Interviews with Binational Couples: James and Rizida

(Rizida’s responses are italicized. James’ are not.)

James was born in Arizona, USA.

Rizida was born in Almetevsk, Tatar Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic, USSR.

We met around early October of 2009, in Moscow.

1. Before dating a foreigner, did you have any preconceptions/doubts about what it would be like dating and relating? (in general)

Yes. I had a lot of multicultural experience from a young age, so I understood that cultures can be very different in very subtle ways. The differences are often counter-intuitive.

I didn’t have any preconceptions or doubts because I never considered it as a possibility.

2. With regard to your partner’s ethnicity, did you harbor any stereotypes or expectations about what the dating experience would be like?

In the case of my partner, I immediately noticed that she had a strong sense of Tatar identity, maybe more so than any Tatars I had met before. As such, I pretty much wrote off any chances of a romantic relationship from the first date. The Muslim Tatar culture is pretty conservative about dating outside their nationality, or at least the faith.

While I found out she wasn’t a believer, there are many cultural traditions which made establishing a relationship very difficult. She was and still is very shy. Honestly I can’t say I’m 100% sure I know how I managed to pull this off, but I did.

I didn’t have much experience in dating in general. Another thing, I didn’t consider going out with him as dating for a long time.

3. What kind of cultural, social, political, and linguistic barriers have you encountered, if any? And how did you manage them?

Very different backgrounds in religion, culture, language. Class background was kind of the same except that her upbringing was semi-rural. Also she grew up in the midst of crisis and chaos, whereas I grew up in utter awesomeness because we had NES, Game Boy, Street Fighter II, Peter Piper Pizza, Taco Bell, Animaniacs, etc., etc.

It’s hard to recall particularities, but I remember that in the first year together I felt uncomfortable for not being able to express my thoughts and feelings because my level of English along with a certain amount of shyness didn’t allow me to.

4. Name one or two culturally related behaviors your partner exhibited that surprised you?

Insistence on washing chicken before baking it. This does nothing and can actually spread germs rather than stop them.

Yes, I was pleasantly surprised when I found out that it’s not expected from me to cook and do all domestic work. Also, I was shocked when he said he didn’t believe in God. 

5. What language do you commonly communicate in? If you didn’t know your partner’s native (or one of their native) language/s, have you started learning it?

We started only in Russian, until I learned that her English skills are quite good and she told me she prefers speaking English. We still greet each other in Tatar and we usually only say “I love you” in Tatar.

English, which is my husband’s first language.

6. For those of you living together, what is the home dynamic like? Who does what domestically? (no lying!)

I handle most food shopping, cooking, and arranging entertainment such as finding movies or documentaries to watch. She does a lot of cleaning, but I wash my own dishes and usually do my own laundry assuming she doesn’t get to it first.

First rule in the house: nobody has to do anything. And usually nobody does)) But I have to add here that my husband cooks much more often than me, but usually only when he can. And I usually clean the house, but only when I can’t stand the dirt any more.

7. How have people in your native countries treated you as an intercultural couple? And can you share an anecdote, happy or sad, about one such related experience?

We have limited experience with this, but it’s all been positive. No single thing stands out.

For most of my friends and relatives it was curious to meet a foreign person. Some of my Tatar friends and family were amazed (and little bit amused too) to hear my husband speaking Tatar.

8. Have you met your partner’s parents, and were you able to communicate effectively with them?

My wife is pretty estranged from her father. As for her mother, she generally likes me and hates me at the same time. But as you know, she’s a bit eccentric.

Yes, I met his parents and he met mine. I think everything went fine.

9. Lastly, what has ‘international’ dating taught you, if anything?

I think a lot of people need to realize how much of a challenge it can be. My marriage works partially because we connect on a personal level, but I don’t think it would have ever been a relationship were it not for the knowledge I have about her culture and this country. I see a lot of guys coming to Russia thinking they’ll find the perfect wife and cultural-linguistic barriers won’t matter. I can tell you that with my knowledge of Russia and its culture, plus dating experience, I would not marry a Russian woman. Every person I know who is married to a Russian woman and has a successful marriage is a person with plenty of background knowledge on Russia and the language.

Not much, because one learns by comparing different experiences, which I honestly don’t have.

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