Friday, July 22, 2016

5 Things I Learned in an Intercultural Relationship


I have turned off the comments in this post because I've been getting a lot of closed-minded comments from people who have clearly never left Russia. I understand that we all have different experiences and opinions, and that's great, it's what makes intercultural communication so great. But I don't like being attacked for what I write because the person who translated my article can't translate correctly. 

"Just tell her to watch out for the men. They'll want to get married so they can come to America."

That's what one of my mom's Eastern European co-workers told her before I moved to Russia. Not everyone expresses his sentiments though. My grandma told me the other day, "Don't get too serious. We want you to come back." At this point you'd think being in an intercultural relationship is just about a free pass into your country of choice.

Before I go into the five things I learned, I should preface by saying I am far from an expert. Before A, I had ZERO boyfriends. Sure there were guys, but it's extremely hard to date in America's "let's sleep together until people assume we are dating and then we will be official" culture. Yes, someone actually told me that once. It's even harder to date the older you get. I started feeling like I was going to be a spinster for the rest of my life because I didn't meet my husband in college like the rest of my friends.

THE LANGUAGE BARRIER ISN'T A HUGE PROBLEM


I think Anton would disagree with me because he always complains about how he wishes his English were better or how he can't express exactly what he wants because he lacks the vocabulary. I also wish I could speak Russian so that if I meet his parents one day I'll be able to say more than, "Hi. How are you?" But if he spoke perfect English he would have never called me handsome instead of beautiful or called straws little pipes, both of which I found incredibly funny. Also, it motivates us to improve ourselves and something we can both work on in our relationship. He tries to help me better my Russian and I try to help him improve his English.

GENDER EXPECTATIONS WILL CAUSE PROBLEMS


Russia is extremely traditional in their gender roles. So much so that my friend and I joke that Russia has turned us into raging feminists. While Anton is pretty Western in his thinking we've had our share of issues with gender expectations. I see relationships as 50/50. Anton said he was really excited the first time I offered to pay for something. In Russia, men protect the family while women are expected to cook and clean. I wanted to scream when Anton said, "How do you expect to get married if you can't cook?" To clarify, I can cook, I'd just prefer to do the dishes and finding things to cook in Russia is really hard.

YOU WILL NEED LEARN TO BE MORE PATIENT


I believe this is true for any relationship, but especially for an intercultural relationship. This is one I still struggle with. Although the language barrier isn't  a huge problem, I find that having to constantly explain words and phrases can become a hassle, especially after spending a work day with students who also don't speak English fluently. It becomes extremely tiring. Also, coming from America where "time is money." I've had to really learn to be patient with Anton constantly being late. I think most of our arguments are about having to wait for him. Like I said, I'm still learning.

DON'T FALL INTO THE INTERCULTURAL ISN'T INTERRACIAL TRAP


I hope I'm not alone in this but often times when I hear 'intercultural' I think 'interracial.' When Anton and I first started dating I didn't prepare myself for the intercultural issues that may come up. I assumed that issues like that only come up when you are in an interracial relationship. I was so wrong. Yes, we are both white, but we were raised in two vastly different cultures with different languages, histories, and religions. I've had to learn to show more affection in public and to brush off comments about what I'm wearing. This does make our relationship unique, but intercultural and interracial each have their own set of issues.

YOU HAVE TO MAKE BIG DECISIONS SOONER


I'd be lying if I told you I didn't think about where we'd be in a six months, a year, ten years. With the political situation as it is, it is extremely difficult for Russians to get visas to America. Long distance isn't an option because if I were to move back it is unlikely he'd ever visit me. Russians need to have interviews with the consulate for a mere travel visa for crying out loud! The closest consulate to Ufa is an eight hour bus ride away. On the American side it's a lot of work and extremely expensive to get a visa and plane ticket to Russia. I'm not ready to get married but if we decide, after another year, that we'd like to continue dating we'd have to seriously consider our options and what sacrifices we are willing to make. 

Are you in an intercultural or interracial relationship? What lessons have you learned?

16 comments

  1. oo such a good post. "handsome" haha love it!

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    1. There were so many others. My cousin told me to keep a list. I wish I had.

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    2. yes, keep a list. I love he called straws little pipes too.

      Interested by the intercultural and interracial point. I always thought interracial wouldn't be that hard because we're just different skin colors but grew up in the same area, etc. Things are still vastly different. We'll have to discuss the similarities sometime.

