Expats and Cross-Cultural Relationships: The Lighter Side

“The end of September always marks a turning point in London. Summer is officially, undeniably over, and the leaves start to turn across the capital. We pull out our wool, our knitted jumpers, and our boots in preparation for the seasons ahead. I’ve officially retired the shorts to the back of the closet and am becoming reacquainted with last season’s jeans that just barely fit (too much summer fun).

For me, however, the end of September is also a milestone. A few weeks ago, my boyfriend and I celebrated our second anniversary with a trip to Copenhagen (a place I’ve always wanted to go, but never had much of an excuse to).This has got me thinking about the past two years and the ups and downs of a cross-cultural relationship (mostly ups, of course).

For many expats, the very reason we live abroad is because we’ve moved to our partner’s home country, so cross-cultural relationships are no stranger to the expat community. Sometimes, however, being in a relationship with someone from another country or culture can bring some hilarious misunderstandings.

I’ve put together a list of some of the bigger ones I’ve heard or have experienced throughout the years.

1. “Pudding” also means “dessert” in British English. For Americans, pudding is a type of dessert (a thick, gloopy mixture, often chocolate). When we first met, my boyfriend would always say he wanted ‘pudding.’ I could not, for the life of me, figure out why he loved pudding so much. I mean, it’s great, but every night?! I finally caught on when he said he wanted pudding and ordered cake.

2. One of my blogging friends, a Canadian expat in England, tells the story of the beginning of her relationship and how she couldn’t figure out why girls (and boys!) were writing “x’s” to her boyfriend. For her, those meant “romantic kisses” and were reserved for your special someone. In England, however, it’s a very common sign off for younger generations to put some friendly ‘kisses’ after your name when talking to friends or acquaintances. She was so distraught that it seemed like everyone was also in love with her boyfriend until she clued in.

3. Boxing day, the day after Christmas, is a recognized holiday in much of Europe. Americans may have heard of it, but it’s not part of our culture or a day we acknowledge or do anything special for. For our first Christmas, my boyfriend convinced me that boxing day was a day where there is a huge boxing match that everyone stays home and watches. Call me naïve (and I could have used Google), but it sounded plausible to me. Come to find out, you just eat Christmas leftovers, maybe head to the stores for sales, and watch the football matches. Oh.

4. One time, we accidentally fueled the fire of an argument with our misunderstandings. In England, “answerphone” can mean “answering machine.” As you can probably predict, this isn’t the case in America. He had left me a message and kept texting me “answerphone” after I asked him what he wanted. “YOU’RE NOT CALLING ME” I said. “Answerphone!” he’d reply. “I CAN’T ANSWER MY PHONE IF YOU DON’T CALL IT.” And on. And on. We finally figured it out, but not after we thought the other was crazy for a good 5 minutes.

5. It’s very popular in the UK to greet someone by saying “You alright?” It just means “how are you?” or “What’s up?” Another one of my expat American friends remembers this phrase completely throwing her off. “My boyfriend keeps asking me if I’m okay every time he sees me,” she would say. “It’s really sweet, but it’s honestly every time. Do I look sick to you? Why is he checking on me so much?”

Any stories from your own cross-cultural relationships or times when you just couldn’t seem to make sense of the gibberish your significant other was saying?”

Kalyn is a Communications professional who moved to the rainy UK after growing up in Orlando, Florida. She writes about her experiences (and her failed attempts to find the sun) on her blog, Girl Gone London.

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