By Joost Veth
Almost 5 years ago now, I left home, friends and school to take the next step: university; the real deal! Extra feature: people from different countries. Maastricht University, the most international university of the Netherlands. Awesome! Almost immediately I made international friends, spoke different languages (I’ll never forget my first Chinese lesson from a friend from China) and learnt a lot about all kinds of different cultures. But a relationship with a girl with a different nationality and culture? That seemed a step too far for me. Too complicated with the different language, the different background, et cetera. That’s what I thought. Yet, things don’t always go as you expect. By the time this article is published, I will have been in a relationship with a British girl for over 9 months. And still going strong! How do I do this? Here are some tips:
Embrace the differences, enjoy the similarities
Even when your beloved is from a close-by country, you will always have differences in culture. Even though most of them are not even unknown to you, in everyday life, you easily forget them. Take the Dutch and the Brits. Brits (and I believe all other nationalities) think that Dutch people are rude. Dutch people think Brits are overly polite. We all know this. Still, it is easy to forget this. And things that are forgotten might cause annoyances or misconceptions. Instead, you can use it to reflect. Is she so polite, or am I so rude? You can really learn a lot from each other. So don’t be annoyed, embrace the differences! Simultaneously, it’s really funny to discover similarities you never expected to have. Maybe you watched the same TV show as kids or the same music happened to be popular in both countries. This would be little more than a coincidence if you are from the same country, it is however very remarkable if you are from different countries. It’s the little things that make the day. So enjoy them!
This may seem obvious, but I think it is a very important condition for the relationship to stand a chance. Of course you don’t immediately think about the long-term future, but when the relationship gets more serious, it’s inevitable that you will. Personally, I didn’t want to leave the Netherlands. And even now, I am not entirely sure if I would want to leave. But I am now more open to it. And when you start thinking about it, it is no longer only a scary idea, but you start to see the advantages and opportunities as well. I think it’s time for a cliché: Be open-minded and doors open for you.
Discuss your culture
People with different cultural backgrounds are sometimes the best to help you reflect on certain topics. If an objective opinion can’t be formed anymore because the topic is too deeply embedded in your culture, ask the other what he/she thinks. Best example: ‘zwarte piet’, which in the Dutch culture are the helpers of Santa Claus; they may be found racist by some as they are black of skin, as the name suggests. Normally I am very good at forming an objective opinion, but this time, I couldn’t. Solution? I asked my girlfriend.
Don’t get annoyed at miscommunication, learn from it
Of course, one of the biggest difficulties of dating internationally is the language gap (Germans dating Austrians and similar couples not counted). This will always be a difficulty. But I rather look at it differently: The gap will never be as big as it was when you started dating, it will only get smaller. You could see arguments stemming from a misunderstanding as reason to doubt your relationship. Or you can learn from it so that such situations can be avoided in the future. I’m amazed at how much I’ve learned in 9 months; how many expressions I understand now that would have been an issue a year ago. And if you are Dutch, like myself, and your girlfriend’s understanding of Dutch is non-existent, I have two suggestions: Search at home for your old children books, that’s really fun, and play word games!
Don’t make these mistakes
A couple of mistakes I’ve made in English that you should avoid at all costs:
1) Never mix up ‘mind’ and ‘matter’. For some reason, girls don’t seem to like it when you say ‘You don’t matter’.
2) One of the ways I like to teach my girlfriend Dutch: if there is no good English equivalent for a Dutch word, I just use the Dutch one. Works fine with ‘gezellig’ (comfortable/nice) (“today was very gezellig”) Works terribly with ‘hoor’ (“You are also nice hoor”)
3) Brits tend to refer to dinner as ‘tea’. If you forget this, it might happen that the mother of your girlfriend comes to tell you that ‘tea is ready’ and you answer ‘no thanks, I’m not in the mood for tea’. First surprised faces, then laughter on my behalf.
4) Sleeve and slave have a very different meaning in English. Never say “I have long slaves”.
And finally, I created some of my own words: grumchy (grumpy and grouchy combined), squirks (instead of quirks), goosbuts (instead of goosebumps), earthcake (earthquake) and asswhole (arsehole). All leading to hilarity for my girlfriend.
That was it, do with it what you want and in any case, good luck with your boyfriend/girlfriend!