Some people say that the language of love is universal. But what happens when two people from different countries fall in love? On Heartbeats bi-national couples tell their stories.
Bernie, a German university lecturer, and Christie, a British university administrator, met and married in London. They now live in Wiesbaden. Christie can be found writing about German food, seasonal eating, and restaurants on Eating Wiesbaden.
Bernie and I first met in a London pub in 2007. Although we got to know each other in English, he was living with four other Germans, so things at home were largely conducted in a language I didn’t know (I’d taken German at school but not spoken a word in over 10 years). Not being able to understand a word my new boyfriend was saying was pretty weird, but in that time I got to learn quite a lot about the Germans, though to begin with I found it tricky to untangle the personal traits from the wider cultural ones. A great deal of cleaning went on, for example, and much playing of overcomplicated board games and intense debating at the dinner table, but were these peculiar Germanisms or simply signs that Bernie’s housemates were all a bit Type A and liked a good fight?
During the seven years we’ve now been together, I’ve broadly worked out which traits of my now husband are German, and which bits are him. The part that wants to regularly air our apartment throughout the freezing cold winter and can’t do without a sausage and a chunk of bread when he gets home from work? Those bits are probably German. But Bernie embraced my own culture so very readily that on occasion, he’s more English than I am (see: queuing, self-deprecation).
In 2010, we moved to Germany for Bernie’s work. We live in the beautiful spa town of Wiesbaden, close to Frankfurt, and we both work in the neighbouring town of Mainz. My German is still a bit sketchy, but although I speak both languages on a daily basis, we mostly speak English at home. Having got to know each other in one language, conversing in another feels a bit odd. We’re very strict about each speaking our own mother tongues with our 16 month old son, however – and I am still fuming that his first word was a German one.
I’d lived in England for three years before meeting Christie, and in that time I’d not just embraced British culture – its politics, history, current affairs and its football – but studied it, too. In addition to the fact that we met in one of our home countries as opposed to one alien to both of us, where our cultural differences might have been distilled and we could have had a few cultural surprises on returning home, getting to know my future wife didn’t really hold any peculiar cultural challenges.
The English (and American) dating culture is much more formalised than in Germany, so when you’re dating in the UK, it’s much easier to know what you’re supposed to do. In German, the word “date” doesn’t really exist, certainly not with all the rules and codes that come with it, and Germans tend to either be too shy or too cool to date. I lived in Berlin for 10 years before moving to London, and even when I thought I was on a date with a German woman, half the time I couldn’t really be sure whether I was or not.
Christie and I married five years ago and moved to Wiesbaden, near Frankfurt, close to where I grew up. Although I speak German with our son, Christie and I speak English together at home. Not having the same native language as your partner makes you realise just how important language really is: it’s integral to a person’s personality, and since it’s that personality you fall in love with, it’s funny having to get used to a new and slightly different person when they start speaking another language. But I suppose that’s partly why we continue to communicate in English: Christie likes me as the funny German idiot and I like the posh English girl.
My wife embodies a lot of the things I like about the British: their politeness and understatement, their sense of humour, consideration for other people and public control of emotion. If you step on someone’s toe on the London Underground, they’ll probably apologise to you. That wouldn’t happen here in Germany. We’ve lived in both countries together now and although returning to the UK is definitely an option, it’s unlikely we’d move back to London. Bizarrely, I have more affection for Christie’s hometown than she does.