Although it´s not always the case, some intercultural marriages are as normal as any other non-intercultural marriage with the same problems and benefits. However, language, the number one challenge of interracial or intercultural marriage, is almost never avoided. Questions like what language to use at home, how to expose the children to both their parents´ language, and better yet, if the family resides in a country with a different language than both the parents´ mother tongue, how to raise multilingual children who are able to cope up in school as much as their monolingual peers.
The Offbeat Couple
Names: Olga& Nikolai
Location: The Netherlands
Children: 2 (and a third on the way)
How long have you been married? 3 years
Website: The European Mama
What makes your marriage offbeat?
We are an intercultural marriage. Olga is Polish and Nikolai is German. Also, we happen to live in yet another country, the Netherlands. However, we don’t see ourselves as an offbeat marriage. We have the same problems and benefits other couples have, we just happen to come from different countries, and speak different languages.
What made you end up in an intercultural marriage? What was your motivation in deciding to marry someone of different culture or faith?
We didn’t feel as if that played a big role. We didn’t consciously choose an intercultural marriage, instead we just happened to marry someone from another country.
Tell us about the wedding. Did your different religious or cultural background affect how you planned the wedding?
We got married in Germany but also included Polish translations of the texts and songs we had for the wedding ceremony. The reception was partially bilingual, and we also had guests from all parts of the worlds, making for an interesting mix of cultures. Also, friends of ours met on our wedding (he is a Malaysian German and she is Latvian), and got married this year. While Nikolai is an atheist, we decided to get married in a Catholic church (Olga considered getting married in a church a part of her heritage- it’s very uncommon in Poland not to get married in a church).
What are your biggest challenges (as an intercultural couple) and how do you solve them?
I think the biggest challenge is raising our children multilingually. We have to make sure that the children get equal input in all the languages and that all the languages are well supported. Also, not everybody in our environment is as committed to raising multilingual children as we are and it’s hard to deal with all these misconceptions, especially as far as Polish is concerned. We only use our own languages when speaking to the children, and try to explain, and explain and explain some more. Another challenge is the travelling: last year we had to travel from Amsterdam to Warsaw, from there to Osnabrück, then Hamburg and Kiel, and then back. It was a lot of travelling and we were pretty tired after that. This year, we’ve tried to have extended family to visit us in the Netherlands.
What compromises are required in order to make your marriage work?
Olga had to move to the Netherlands when their daughter was 6 weeks old. She moved there from Germany which was far away from home already. However, Olga was already a proficient German speaker, and we always used German as a means of communication. On the other hand, Nikolai rejected a job offer in Canada because Olga wouldn’t have gotten a visa. As for now, Nikolai is working hard to learn Polish in order to better understand his children.
Did you ever encounter people who frown upon intercultural marriage? How did you deal with them?
No. The only comment Olga heard on this is “how would your parents react if they knew you had a German boyfriend?- but it turned out that they were not only fine with it but they were indeed very happy.
How did your in-laws and extended families from each side react to your intercultural marriage?
Both of our families are supportive and we didn’t have any problems. Nikolai’s parents strongly insist on the children speaking German but we have already arranged for that.
What are the benefits of an intercultural/interracial marriage?
You get to think a lot what you’re saying, so it’s less probable that you’ll say something you can later regret- just because you communicate in a different language. You get to think a lot about your own culture and learn to accept others. You get to travel a lot, and see lots of new places, and you get to teach your children about diversity, and raise them with different language since birth. You get to meet fascinating people and get very creative.
What are the things that you learned about each other’s culture?
How does learning about each other culture benefit your relationship? Olga was in contact with German culture since she was a child, but she has learned that contrary to what common stereotypes say about Germans, they are in fact warm, welcoming people. Nikolai has never been to Poland prior to meeting Olga and he was especially delighted by the food. Also, this has given him an opportunity to travel places that he probably would never had visited.
Does cultural difference affect how you raise and discipline your child/ren? In what way?
We happen to have similar ideas about raising children- and we do it in a similar way. We don’t punish, and instead believe in explaining things and talking them over. We like to take the children with us wherever we go and think that having children doesn’t mean you only get to do “children’s stuff”. The difference is that while Olga likes to read and think a lot about how to raise children (and particularly how to raise multilingual children), Nikolai does whatever works for him and the children.
What’s your favorite way of spending time together?
Watching TV series, talking, going out to eat
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