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    3. Haley - We definitely should! I'd be interested in hearing what it's like especially since I know both of you and also didn't realize it could be that way for you too.

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  2. I love this!!! Such a great post.

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  3. Oh Jasilyn, I was so hoping you'd make a post on this!! Ура! It's so cool to hear about what Russian - American relationships are like from other women! Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!

    Denis and I have only been married for a year, but we've been together for eleven years. I've been thinking about intercultural relationships all this time, haha. Hope it's okay if I add to your list!


    True personality:

    When we first met, I liked him because he was super-hot and sweet. Back then, his English wasn't great and my Russian was like 5 words. Over time, his English grew in leaps and bounds and all of the sudden he became more than just a handsome guy. He turned out to be really funny and really smart, and I totally fell in love with his true self.

    It sounds weird, but at first we couldn't express things like humor and sarcasm and all those little things. We had to wait for our language skills to catch up. I remember when that happened, and thinking "Wow! This is the real Denis!" Now I'm working on being able to show my true personality in Russian. Currently I probably have the personality of an 8-year-old ;)


    Language:

    It will be interesting to see how things go for you and Anton in the future with this. I believe there's *always* a dominant language in relationships. There are different reasons for this, but eventually one person in the relationship levels up and the other stays the same or just gets a little better (no matter how much this person wants it to be otherwise!).

    My Russian is good, but it's nothing compared to his English now. You'd think an intercultural relationship would solve all your language-learning problems over time, but haha, no. On the other hand, like you said, language isn't as big as deal as most people think, especially in a young relationship.


    The passport issues:

    We didn't have to deal with this at all. I have a lot of admiration for you (and Polly) for diving into these issues. It sounds super-tough. Sometimes I wish Denis hadn't already immigrated when we met, because then I would have probably gone for the whole let's-move-to-Ukraine-forever thing. But it didn't happen like that, and having his green card already saved us years of bureaucracy. It was also really beautiful to watch him and his family go through the process to get their US citizenship. They were all so proud and happy and crying!


    The Mother-in-Law

    Be prepared. I love mine now, but for a long time our visits were like going into a cage with a tiger.

    And in general, our families don't mix. They feel really awkward around each other. Also, for the first few years, his family kept hoping he'd end up with some nice Ukrainian girl from church. Oops.



    Wishing you guys all the best! <3

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    1. I had no idea he wasn't from America! That's so neat and now I have a new perspective on your blog posts! Also, it makes more sense why he didn't go to Russia with you to take Russian lessons. ;)

      These are all true. Anton's English is pretty good but he doesn't catch my sarcasm all the time and I use a LOT of idioms he still doesn't get.

      Oh, I'm SO scared to meet his mother. My friend dated a Ukranian-Russian and she told me horror stories. The mother would completely ignore her and talk to her as if she wasn't in the room. My friend spoke really good Russian but the mother would switch to Ukranian. I've talked to his parents through him. Just saying "hello," and he talked to my mom through skype, but I'm terrified to meet his mom!

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  4. Hmm… как это, не из чего готовить?! Я знаю, у вас там в каком-то справочнике по России было написано, что в России якобы нет национальной кухни. Попроси Антона, пусть его мама или тетушки покажут, как они готовят, из чего, а самое интересное, сколько )))

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    1. They live in another city, but I tell him he should learn to cook and then he should teach me! :)

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  5. "finding things to cook in Russia is really hard" not true, not true at all, since like 15 years everything that is available in States is available in Russia's stores, unless you live under the tree in a mountains.
    "With the political situation as it is, it is extremely difficult for Russians to get visas to America" not true. rejection rate is less than 10% and you have to be convicted serial killer-extremist-isis-grade shit to be rejected. it did not change in a past 5 years, there is no "political situation" in regard to visas.

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    1. My bad, I meant green cards. I know people who were rejected trying to get work visas to the USA.

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  6. I was in a similar relationship. My ex-wife is Canadian (born and raised in Canada) and I am from Moscow. What this article says is true - my marriage failed because of cultural differences + my ex has problems with alcohol and weed.

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    1. Ah yeah. We have so arguments about alcohol just because it's viewed differently in the states and Canada. It's normal to have a glass of wine every night for dinner.

      Sorry about your marriage.

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  7. "finding things to cook in Russia is really hard." /facepalm

    There you are way off the mark. Expand your horizons beyond burgers and steaks. Russian food is very varied and tasty.
    Good luck, Jasilyn!

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    1. I've eaten a TON of Russian food. I just don't know how to make it. I also HATE cooking.

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