The Bumpy Road to International Love was originally posted in The Bridge, a magazine belonging to the International Women’s Association of Prague.
The ever-growing cosmopolitan city of Prague is home to lots of international cuisine, culture and most of all people who truly are from all over the world. It is no surprise to encounter mix-raced children, a group of friends speaking in several languages at once, and international couples and families. Being an international couple takes a lot of work, from deciding what meal to cook, what language to speak, what day to celebrate Christmas on, or whether to celebrate it at all.
Kimberli Jo Lewis, from Rhode Island, USA met her husband in Germany. Joachim, born in Wuppertal Germany, was first introduced to Kimberli at work. Because their official first meeting Germany very brief, Kimberli considers their first meeting to be in Mallorca Spain in May 1997. As if the beach and warm weather wasn’t enough to bring two people together, the two bonded as they participated in a jeep rally together. Joachim was in lucky because “he was the only person in the event that spoke Spanish,” Kimberli says, “I actually wanted to go in (his) jeep, not because I wanted to meet him. I thought it would give us an advantage!”
After a busy few months of little contact, they ran into each other at a Christmas market. Santa must have teamed up with Cupid that December because as the two sat down together and drank German Mulled Wine or Glüwein they realized that “it was meant to be”. Their globally scattered family and friends complicated their wedding planning and resulted in a plan to have a secret wedding in the Chapel at the Monte Carlo in Las Vegas.
Arriving at the Chapel ready for a private July wedding in 1999, Kimberli and Joachim were surprised by 35 friends and family members from the U.S. and Europe – turns out Kimberli’s best friend in California had figured it out and organized for everyone to come. “So much for keeping secrets” exclaims Kimberli. But the surprise was welcomed and the wedding was beautiful. Although she and Joachim kept a double household, Kimberli returned to Prague in 2007 and they spent most of their time here. Kimberli started and registered a business in Prague and likes it because it is “small enough to meet a lot of people, but is still a capital”.
But being an international couple is hard work – but especially after meeting at a jeep rally – there are no bumps along the road that this couple can’t handle. They juggle four languages in their household (Kimberli’s sister-in-law is Ukrainian and her stepson is half Spanish) and disagree about Christmas traditions. The family is used to coming to agreements about “food, celebrations, cultural habits and even language” explains Kimberli.
On his foreign student exchange in China, Dalibor met his wife Ann who was finishing her Masters. They met to practice English and Chinese together and didn’t imagine that a language partnership turning into something more, “it wasn’t my plan or intention” says Dalibor. Ann teases him and calls a ‘cheater’ because she doesn’t believe that her Czech husband just wanted to learn Chinese. Whatever the intention, language lessons led to love and love led to three weddings!
Dalibor’s closest family witnessed his official wedding with Ann in the Czech Republic. Then followed by a traditional Chinese wedding in Ann’s homeland. Their third and for now final wedding was back in the Czech Republic and was more traditional – many guests, music and food. As if two weddings in one country didn’t suffice, they also decided to move to the Czech Republic, where Dalibor settled for Prague, which suited Ann’s needs better than his preferred choice: Brno. But Dalibor “really wanted (Ann and him) to be together” and he “took it as a new positive challenge and chance”.
Prague proved to be a great home for the international couple. Ann managed to make friends among the big expat communities and now has Chinese friends who live and work here. But it did not go without complications – Ann had a lot of visa problems and “was approached in a very cold and unwelcoming way” says Dalibor, worrying about her first impression of Prague. It took the help of a lawyer and more than 8 months to get temporary residence, which normally takes up to 60 days.
Other challenges included differences in culture – such as the Chinese standard of the man being the “sole breadwinner… and his parents should contribute a significant a significant amount of wealth to the new couple”, says Dalibor, in whose culture gender roles are more equal. He also feels for Ann who is so far away from her family and friends. Although Skype is great, it doesn’t replace personal contact and if there is need to urgently visit her family because of a problem, it is extremely difficult if not impossible.
They also find differences in how they spend their free time and interactions between strangers. Czechs cannot imagine spending a whole night in a karaoke room singing, and the Chinese have trouble with the closed-off nature of Czechs who don’t just interact and act openly with their neighbors like the Chinese do. After living in China for a year together, even Dalibor find some aspects of Czech culture frustrating. But being n international couple “is immensely enriching”, says Dalibor who has experienced “different culture, different psyche, and different ways of life”.
Anna Mazur and her husband Cyrus Skaria met in London. Anna was studying in Warsaw but decided to spend a month in London to learn English, and she met her Indian husband who was finishing his PhD at the University of London. It was love “at 2nd sight” she says smiling. She realized she was in love with him as they ate lunch together in Hyde Park on her second day in London, “I don’t know why but the whole place/situation and him seemed almost magical”. Like in every fairy tale, love led to marriage – the couple got married in India in the same location as Cyrus’s parents 35 years ago.
Moving to Prague has “changed everything in our life” explains Anna. She gave up her developing career and moved to a place they didn’t know. What was meant to be temporary has stretched into what is now two years. They left their home, family and friends and started a new life. Although Anna describes Prague as “a wonderful place” she is not sure that it is the best place for an international couple. “It looks like there are two worlds in Prague”, she says, referring to the expat circle and the “outside world”. Her husband especially struggles with the Czech language, and for Anna, who understands it a bit better still finds it her greatest issue saying, “It gives us grief sometimes”.
She doesn’t see Czechs as being very friendly, just “sad and tired”, and misses how at home, strangers would greet each other – which isn’t done in Prague. Due to his Indian origin Cyrus is often associated with the Roma and is treated with an attitude, “one lady looked at my husband then at me and then she shook her head with disapproval”. But she still thinks that Prague is a beautiful city and a good place to live, the only downside is interacting with the outside world. For her the struggles of being an international couple started with language, because she wasn’t fluent in English when they met, as well as deciding where to live and settle down, “we live in a country which is not a home country to me nor to my husband” – and they think they will have more such stops in their journey.
Wise Words from the Couples:
Kimberli believes that being part of an international couple and having an international family “is wonderful (because) it widens your perspectives and exposes you to things you might not experience otherwise”. Her secret to keeping such an international lifestyle is being “flexible and able to compromise”.
Multilingual Dalibor and Ann see overcoming challenges as “contributing positively to (their) mutual relationship,” because it requires a “special deal of commitment”. He would like to thank Ann for the three-and-a-half years they spent together – their relationship is helping him become a better man.
Anna Muzar didn’t plan on marrying a foreigner and she’s learned a lot about Indian culture, family values, life style and cuisine and sums it up as a “great experience”. She finds the diversity in their family a huge benefit and she hopes that their 3-month-old daughter will one days be multilingual, speaking Polish, English and Hindi.