Love Across the Border: Tips For Dating Someone From a Different Culture (and Country)

Dating someone of another heritage is one thing, but how about when you are seeing someone who is from a completely different country than you, with opposite cultural views, meanings and traditions?

My partner is of mixed ancestry, like me. He is half Sudanese and half Ethiopian. That would be it, except for the fact that he has lived in the Middle-East up until 7 years ago when he came to Canada.

We didn’t start dating until nine months after we knew each other, so the only interactions that we had were “Hi”, and “Bye” and “You look good”. Once we started dating, though, things changed fast. We were constantly fighting- why?

First off, while his English is quite good (his first language is Arabic), I’m an English Major- so some of the words we said to each other were taken with a different meaning, leading to some major communication issues. If I said we “do nothing at home”, he was offended, thinking that I meant we don’t do fun things, when all I meant was the expression of simply just hanging out at home. There’s been many arguments that have happened because of the language barrier. 

Furthermore, he is Muslim and I am Catholic. While I’m not very religious and neither is he, it is something that I have to tip-toe around. Many of his beliefs and views stem from his religious upbringing. They also stemmed from superstitions that would frustrate me- like having to wear slippers in the washroom or not holding a knife at night time. I was also not okay with the idea of arrange marriages, oppressive gender roles, and not being able to meet his parents.

What we do share deeply is our sense of being mixed, being isolated, and on a more rewarding note, being so alike in so many different ways. For two people so different, we understand each other on a much deeper level not talking then talking at all. We share the same feelings, worries, and ideas, and laugh at the same jokes. Miraculously, we have the exact same sense of humour although we are from completely different places. While he values different things, we’ve taught each other a lot of things we otherwised wouldn’t have understood or reflected on. And I respect that. His upbringing in Africa and the Middle-East has taught him the value of family, honesty, hard work, and generosity. He has something I don’t have- the experience of having nothing and therefore valuing everything. And that’s where first world/third world problems seep in. Because of our cross-cultural differences, we have to work that much harder than other couples from the same culture/society because our beliefs are totally opposite. 

So after over a year of us being together, I have made a list of some tips for dating a person from a different country and culture:

1) Communication. You have to communicate clearly to each other in order to avoid misunderstandings. Speak calmly and clearly to each other.

2) Remember that you and him/her come from two different upbringings and countries. This is beyond race, it’s a cultural difference.

3) Respect their religion, traditions, beliefs and values. You would want the same thing, too. This can be hard, as you may not agree. But they will remember your understanding and patience forever. Try their favourite dish or put on a piece of traditional clothing. 

4) Explain and get them involved in your customs, too. But don’t push or force in on them. Have fun with it.

5) Learn the language. Get to know some common words from their mother-tongue, if it differs from yours, and vice versa. It’s a cute way to communicate with each other, and will make you both extremely happy to hear them speak it. (ahem, “I love you”)

6) Don’t try and change them. This is the worst thing you can do. Just accept them for who they are- you can’t change someone’s culture or upbringing. It’s what makes them unique, and it’s the reason you fell in love with them in the first place.

7) Patience, patience patience! You’re gonna need it on both ends.

8) Be proud and be excited. You’ve opened yourself up to a new kind of love, and found someone who will deepen your understanding of others and yourself. Enjoy this experience. It is wholly nurturing.

While it can be work, dating someone from a different country and culture really is a beautiful thing; it opens your eyes to new ways of life and gives you a respect for other people’s cultures, religions, customs and languages.