warm Russian heart and all that, it’s rarely the region I am first associated with). I have partially felt all my life that I was born in a wrong country and am actually French by blood, so I do not feel there’s anything sharply contrasting when it comes to cultural differences. However, even if I knew how particular French people can be about the quality of living and food from the start, it never ceases to amaze me seeing his appreciation towards food, local products and taking time for sitting down for a meal from so close up! As it’s so-so-so different in London and back home in Estonia. French people really do know how to enjoy life, and take their time to slow down that hectic pace of urban living. 

I think it has been a very natural step for us to get used to each other’s culture and some respective differences, but nothing has been particularly new to us, considering the very international cultural climate we already live in this day and age. If I perhaps have to bring something out, there are some cliched portrayals that must have hit home. For example, him meeting my parents in the darkest and coldest Scandinavian woods (we live on the countryside!) and tasting some organic 66 degree vodka with them. That must have been quite an experience (and so very cliche, of course). Or, I have been just lately acquainted to his family, where I took some stereotypical portrayals home as well, like the Mother who resembles Coco Chanel!

What has been the hardest?

The hardest is probably what I am going through now — the decision to move countries because of my partner. Although I have been familiar with the French culture and my adopted city of Paris already from an early age, I have never tried to settle here until now. And it surely brings its own challenges after the honeymoon period with the city. Going through the tiny inconveniences of French bureaucracy, struggling with communication and cultural differences daily, and remaining an at-home-freelancer whilst trying to connect and be a valuable member of the society has become part of my everyday. But we all have our own battles to fight, and love allows us conquer all hardships, I believe. 

"We vaguely agreed to meet in summer, and I almost flew to Paris only for that reason. Yet he couldn’t make it and even lied about a delayed train when getting back from holidays (in real, he was just hesitating about our meeting)."

How do you feel the general attitude is at home towards someone dating a person from a different culture?

Positive. In this very global and international cultural climate we already live in, I believe it’s the most common and natural thing ever. I haven’t seen any objections to it so far, and would not like to think of it as an obstacle. Love shouldn’t be subject to any sort of discrimination. 

Johanna's Story: 

How did you meet your partner? How long have you been together?

We met 5 years ago in my home town. We were both big choir nerds and our choirs were doing a project together. The first moment he walked through the door of the lobby, he looked straight at me and smiled. In hindsight, I knew from that look that this would be something special. To my luck, I was the designated tour guide for the day and got a chance to get to know him a little. The day was very short and it ended with him writing his name on my hand with a pen - very movie-esque. A little while later, we just started talking online and really hit it off from day one. We've been together now for 3.5 years. 

What has been the strangest thing about dating someone from another country?

That I never thought it would happen to me. Also the food. He is from Iceland and they eat some weird stuff over there (rotten shark and fermented stingray are only the tip of the iceberg). 

What has been the hardest?

We've been in a long distance relationship for the most of the 3.5 years, that means seeing each other in person twice a year, because we're both still in university. And this year, I will finally be taking the next step and moving there (at least for little while), which is scary. Leaving my loved ones behind breaks my heart, despite knowing that they'll understand. 

"He is from Iceland and they eat some weird stuff over there (rotten shark and fermented stingray are only the tip of the iceberg)."

How do you feel the general attitude is at home towards someone dating a person from a different culture?

I think there's still some sort of prejudice, although definitely less than 10-20 years ago. I am fortunate in the sense that my family and friends are very supportive. Our cultures are not that drastically different either, which is a blessing in disguise. I find that dating a Northern foreigner is somewhat easier here than dating someone from the South: the way of life is more similar. The stereotypes we have seem very deeply rooted and it makes me sad sometimes. But I'm also seeing that things are changing for the better.