Editor’s Note: The rules of love don’t change in a year. That’s why we decided to re-post this story from last year, which was a Valentine’s Day hit. If you find any guidance from this list — or maybe just a little entertainment — head on over to our Kickstarter page. ONE MORE DAY to contribute to our campaign to transform these kinds of fun, relevant stories into a weekly audio show. Help spread the word!
In love, there are things we do, and things we don’t do. When you’re with someone from a different country, the do’s and don’ts change. In every year between 2007 and 2010, between 274,000 and 317,000 people came to America as spouses. We at Latitude News have crowd-sourced this collection of vignettes and rules into Five Do’s and Five Don’ts (plus some corollaries) for cross-border couples.
DO SOCIAL NETWORK
When an amazing American guy checked out my online dating profile back in 2010, I — a Filipino gal — took a chance and invited him to an epic email correspondence over Gmail. Professions of love were exchanged after only a month of daily, thousand-word emails. Two months of recorded voice mp3s and Skype movie dates later, he decided to fly 17,000 miles to Asia for the first time to come see me. He quit his job, sold his possessions and went to Manila to be with me for another ten months, after which I packed a bag (a big one!) and went back to the U.S. with him to continue the dream. Four months later, we were married. It was the most natural decision for us, and a month into our marriage, we’re still blissfully happy.
— Jam Regis-Kotenko, Filipina married to an American
DO BE OPEN TO SURPRISES
When you marry an Italian, you have certain expectations: he’ll know how to cook, sing opera and will wave his arms when he speaks. You find out that his mother is the person who knows how to cook, and his dad whistles opera — while the husband can’t sing a note. Everyone, even you and your baby, ends up waving their arms when they speak.
The best thing about marrying an Italian is that you are never bored. Passion, innate artistic sense and a hound-dog dedication to family can create a rich married life. Among the many things I love about my Italian husband is his ability to pick out beautiful clothes for me, very quickly, leaving plenty of time for relaxing over coffee. Oh — and European men don’t mind carrying dress and shoe bags, so he also carries my packages home.
— Cynthia Rosi, an American, on her Italian husband Paolo Rosi, owner of Via Vecchia Winery in Columbus, Ohio
DO ENDURE DISTANCE
Distance renders us “absent parents” to our own relationship: instead of missing our child’s soccer games, we miss each other’s birthdays. I recently found myself alone in Khartoum, looking at the convergence of the Blue and White Nile. I whispered my gratitude to the river for bringing love to me. Since we met on a boat on the Nile, this river has become my fountain into which to toss a coin, my bridge on which to affix a padlock and wish for eternal love.
Friends express envy at the digital tokens of international romance. When we post photos online of kisses in cloud forests, I feel a tinge of guilt about the shakier moments that do not meet the public eye. There are no snapshots of staring at G-chat, waiting for the other’s name to pop up. There are no eloquent words with which to dress up his worry every time I depart for a conflict or post-conflict zone. Allowing a love to survive from afar requires making peace with its thornier moments of vulnerability.
We measure seasons by the months we spend together. The vision that keeps me afloat requires that computers be shut and suitcases put away. I am living for the moment when we wake up and bicker about whose turn it is to make coffee. In the meantime, all we — and any love split by miles — can do is to be patient with the less photogenic moments. We can trust that the seasons will change. The relationship winter will pass.
— Roxanne Krystalli is Greek and in a relationship with an American
DO BE PATIENT WITH HOMELAND SECURITY
When the time came for the girl to cross the ocean the other way to be with her beloved, the idyllic picture of reuniting the hearts on another continent was overshadowed by the infamous bureaucracy of the visa processing authorities. It took more than half a year for the girl to be able to get her paperwork done. Being split apart for several months right after the wedding was a great challenge and some sort of a test for the feelings. The bureaucratic hurdles did not cease for the girl in the new land. Vigilant homeland security would see something suspicious in her identity files and she has been taken a few times in the back office at border crossing for interrogation. She’s not a criminal, her only guilt was love!
— Anya Morozova, a Russian who married an American
DO YOUR HOMEWORK ON FOOD
I had moved to Peru only a month or so before Cecilia’s family came over for a Saturday night meal. Naturally, I wanted to make them feel at home.
