On the 23rd of December, Angelo and I will be celebrating our third anniversary. Also on the 21st, we will celebrate 2 months of marriage. And because this is such an important time for us, I wanted to talk about intercultural (or international) relationships.
When I met Angelo, I was not expecting to hear from him again. It was in Madrid, I was in a pub crawl and he was getting pissed with his former boss as it was the last day of their business trip. However, somehow, we ended up here, in London, together, and I could not be happier with how things went.
As with all relationships, we have had good times and bad times, we have strengths and weaknesses, although ours are a little bit different from the ones I used to have with my ex-partners or the ones I see on my friends’ relationships.
I am going to start with the cultural issues, just because I think these are things that most people in the same situation might relate. Having different backgrounds does matter it actually does matter A LOT. When we used to hang around in London during the first year, I was comfortable trying to kiss him in public, too much attention was not weird for me. As a Mexican, this is quite normal and I would never imagine that these things could make him uncomfortable. As he is Portuguese but has spent more than half of his life living in the UK, his cultural background is even more diverse. So, when he told me he was not comfortable kissing me in public or showing so much cheesiness, I felt devastated. My doubts about his love and his loyalty started to come up, I felt so sad, now it is quite the opposite. I am the one who now does not want to kiss in public and he doesn’t mind hugging on the streets. But at that time, I felt rejected.
Another interesting thing is about food. As a Mexican, food is a huge part of socialising and getting intimate with your partner or any relationship you have. I used to eat my friends’ sandwiches and drinking from their same glasses, we will share the food using the same cutlery and, when going out for dinner, we will order several dishes and share them so everybody can try. Here I have not seen the British doing the same, except at tapas’ restaurants. But it seems that they do not share the same glass, cutlery or dishes, they just order their own food and that’s it. During our first dates this was also a shock for me, getting a ‘No’ when I asked if he wanted to try my food and getting a ‘no’ when I asked to have a little bit of his food, was not just shocking but I felt like crying at that time, it was so strange for me, why not? Is there something wrong with me? With my food? Do I disgust him? Slowly I find out that is just the way it is.
The openness, this was also a cultural shock for us, I will not talk on behalf of most Latin-American countries, but I can assure that as Mexicans we tend to open quite easily about our life/relationships/problems/ideologies/religions/whatever topic can be considered super personal in the UK. From taxi drivers, the person you just met at the bank, on the street, in a restaurant, talking about our lives is just normal. We do not mind, we like to share and we like to listen. We will ask lots of questions without feeling it is something wrong with it because for us, it is ok and we find strange if a person does not do it. You might get a curious look if when interacting with Mexicans, you do not open about certain things.
Angelo and most British in general are not like this, at all. Even though I will never make friends with the guy waiting in front of me at the supermarket, when you finally meet them they will talk about things like weather, food, football or any sport, music, complain about government but not going too further, clothes, MATRESSES (yes, this is a true story). When I noticed this, I felt guilty. I am not a sociable person. Nevertheless, for me is still normal wanting to know about other people’s lives, not because I want to gossip or be nosy, but it is the only way that I know how to interact with people, I grew up seeing this as a socially acceptable way to socialise and suddenly it was not.
With Angelo, conversations and debates are so simple and straight forward, I was used to something more wordy and full of intense feelings. In Mexico, intensity has always been a key part of our way of behaving. No matter how much Mexicans deny it, we are dramatic, in a good way, we are very expressive and we have strong feelings and we like to show them off. Strong opinions, strong conviction and we can be very passionate and a bit exaggerated even when we are trying to act ‘chilled’.
Here people are too chilled sometimes, and it is not that they do not care, but IS JUST THE WAY THEY ARE. And when you were used to heated discussions about politics or religion, or just ANY topic and now your partner looks like he is taking the mickey of you is just…. Very strange. Very straight forward, very critical, blunt, all the things that I was not used to are now part of my life and at the beginning it was a bit overwhelming.
But the benefits of being in an intercultural relationship are beyond any disagreement. You learn about other points of view, you learn about other cultures, manners, what certain body language means in certain places, the political correctness, languages, ideas, all this plus being able to see it from other perspectives, about the world, about everything. Enriching not just my cultural knowledge, but also the acceptance of other ways of living. It is beautiful.
I have learnt how to respect the British culture without giving up my own principles. Understanding is key, and the more you listen to your partner and hear what he or she is saying the more you gain. It is fantastic just having conversations about simple things like which food is the best to how would you save the world? And hearing a different mindset and understanding WHY does the person think that is just a priceless experience. Sharing is caring and sharing all this beautiful knowledge and ideas is just amazing. It makes you feel that you are a new person every day and this feeling really motivates you to discover, to learn, to be more aware of how awesome the world is.
There is no day that you would feel bored when you have a partner from other country. Whatever you two want to do, it will be always an experience. How he perceives certain activities, how does your partner do something and finding out that there are different ways to get the same result. Sometimes it is very easy to get stuck with just one version of life, but with Angelo, I have the feeling of that will never happen. From the silly argument of how to cook a certain dish to deciding which movie we want to watch, or where should we have dinner and having a conversation about how our cultures influence our decisions, is always a kind of positive feedback that helps you to grow.
From learning Portuguese, listening music that I have never heard before, eating international food, watching movies that I would never thought I would watch, having a heated argument of how the world should be doing in order to save itself in the future, which is the best political system, the best economic system, teaching each other colloquialisms and swear words, deciding which is the best way to clean the house or spending one hour at the pub discussing about philosophy and if there is life in other planets, the best part so far is that we are helping each other to be a better version of ourselves, and I do think that being from different cultures has a huge influence on it.
I am not dismissing relationships of two people from the same country/state/culture/religion. What I am saying is, in my experience, having met Angelo was one of the best things that had happened to me. I might sound exaggerated but, living with a person who sees the world in a different way compared to how you do could be challenging, but at the same time it is fantastic. The weaknesses, once overcome, are strengths that make your relationship stronger and happier. At the end of the day, what matters the most is being with someone that loves you because who you are and, in my case, the relationship has helped me to become an improved and better version of myself, not just in the sense of a good person but also it has given me the perception of a different reality. Once you start to see the world through a different glass, it starts to look even more beautiful.