Students

Dating someone from a different culture

Love and culture shock

In a city with so many international students, chances are good you’ll find love with someone from a completely different culture. Three student couples talk about the pleasures and challenges of intercultural dating.
Text & photos by Felipe Silva

 

Andrea & Dirk

Andrea Rodrigues (20), an Indian-Portuguese New Zealander who studies International and European Law, swiped right on Tinder and ended up with a boyfriend: Dirk de Vries (23), a Frisian student of Smart System Engineering.

‘We like to pretend we didn’t meet on Tinder, though’, she laughs. Instead they make a game of inventing more interesting (and less believable) meet-cute stories. ‘I like to say we met at a ski resort. Our eyes locked, I asked him to dance, and we fell in love. But neither of us has even been on skis.’

After only 8 months together, Andrea is surprised by how much she has adopted Dutch quirks. These days, she is always on time. And her approach to money has completely changed. ‘The Dutch know all the hacks to get the most out of the products they buy: they even have a kitchen utensil called pannenlikker, so you can get the last out of the peanut butter jar. It’s so weird!’

Elaborate meals

Dirk says the biggest culture shock, relationship-wise, has been the food. ‘Us Dutchies like to eat quickly, to prepare for the whole day and just eat bread.’ But he has realised that in Indian culture, meals are more elaborate and family-oriented, and sometimes take hours to prepare.

That was an adjustment, he says. But he has started to really enjoy the process of preparing food together, and the experience of sitting down to a meal with company. His palate has adjusted too – he even likes spicy food now. ‘And I have to admit, I actually love stamppot’, Andrea chuckles.

Their most challenging moments as a couple come down to communication. The way they were raised to express their opinions is completely different. ‘In the Netherlands people really say what they think, and sometimes I don’t like that’, says Andrea. ‘I don’t like to be too honest, because I’m scared of hurting his feelings’.

On a recent trip to Berlin, Andrea bought a new shirt she loved. She was excited to show it to Dirk, but he didn’t like and didn’t hesitate to say so. ‘He was like, “I’ve seen better”’, she recalls.

‘I just wanted to be honest’, Dirk laughs. Andrea rolls her eyes. ‘Yeah, but I wanted you to lie!’

Janis & Sinead

Janis Mjartans (21) was born and raised in the Czech Republic, but his family hails from Latvia and Kyrgyzstan. His girlfriend Sinead Denning (20) is Irish, but her mom is German. The psychology majors have a romance origin story straight out of a fairy tale.

That’s a lie. They also met on Tinder.

‘Should I tell the story, or do you want to?’ Sinead grins at Janis. Before he can respond she says, ‘I’ll tell it.’ Their first date was a coffee date that lasted for three hours. ‘We got on instantly, there was no awkwardness at all.’ They were excited to discover that they’re both fluent in German. Having a shared language made it easy to connect.

But in spite of their natural chemistry, the last four months have made it clear to them that they look at the world differently. Sinead grew up in a small town in Ireland; Janis is a big-city boy from Prague.

Sheltered

Sinead says she had never seen much of the world beyond Ireland. ‘Kyrgyzstan?! I hadn’t even heard of it’, she confesses. ‘I knew he traveled a lot, and that was different for me. It’s opened up the world for me.’

Life was more sheltered in Ireland. As a result, Sinead says she is more willing to take things at face value. ‘Back home it’s like, this is just what it is, don’t think too much about it. But Janis is more skeptical about everything. ‘When I’m reading a story about any political issue, for example, I always analyze it and research it. Why should I believe these people?’

But their different worldviews – and the ways they express them – are also a gift that keeps on giving. ‘We laugh every day’, says Sinead. ‘Especially over funny little things, like the weird phrases we use in our daily life.’ Having someone else’s cultural viewpoint to look at life through can be a revelation. ‘I keep discovering myself through her’, he says.

Roberto & Linda

Roberto Navarro (21), a Venezuelan Artificial Intelligence student, and Linda Arfelt (22), a Finnish student of Economic Development, were always meant to be together – they just didn’t know it. And apparently, they were the only ones who didn’t know: friends had a running bet for months on how long it would take them to figure it out.

‘We lived in the same building and we were great friends, but then there was some kind of miscommunication and we had a falling out. I thought she hated me’, says Roberto.

‘What? You said we needed space!’ Linda shoots back.

‘Well, whatever it was – I thought, “I’ll talk to her when she talks to me”. Very mature. No surprise: that never happened.’

It took an entire year of low-key avoiding each other to realise they were actually in love. ‘He picked me up from the train station when I got back from my exchange semester’, Linda says. ‘The rest is history.’

No concept of danger

The two have been together for eight months and are still discovering the ways that their different cultural upbringing shapes their behavior.

One thing that comes to mind immediately, says Roberto, is Linda’s complete lack of urgency when it comes to her own personal safety. She dog-sat for her sister recently. ‘And she thought it was a great idea to walk the dog at midnight’, groans Roberto. ‘YOU. DON’T. DO. THAT! It doesn’t matter where you live. That’s stupid.’

‘I’m from Venezuela, where you always have to be aware of what’s going on around you, keep your eye out’, Robert goes on. Linda shrugs: ‘I mean, I’m from Finland, so…’

Linda is so unused to the concept of danger that she couldn’t get her mind around the stabbing that happened on the Jaagpad. Roberto shakes his head. ‘When we walked by the spot the next day she was like, “No, I think it was a sheep that died there or something”. No babe, it was probably a murder.’

‘I wised up a little after that’, she admits.

As they laugh and tease each other, it seems like they have no problem showing affection. But Linda says that it’s actually been a challenge. She says that in her family you know you care about each other when you can hang out together in comfortable silence. ‘My family is not verbal at all, or physical either.’

But in Latin America, it’s much more normal to passionately express your feelings, all the time. So Roberto feels confused by her so-called comfortable silences. ‘Whenever she’s not talking, I’m like, aaaaah, you mad?’

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