Whenever I tell people that my wife is Greek—and not the kind from Queens, the kind from Athens—I’m always met with a jaw drop and an air of jealousy for how gorgeous she has to be and how exotic our lives must be.
I mean, I get it. She is beautiful, in the classical sense that’s usually reserved for goddesses and Jennifer Aniston. And even I can find some semblance of truth in the popular opinions that say Europeans have a deeper connection with their culture, live a healthier life, know how to eat and cook good food—even that they are better dressers and lovers.
But I have a real bone to pick with all of the articles out there that have these Europeans on a far higher pedestal than their American counterparts. Let’s not forget that we can be just as exotic and exciting to those hailing from across the pond.
Luckily my wife speaks English very well—as I’m told most non-Americans do—otherwise we would never be able to communicate past “Opa!” and “ouzo.” Her English is maybe just a little more formal than necessary. She hasn’t yet grasped contractions or how to use much slang, and she’s constantly confusing “on,” “in,” and “at.” So texts start to read something like: “We will meet at the cafe on 8:30 pm” and “We will plan our vacation on May.” Nothing too hard to decipher, right? But eventually comes the more difficult words, the ones above English 101 and 102.
Besides teaching her the important things, (like “All About the Benjamins” when we’re complaining about the rich, and what it means to “just do you” in those moments that it’s absolutely OK to be selfish with your own life), I’ve had to step back and really think about the English language and resort back to using surrounding context clues. I mean, how do you distinguish “Greece” from “grease” while speaking?
When dating someone from a different culture who doesn’t natively speak your language, the relationship is soundly built on patience and laughter. You’ll learn self-control against getting frustrated when trying to realize that “quisidens” are “coincidences,” and again when you finally comprehend that whatever was “licking” earlier was in fact just “leaking.”
Last Christmas, we watched the great American classic, Home Alone. A mindless movie that my family used to watch and quote endlessly every holiday season. As it would turn out, my wife internalized the same lines, only this time through her own interpretation. For weeks after watching it, she ran around the apartment and in her best Kevin McCallister voice, called me a “fluffly animal.”
Now you see, because she is with someone from a country foreign from hers as well, wifey also has the benefit of learning (and laughing at) a new language. So many nights have ended with both of us cracking up as she tries to teach my nasally-New England accent how to pronounce Greek letters with a more throaty sound. And while I’m starting to grasp some of the more basic terms, after a year and a half I’m still at the point of freaking out when there are other Greeks around and they get going: “Wait…are they calling me the malakas?”
Luckily though, after a while you start to pick up on each other’s familiarities and ways of speaking and create your own little unique mixture of a language. This language has you telling your visiting family to “please close the lights,” while your other half is considering “donating a few Benjamins to charity.”
Once this relationship has its foundation of laughter and patience, it will build into one of those annoyingly awesome rom-com courtships that is constantly found giggling and having fun. All of a sudden you start to see things as if they’re brand new—even the most familiar of things. From the top of the Empire State Building to running around the ancient ruins of Athens, these moments seem to mean so much more when you see them through the eyes of your awed partner.
She has taught me how to buy feta cheese in gallon buckets, while I’ve shown her the importance of peanut butter—a delicacy not often found on her island home. I took her through her first drive-thru Dunkin Donuts and she carted me around on my first Vespa. She does shots of moonshine and teaches me how to do Greek folk dances in our living room; I introduce her to good craft brews and thoroughly explain the importance and significance of Billy Joel and Springsteen.
So I urge you to date someone from a different culture. It could just be that the secret to a healthy relationship is when you’re only able to clearly understand what your partner says 70% of the time while the other 30% ends in both of you cracking up hysterically. The secret to a happy life could just be when you’re forced to see even the most mundane things through the excited eyes of a first-timer.