The other day it happened again… I was sitting in my Portuguese class when one of the classmates started – for some reason or other – talking about her Brazilian boyfriend. The impertinent question came immediately: „Oh, so this is why you are learning Portuguese?“ and a few seconds later: „Does he still exist or is the language course lasting longer than your relationship?“ Even though this time the question did not concern me, internally I was boiling.
Co-Founder and Managing Director of Accedera GmbH
Are you in an intercultural relationship and have experienced that people ask all sorts of inappropriate questions about you, your partner and your relationship? Have you or your partner experienced that people assume that you only got married “because of the visa”… There are many intercultural couples who face these situations daily. Over the years I tried different approaches to deal with this but only recently found some recipes that help me get through these questions without feeling emotionally violated.
The other day it happened again. I was sitting in my Portuguese class when one of the classmates started – for some reason or other – talking about her Brazilian boyfriend. The impertinent question came immediately: „Oh, so this is why you are learning Portuguese?“ and a few seconds later: „Does he still exist or is the language course lasting longer than your relationship?“ Even though this time the question did not concern me, internally I was hot with anger.
Have you experienced this sort of questions as well? I myself, but also my friends and professional contacts have heard this so many times. „Oh, wow, you are married?! You are still young. So where is your husband from?“ or „How long have you been together before you got married?“ Or even without any detours: „You certainly got married for the visa, right?“ And then as a next step: „So what is he doing here?“, „Is he working?“, „Oh, he is not working. So what is his long-term plan then?“
Interestingly literally EVERYBODY seems to think they have a right to ask really personal and sometimes hurtful questions.
It doesn’t matter if it’s close friends, family or strangers you just met. What do people think? I can’t tell you. Just imagine if it was a „normal“ couple, would you say: Oh you started playing golf to have a hobby together with your partner. Does he still exist or are you playing alone now?“ NO! Obviously you wouldn’t and it would be considered extremely strange and very inappropriate to do so.
For a long time I have tried to answer these questions honestly, naively thinking that my answers would show that we did not get married only for the visa, that starting in a new country from scratch is a huge challenge, thinking that people would UNDERSTAND.
But the truth is, most people don’t understand.
Somebody who hasn’t lived in an intercultural (interreligious, inter…) relationship hardly ever has the empathy to see behind known stereotypes. And even if they are able to see beyond stereotypes they do not realize that it can be damn hurtful to be asked about your „plan“ if in fact you don’t have a plan and are just trying to get by from day to day fighting to keep your world together.
However, realizing that I won’t change the thinking patterns of most people, helped me to focus on something more important: protecting myself and my relationship from being hurt.
Here are three tips of how to deal with these hurtful question on your own terms:
Tip 1: Be prepared!
These questions will come. You can be sure of that. So decide for yourself how you want to react to them. How much are you willing to tell about yourself, your partner, your relationship? Where do you draw the lines? If it helps you, prepare your answers and don’t leave any lose ends. Don’t let show that the two of you haven’t it all figured out, because this will spur more unwelcome questions. If you need to: beautify the truth! Especially in Germany people are happy with definite answers. Just say: „My partner teaches.“ Who needs to know that your partner has a university degree in teaching and gets by giving occasional private language classes? Nobody. Unless you want them to.
Tip 2: Keep being in control
You don’t need to answer everybody! You have a right to exclude people from the circle of trusted individuals to whom you explain the details of your relationship. It is ok to give a very brief answer and then to change the topic actively. Most people get the hint. And if they don’t you can be more explicit and say „I don’t want to talk about this.“ It might create an awkward moment, but it is healthier for you to endure this awkward moment than to lose control about the conversation and get dragged into another painful cross-examination.
Tip 3: Ignore questions
Ignoring questions is one of my favorite techniques, because it’s so simple. It might sound weird, but try it out. It works marvelously. Just talk about a previous question or ask a question in return. Become a bit of a politician and answer a different question or let your answer be so unspecific that people don’t realize you didn’t actually say anything.
I can only encourage you to use one, all three or to develop your own techniques to protect yourself. It is such a great feeling once you start regaining control of these situations and don’t only hope to get by thanks to some marvelous coincidence.
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