Where are you from?
My name is Liz and I’m American, my husband is German and named Uwe.
Where did you meet?
We were both teaching at a language school in Germany, he teaches English and German so we got to know one another via the staff room. I conspired for lessons from him so we could spend more time together, so he was also my German teacher.
What language do you speak at home?
Oddly enough we speak English at home. Uwe spent time in the U.S. as a child and has traveled and lived abroad extensively, so his English is quite fluent. I’ve made a point of always using German with his friends and family, and now that we have moved back to Germany I’ll use more at home too. It’s important to get my German back up to speed.
Do you try to cook food from each other’s countries?
We both are fascinated by international cuisine and love to cook, so any week will be extremely international. Uwe usually cooks the more European things, and German specialties of course. I cover the rest of the world.
We eat a lot of Indian, quite a bit of Thai and Chinese, a lot of Moroccan, Arabic and Turkish. Italian of course, we really loved living there and exploring regional specialties. We went to Mexico and Central America for our honeymoon, so I have those ingredients and flavors on my mind.
Maybe I should put up a map of the world on the wall and throw darts at it to decide what’s for dinner tonight!
Can you explain one part of your partner’s culture that you found surprising?
Cross-cultural awareness played a large role in my studies at university, and I studied German there (with disastrous results) so I had some knowledge and an intellectual basis for assessing German culture when I arrived.
Of course the usual things are still something to adjust to, learning different communication styles comes to mind–the difference between the familiar du and formal Sie for example. I used to be worried that I would slip and use du to his parents, he assured me it was silly but I wanted to be respectful and correct. After some time they suggested our relationship had progressed enough, and that we should say du to one another and it touched me. I enjoyed that marked shift in the relationship and felt an appreciation for what it represented.
The biggest surprise to me has been social and political. Another passion of mine is politics, and I remain heavily involved in American politics even though I’ve lived abroad for 15 years or so. The contrast between political systems and styles of governing, the campaigning and advertising, what beliefs are held by what groups of people is fascinating to me.
The American concepts of liberal and conservative are very different from Germany and all of Europe, so I’ve been surprised at the degree that conservatives here support liberal values. Even the definitions of those words is so different. Some years ago I became ill, and my German doctor ordered me off work for about a month. I was convinced I must be dying! I mean, a month? What was wrong with me? I would lose my job!
What’s the best thing about being in a cross-cultural relationship?
Absolutely it’s a chance to expand your horizons, your world view. Any two people in a relationship bring their lives together and build something, there’s always learning involved. But the chance to have a close-up insiders view of another culture adds a wonderful element.
What’s the hardest thing about being in a cross-cultural relationship?
Every cross-cultural relationship will have its unique dynamics, depending on the cultures and people involved. In our case I think the most difficult thing was adjusting communication styles in times of stress. Germans have a more direct style and easily separate discussion of an idea from personal feelings or ego. Expressing dissatisfaction at something doesn’t carry personal overtones. The physical distance from my family is also frustrating though I love living abroad and likely would regardless of my marriage.
Do you have any advice for other cross-cultural couples?
Be patient, understanding and respectful of other ways of doing things, the other values people have or different ways of looking at the world. Understanding the different frameworks used to analyze cultures helps offer insight into why your partner does some things certain ways. Communication is crucial, as is compromise! This is true in any relationship, but cross-cultural couples might need to work a little harder at it.
You can find Liz on Twitter @lizholcomb
About the authorLucy