Life: An International Love Story
By Sabine Ehgoetz
Over three years ago, Sabine moved from her home country, Germany, to Toronto, where she has been working as a journalist and translator ever since. Up to this day, she still loves everything about Canada – apart from the winters.
Recently I heard of a couple who met on a vacation trip and decided to get married shortly after. My curiosity grew when I heard that neither of them spoke the other one’s language or any language at all that both could understand.
“How’s that going to work?” was my first thought, quickly followed by “things are probably a lot more peaceful around their house than around mine.” I can say for certain that a relationship where one partner constantly has to converse in a language not his or her mother tongue, things can get pretty complicated.
Before it actually became a reality for me, I always thought it was an incredibly romantic idea to meet someone from another country, fall in love and follow him to his home where we would live happily ever after. In a way, I still think that’s true, although in all honesty, probably not even the best marriage outside of fairy tales is constant, pure joy. Things are even harder when a different cultural background and language come into play. My husband and I have had countless arguments because I had thought he had said this when he had actually meant that or I believed it was perfectly okay to address him in a certain way while he found it completely inappropriate. What usually follows are longwinded discussions where we are trying to figure out, why on earth we are arguing again.
Usually those end with statements like “Well, I didn’t mean it that way” or “you totally misunderstood what I said”. As you may be able to guess, our different cultural origin has over the course years, also become a very convenient excuse for misbehaviour on both sides. I recall that my husband actually tried to convince me once that calling someone (meaning your wife) an idiot really isn’t such a bad thing in English. And I admit I have tried to assure him numerous times that, in German, a sentence like “take the garbage with you” doesn’t need to be followed by “please” to be perfectly polite. Let’s be honest, idiot isn’t considered a term of endearment in any language and we Germans are taught at a very young age, like everyone else, to say the magic word when we want something.
“Great,” you are probably thinking right now, “there I was hoping to read a sweet and romantic story on love beyond borders and now I’m faced with unpleasant encounters at the Ehgoetz household.”
You may be considering following the first example – find someone you can’t understand at all, rather than looking for a partner you may possibly end up having to argue with in a language that isn’t your own. So let me tell you this – besides those many, many times where I wished I could just resort to my mother tongue to make my point, or realized that I had done something that wasn’t considered nice, I have come to notice that English has indeed become the language of my heart, and our many little differences add just that bit of spice to our marriage that prevents it from becoming boring.
Especially at this time of the year, when it’s cold outside and snow is covering the ground, I always remember the time when we were still living far apart and missing each other terribly. He called me one night and instead of speaking, just played a song by the Canadian singer Sarah McLaughlin to me over the phone line. It’s called “Song for a Winter’s Night” and in the lyrics it says “I would be happy just to hold the hands I love upon this winter’s night with you”.
Whenever I hear it now, I can’t help thinking how much I had wished then that we could always be together, not only in the same country, but even in the same house and sit in front of a fireplace on those freezing nights in Canada. Today, this has become a completely normal thing for us to do. Although it’s been like this for many years now, it still feels special whenever I remind myself how many obstacles and distances we have overcome since I was given that cute love message over the phone. So maybe it is that appreciation for being able to be together that makes an international love affair so special?
I would even go further and argue that our “multicultural” relationship may be stronger than many others because we have been able to make it work “against all odds”. When my husband and I met, he had just set out to explore the world while I was still studying back home. Chances were, this was going to end up being a short lived fling with no possible future at all – a fact that made me cry many times once I realized that I had actually fallen in love with this crazy Canadian. Today I may bawl my eyes out from time to time wondering what on Earth I was thinking when I, not only got seriously involved with the guy, but married him. All in all though, ten years are a pretty good proof that we have managed to overcome all sorts of differences – may they be small ones like our clashing ideas of a perfect vacation (me – five star resort, beach chair and soft sand around my freshly pedicure toes, him – canoe, backpack and feet in muddy hiking boots) or big ones like the question of having children. If you read this column regularly you may know that I won our argument on the later, and even scored double with twins, whilst my dreams of a luxurious trip abroad is yet to come true. Although I found myself in a tent in the midst of the Canadian wilderness during our honeymoon, I dream, that he may at least take me to some sunny beach for our silver wedding anniversary. To tell you a secret, it doesn’t really matter so much to me where exactly we are going to end up, as long as we will be together!