Interviews with Binational Couples: My Husband and I
(Sergey’s responses are italicized while mine are not.)
John Luke’s Birthplace: Ohio, USA
Sergey’s Birthplace: Penza, USSR (Now Russia)
We met for the first time in 2012 in Moscow, Russia.
- Before dating a foreigner, did you have any preconceptions/doubts about what it would be like dating and relating? (in general)
It had never really occurred to me. Although I had messed around quite a bit in S. Korea with guys that didn’t speak English very well so I just knew that communication had to be clear if anything was to become serious. Before, I didn’t speak any other language aside from English so it was really important that my partner be fluent because I didn’t want the added complication of a language barrier. Relationships are challenging enough. It is a privilege, and this must be said, that the language spoken between us is my native language. You’ll notice that this is the case for most of the couples I have interviewed.
I never thought about it much. When I had considered it I thought dating a foreigner might be difficult simply because we wouldn’t have a common history and culture to reference and that could have caused some ‘relating’ issues but it turns out it really isn’t a problem, especially because Luke is American and the USA’s culture is the most globally recognized.
- With regard to your partner’s ethnicity, did you harbor any stereotypes or expectations about what the dating experience would be like?
My husband being Russian (and part Ukrainian), I assumed at first he’d be a big drinker and he’s really rather mild in this regard. I am a much heavier drinker than he is. But I didn’t really consider anything else. I knew very little about Russia before arriving in Moscow and pretty much let the country hit me when I arrived.
Not really. America has its reputations but again, I just hadn’t really considered it.
- What kind of cultural, social, political, and linguistic barriers have you encountered, if any? And how did you manage them?
Well we don’t have many issues because socially and politically we agree on a lot. He, however, was entirely a-religious and un-nationalistic and that was the perdition of both my faith in god and the US. I was already pulling away from religion and nationalism (like a glacier) and his very cogent and incisive stance against them helped ease my own thoughts on these issues and allowed them to finally congeal and solidify. I come from a protestant, patriotic family. We have a lot of military members. So work-ethic, god, and of course patriotism have been themes in my family. Though none of my family members are fundamentalists or ultranationalist – and all of them are very supportive of my husband and I.
Politically speaking, I definitely give more credit to government from time to time but we both feel strongly about activism and its role in shaping government and society. We, however, are not very activist – we are however critical thinkers when it comes to any institution.
We haven’t had any real linguistic barriers since Serge’s English is fluent, any that have existed have been on my side when I’m staggering through Russian. Any other barriers have been of a personal nature and not related to culture but rather our individual personalities.
I’ve always known I was going to leave Russia so I would have wanted my partner to know a second language like English or Spanish anyway. Traveling and living abroad without a language like English/Spanish really complicates and limits your options. My English is well developed and I’ve been learning it for years and have had much practice so it isn’t really a problem for me to communicate in it all the time. Sometimes I even know words he doesn’t. The language I’m currently working on is Spanish which is very applicable in America.
- Name one or two culturally related behaviors your partner exhibited that surprised you?
Only that he doesn’t drink much. He is just such a mild drinker. And I think also the fact that he just doesn’t act Russian in any stereotypical way. He is very much an individual, even to the point of being aloof from his native culture much of the time. I am very American in some ways in that I love food, massive portions of it, always fried, and I am very loud and obnoxious about my opinions.
Nothing really. He does eat a lot. And sometimes I have to tell him when he’s gained weight.
- 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?
Our home language is definitely English. Though we banter in Russian on occasion and often say ‘I love you’ in Russian. I am still learning it but it’s a bit of a slog. Progress has been made, I just need to keep at it. I have a lot of respect for my husband and his ability to constantly communicate, and so articulately, in a foreign language.
We speak English all the time. Occasionally we banter in Russian.
- For those of you living together, what is the home dynamic like? Who does what domestically? (no lying!)
Serge tends to do more laundry than I do but he is an abysmal cook so I do all the food preparation and I often clean up as well. We share many other duties around the house like the care of our two dogs and more general housekeeping. He is better about picking up after himself than I am.
Luke cooks all the time. I tend to do laundry but I also pick up in general because he is always throwing stuff around the house and never seems to get back to it. This is why he always loses socks. He puts them in weird places and then complains about losing them.
- 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?
Americans are pretty unphased by this sort of thing but there is of course general curiosity. People tend to mispronounce Serge’s name a lot and are always complimenting him on his English. Those are about the biggest reactions I’ve ever seen.
In Russia things were different. There has been and continues to be homophobia in that country and it’s reinforced by the State. We are not that in to public displays of affection anyway but we couldn’t even hold hands in Moscow. People there are similar to America in the 80’s in this regard. Some still believe it is a mental illness while others think it is okay so long as gays aren’t raising children. We did of course have many supportive friends. Most of the time we acted as friends do on the street. Here in the states we can be more relaxed though are behavior hasn’t changed much.
I can’t say I pay a lot of attention to that. We have more freedom to express ourselves in our relationship here in the States. In Moscow there were the obvious complications. None of my friends were surprised by a foreign relationship.
- Have you met your partner’s parents, and were you able to communicate effectively with them?
I did meet them and just before returning to the States. I could communicate marginally with them since my Russian is still developing. They were very warm, welcoming people.
I have and everything has been pretty smooth.
- Lastly, what has ‘international’ dating taught you, if anything?
That people are people. For me it really goes to show that ethnicity, nationality, and all that superficial jazz is pretty meaningless next to one’s life outlook and ideology. Obviously culture shapes who we are but we can rise above that, we can grow out of it, we can become individuals apart from our passport identities. I think the most meaningful and substantial bond one human being can find with another is through a shared outlook on life and how to lead it.