IMG_7657.JPG
Untitled-1.png
Sam and Jessy (and Mochi)
Sam and Jessy (and Mochi)

Sam and Jessy got married in 2013. Sam is English, and Jessy is Chinese. 

 

How long have you been together?

S: We have been together since October 2008 so... nearly 8 years.

J: China fought Japan for 8 years and succeeded. We're almost there.

 

How did you meet?

J: Tell the truth.

S: What is the truth?

J: You went to school with my cousin, you were dating her!

S:; OK so when Jessy arrived in the UK for her A levels I was dating her cousin. I met Jessy the first week she was in Birmingham so she was still quite shy. The next time I saw her was at University.

 

How did your families react to your getting together?

J: Chuffed, over the moon, happy they will have a mixed grandchild! Also they think Sam is a lovely guy if he can put up with me.

S: My mum was just glad I had a girlfriend. I think they didn't really appreciate there's quite a difference until they went to China, for our wedding. My parents like to go to Scotland on holiday, the EU at most. China is quite different but they embraced it, I think they're quite welcoming of new things.

Jessy and Sam
Jessy and Sam

Have there been any cultural challenges?

J: I think small things like life-habits you picked up or food we eat, that's the stuff you have to get used to. The things that get difficult are more cultural, maybe political things. Like you are very keen on 50:50 equality but in China the husband gives their salary to their wives...

S: Hah! Nice try. You're right, there are things I imagine any two people will be challenged by. Those strange little things you do that make up you as a person are what takes getting used to, but they're not really cultural. I don't see China as totally alien, I can relate to it, like I could relate to a different family from the UK.

Some things are different and they get negotiated. Like some things Jessy dominates culturally, like food. We mostly cook and eat Chinese 'type' food and there are a few meals that we cook that I'd call British but well, a lot of what I'd call traditional British food Jessy doesn't like. So there's a compromise there and it sides with whoever has the most to lose. I like chinese cooking so I don't have any problem with that. I suppose that's not exactly a challenge.

J: Wait what is British food?

S: Like shepherd's pie, toad in the hole, marmite.

J: But those are all awful!

S: Yeah! That's a silent negotiation to choose China over Britain, in that instance. Diplomacy.

J: I don't like lasagna either.

Julie and Michael
Julie and Michael

Julie and Michael met in their first year at LSE where Michael studied Geography, and Julie studied Economics, and they have been together just over seven and a half years. They live in London, where they both work. Julie is Chinese and Michael is English.

 

Have you had a Chinese girlfriend before?

M: I’ve only ever dated 2 women. The first one was…from secondary school. She joined in the 6th form time, and about a year after she started we dated for about 7 months. She was Chinese but she moved to the UK. I didn’t know her anywhere near as much as I know Julie. It was sort of like one of those MSN relationships. She was fairly Chinese - she had the Chinese parents that she’d sort of moan about telling her to do things…

J: I think it’s true that Chinese people tend to hide more of their actual lives from their parents. Even as you get older, you don’t become friends with your parents whereas in Western culture you eventually reach that stage where you become friend-ish with your parents. Well [looking at Michael] you guys are. 

M: I guess the thing with the whole ‘dated 2 Asian people’ - I have a bit of a chip on my shoulder because people start stereotyping me as that… The last thing I’d ever want to do is start stereotyping people I care very much about as being some sort of strange fetish on my side. I consider this relationship to be so much more than that that it would be a sort of insult to say “Oh you’re with her because she looks like this and… 

I think naturally some cultures are - at least on a surface level - more compatible. I think maybe you might make an argument that Chinese culture and British culture are compatible in that sense.

J: I think… there is a stereotype of white guys who tend to end up with Asian girls. They tend to be well-educated guys, generally introverted, tend to come from quite a stable middle class kind of - with a comfortable life… stereotype. I think Chinese culture also prioritises family, stability, education and introversion. Not on purpose, but in Asian culture, people generally don’t want to stand out. And that tends to be go with introversion. So there’s just lots of things that indirectly become very similar character traits. They may not manifest in interests or hobbies, but the core personality traits are very similar.

Michael and Julie
Michael and Julie

How would you describe your relationship?

J: I think of when we were in love after a year - it’s so different now! I cringe when I think of the relationship we used to have. To me that’s not what love is. The fluffy side. My analogy is that what we see of love is the beautiful flower that blooms above ground, but when you really love someone it’s the ugly roots you never see. But really for love to survive you need the roots. When you first fall in love it’s all oh how pretty it is, but the roots can grow in really ugly ways. 

M: It anchors you together so that even if you really don’t like each other at times [Julie laughs] - you still need each other on a certain level. 

J: It’s true. I say to Michael we’re really good as a couple when we’re facing something together. e.g. exams, housing issues, my family issues. We are really good at putting difficulties aside. When we tend to get more argumentative - or I do - is when there’s nothing happening, there’s nothing of substance and you start wondering oh why isn’t that happening, why isn’t this happening, and you start picking at issues. We’re very boring together!