I handed out tall glasses to each of the men since Cecilia had said they liked beer. One by one, I filled the glasses from several oversized beer bottles. But the men hesitated to drink. Cecilia came to my rescue.
In Peru, she explained, men share a single glass. The first person salutes the next person in the group and downs the beer. He then passes the glass to the next person who fills it again from the big beer bottle. This person salutes the next one in line and drinks the beer. And around it goes, Cecilia said.
So I grabbed a glass, filled it with beer, saluted my neighbor, downed it and passed it along. I did the same when the glass made its way back to me.
But I must say, when I’m back in the United States, I prefer to drink beer from my own bottle.
— Tyler Bridges, an American married to a Peruvian
DO HOLD HANDS (DEPENDING ON WHERE YOU ARE)
I was reared and nurtured in the Yoruba/Nigeria culture, where physical displays of affection by lovers or mates is absent or even frowned upon. While friends of the same gender can hold hands or engage in other display of affection (it’s normal even for men in Nigeria), it is the rare husband or wife that would be seen holding hands in public or even within their homes. Kissing does not exist as part of the cultural repertoire. Marrying an African-American man meant my learning how to express love in very physical ways.
It also meant having to reconsider the meaning of the husband/wife relationship. I have had to learn that in the United States, the nuclear family is the center of emotional, social, cultural and financial life for its members. The role of in-laws is minimal, unlike in my old culture.
But the enduring joy of a cross-cultural marriage for me is like Forest Gump’s life as a box of chocolates — you never know what you might find.
— Olobunmi Fatoye-Matory, a Nigerian Yoruba married to an African-American
DON’T FORGET THAT WORDS MATTER
Winston Churchill first characterized the U.S.-UK dynamic as the “Special Relationship” after the Second World War in 1946. My husband and I, who practise that link-up on the most personal of levels, reckon that definition bears all the hallmarks of a honeymoon period.
George Bernard Shaw’s “two peoples separated by a common language” seems closer to the truth of it. As always, it’s the little things that trip you up.
“Do you like this dress?” I would ask, hoping for the fulsome compliments which Americans seem to find so much easier to dole out than we Brits.
To my ears, the faintest, most damning kind of praise.
Two years’ worth of stiff-upper-lipped resentment later, I realized that “quite,” to an American, means “very.”
Or so he says, anyway — you never know with these Yanks….
— Sarah Gilbert, a Brit who married an American
DON’T REFERENCE THE HOLOCAUST
We met at a pool party. When we first spoke and I asked about her accent she responded “predictable,” before saying she was German. I pretty much couldn’t believe she was talking to me at all. Eventually, she pushed me into the pool and we made out underwater. When we rose to the surface, I imagined my eighth-grade self running to the side of the pool to give me a high-five.
We dated a few months, long enough for me to decide I wanted to learn German.
“Why?” she said, looking down.
“Well,” I stammered. “You know….it has associations…for me…for us.”
“You weren’t there,” she said.
She grabbed a towel and the curtain flapped closed. I realized our summer fling was over. I imagined my eight-grade self running over and giving me a swift kick.
— Daniel May, an American Jew, on dating a German
DON’T ASK ABOUT THE HORSE
Tell your friends to stop asking your Pakistani-Muslim fiancé if he’s going to ride into the wedding on a horse.
— Sally Herships, an American Jew married to a Pakistani Muslim
DON’T DIS THE IN-LAWS
Don’t take vacations as soon as your in-laws arrive for their prolonged visit to your home. They might take that personally. Be patient if relatives from far away come and stay for lengthy periods of time. Look for the positive aspects of this prolonged visit, such as home-cooked meals everyday, child care, help around the house, and free advice, even if it is unsolicited.
— Kashmira Baldauf
DON’T UNDERESTIMATE THE WEDDING
Don’t believe either your mother or your future mother-in-law when they say you can wear whatever you want to your own wedding. When there’s another culture, the bride’s dress matters twice as much.
Don’t ignore the people who tell you planning inter-religious weddings are difficult. They’re right.
— Sally Herships
What’s your story of cross-border love gone, or romance gone awry? Please share with us in the comments.