Couples create a world of their own, governed by unwritten rules that establish a certain dynamic; a dance that can seem more or less harmonious to those on the outside. We can speculate all we want, only the partners know how to balance each other out. I sometimes wonder which part of my relationships’ side-steps is cultural and which part is personality. I decided to ask other multicultural couples what their experience was like, hoping to find some answers and at least some reassurance. If you want to get a glimpse at what being in love with a Norwegian can be like, read along 🙂
Exhibit “A”- Adriana from Mexico, and exhibit “B”-Bent from Norway (these are their real names!) met in Mexico on a summer holiday. When summer ended, they agreed to stay together mocking the distance with emails and occasional traveling. After a year and a half, hints to the inevitable question began to gather like dust clumps in the corners of their relationship:
Where are we going with this?
A year later, she visited him in Norway to find out. They got married within a month, without witnesses or speeches. My “Narvesen Wedding” Adriana calls it: a drop-in, stand-up feast of hot-dogs and coffee. They’ve been together for 9 years (8 of which in Norway) and believe they were made for each other. This doesn’t mean there aren’t ups and downs….
- What has been your biggest CHALLENGE?
A: It was hard having to rely so much on Bent. It was ok relying on him for daily stuff, we both expected it. I did not expect, however, having to rely on him as my social compass. In Mexico, couples hangout together all the time. This was my perception of how a normal couple should behave, and this vision was challenged when we moved to Norway.
B: Norwegian partners hangout a lot separately. Adriana assumed that whenever we were invited: a) we were both invited and b) we would always go as a couple. For me, it was normal to go alone sometimes, and encouraged her to do the same even if she showed up without me at a common friend’s party (he smiles at her, she shrugs).
- What have you LEARNED from each other?
A: The Norwegian culture has taught me to stay grounded. I have experienced different economic settings growing up in Mexico. My parents were in their 20s when they had me. I witnessed their transition from young and hungry to well-established professionals. By the time I became a teenager, I had a sports car and a membership at the country club. Income differences in Mexico are much more obvious and there is an implicit belief that some people are “worth more than others”. A person with no teeth commutes by bus; a person with a Louis Vuitton, by Ferrari. In Norway these two can sit next to each other in the tram. I like that. It has made me more humble. One thing I find extremely annoying though, is the fact that you can’t bribe people to cut through red tape… (Some things are harder to change!)
B: I’ve learned a great deal about safety in Mexico City. I had no idea you shouldn’t count money in public! In Norway it’s not a problem counting the bills at the ATM. When in Mexico, you must slip them inside your wallet looking over your shoulder, as if you were stealing from your mom’s purse.
- What is DIFFERENT from being with a partner of the same culture?
A: There is a very different level of “Macho” here, in that it is non-existent. Bent lets me BE. I have my freedom and I know I can trust him. He doesn’t expect me to do the cleaning or cooking like a Mexican boyfriend would.
B: I feel our discussions are more open. I didn’t have so many Norwegian girlfriends that I could extrapolate my experience to the entire female population in the country, but my impression is that friends have a huge influence in a woman’s decision to consider a guy for short and long-term relationships.
- FOOD & WEATHER
A: We have two Norwegian favorites: Meat cakes (with chile) and Salmon with potatoes. Otherwise we make Mexican food with whatever ingredients we can find. When we can’t find specific ingredients, we just put Salsa (or “Pico de Gallo”) on everything! Bent has always liked spicy food, even spicier than me sometimes, but discovering Mexican flavors dragged him out of his comfort zone.
B: I enjoy spicy food. But this a different kind of spice. I love it now 🙂 We tend to dedicate more time to cooking in the winter because we spend more time inside and because we favor everything comforting. It’s important to cuddle more.
A: We are not avid skiers (neither one of us) but we choose to do other things, like SPA get-aways, Yoga, visit Bent’s parents, mini-breaks around Europe… The point being to change scenery even if only for two days. We talk about projects we look forward to.
- TIPS to make it work (at least most of the time!)
This is what I gathered from Adriana and Bent’s perspective:
- Give each other space to pursue something you like individually. It could be a hobby or something social.
- Find a common interest that you can act on regularly, together. And no, it doesn’t have to be Salsa classes. It can be simple like watching a series after dinner with a huge bowl of pop-corn in your lap; it could be working out, home-made pizza or plucking each other’s nose-hair on Sunday morning; whatever you like doing together (or to each other): if it helps you bond, do it regularly!
- Cultural differences can crack a relationship with disproportionate arguments. Stick to one language, for starters. Try to stay aware of your own speech and the motivations behind it: is it your ego pushing for the leading role? Are you considering the facts with objectivity?
- So you paid a mango six times the price back home, and it’s not even ripe. Are you going to stop eating mangoes? No. But at some point, you need to stop comparing. Each culture is different, not better or worse. In the battle of comparisons, Norway will never win because it will never be the country you came from. I (Gisèle) know from experience that it’s hard not to fall into comparisons when you miss your own culture but I try to keep it at a level that doesn’t become useless whining (it’s tough sometimes…).
At the end of this interview, Adriana had an epiphany: she realized she had been thinking of herself as “the victim” since moving to Norway, as in “the one making all the efforts”. She realized that Bent has also been making efforts by her side, assuming the responsibility of making it work for both of them without telling her. This is something we sometimes forget as the partner who moves to their lover’s country (otherwise called “Lovepat”, as my multicultural-expert friend Anna Maria Moore calls us). We think it’s easy for them because they are in familiar territory. This interview made me realize that the confusion is normal and that the craziness is a welcome part of the deal. I call it “exotic” now 🙂 I wonder if the dynamics in the couple are different when the female-half is Norwegian and the male-half a foreigner. I think I’m off to find out… stay tuned for the next interview!
Are you a Lovepat?
My friend Anna Maria Moore and her partner Oshikan Sjodin-Bunse are conducting a survey as part of their research on Lovepats. If you are a Lovepat, this could be interesting for you (and helpful for others in your situation):
“Lovepats are those of us who choose to move to, or live in our partner’s home country. This decision can add incredible joy and enrichment to our relationships and our lives, as well as complexity and challenges. Our aim is to let Lovepats voice their unique experiences through our survey.
If you have a bi-cultural marriage and neither fit into the typical “expat” or “accompanying spouse on assignment” categories, you are probably a Lovepat. If you left your home to move to your loved one’s home country, you are a Lovepat.
If you are a Lovepat, please take 10-15 minutes to have your say by filling out our survey. It will give you a chance to look at the life-changing decision you made and reflect on how it has affected your relationships, your family, your career, and your life in general.” Anna Maria & Oshikan