M: Julie’s extremely Chinese and proud of being Chinese but in terms of culture, she’s so British that there’s no disconnect on that level. 

J: I’m culturally Chinese in that I like Chinese food and history, but I think a lot of my other values are not Chinese at all. That comes from my personal experiences. I think in a practical sense, we do the same things [me and other Chinese people], but for me a lot of that is not upbringing, it’s my experiences that have made me realise… in that sense, I don’t think my core underlying values are very Chinese at all. We’re very similar - our political values, our world values.

M: Which in part is because we got together so young that we moulded each other into that. We do a lot of talking…

J: [laughing] WE do…

Lucy and Tea
Lucy and Tea

Lucy and Tea have been together for 9-10 months. Tea is from Jiangxi in China. Lucy is from Barrow in Furness, in the UK. They met when studying together at university. 

 

L: It's a special course with lots of different majors. So I studied environmental science, my background is science. Now I'm working in sustainable development.

T: Yeah my Masters is in Entrepreneurship. And I'm trying to get an entrepreneur visa to start my own business in the UK. My ultimate goal is to start up an outdoor tourism company for Chinese tourists, to introduce a new way for them to travel, to be more active, to be more outdoors. More environmentally friendly.

 

What are the main cultural differences between you?

T: The main difference is I think she's so independent. There's a lot of things that a Chinese girlfriend would expect me to do. But if I do that stuff for Lucy she will find it offensive - like carrying heavy stuff for her. She will say, "I've got girl power - I can carry my own stuff - why are you doing that for me?"

L: Thats a small example but there are many things like that. Or if we have to make decisions together as a couple, then Tea would like to act like the man and always make decisions, but I would like it to be a discussion - like we talk and make the decision together.

T: Also, another very important difference is that in Chinese relationships people can force each other to do things. They feel quite natural to be like "Do this for me, and I'll do this for you." Without asking. Like, we don't have to ask permission or give permission to do things. 

L: [laughing] Consent! Mmm yeah! We talk about this a lot. Like, giving permission, or asking for permission and having autonomy as a person is one of the core concepts of my own feeling of how to be a person... And I think in - especially now, 2016 in the UK, this thing about consent and permission is essential to absolutely everything. And it just - it just doesn't exist in China. 

T: Also you guys say thank you all the time. It's very formal in China.

L: Saying thank you or being grateful is also a big one – like if I would do something nice, a small thing, or give him something he would say that saying thank you would be impersonal making a distance between the two people. Whereas...British people are famously polite, even to their closest friends. We're like "thank you" and "sorry" - British people are constantly saying thank you and sorry...

When we first started going out, the thing about the dominance in the relationship. Like he would naturally assume that that would be the way it is and I was really pushing back, and that was causing tension. But now it's more chill. I think it has just equalised over time. And got used to it... It's not easy sometimes to be a feminist in a relationship with a Chinese man! 

Tea and Lucy
Tea and Lucy

What do your [Tea's] parents think about you dating an English girl?

L: She [T's mum] wanted him to be more traditional. She said to him, you should find a girl who - can I say this? - Oh you know what would be best for you, because of his personality, you should find some girl who's very submissive and not very smart. Just agree with what you say and doesn't have a lot of her own opinions about things.

T: Yeah she thinks that - for me, I would probably like, go outside and do a lot of stuff. And start my business and I would be really tired and the girl would stay at home for a lot of time, and take care of me a little bit. But I think she, [mum] she's fine with Lucy. She asked about us, and she likes her a lot. 

L: I think she likes me a lot as a person. I don't know how she would feel if it got more serious... A lot of the Chinese couples I've met, the married ones, the woman is 100% the boss in some ways, but it’s not equal.

T: They're 100% the boss at home. But when they're outside it's a bit different.

L: Yeah that's probably true. 

 

But you [Tea] didn't have that expectation?

T: No.

L: Yes he does.

T: Or just a little, like...

L: Yeah... it's not easy to reconcile those things. That's really been the core challenge. 

 

So where will you live next? China? UK? 

L: I'm going to Beijing for probably two more years, that's my plan. But I don't know, I haven't got my visa so I don't whether it's going to be - I might come back, and if I'm miserable I'll come back. I might not be able to stay. And Tea doesn't know where he's going to be.

T: Yeah, I'm applying for the thing [entrepreneurship visa], I'm also having another project that would probably require me to stay in Shenzhen. So I haven't made up my mind.

L: There's a cool startup and there might be an opportunity - that would be in Shenzhen. The entrepreneurship visa is a big challenge and a bit risky.

T: So I don't know at this time.

L: So we have no idea where we're going to be. We don't know. 

 

What was the best time you've had together?

T: Probably Hainan. We were cycling in Hainan. She laughed at me! Constantly! I never swam in the sea before but I had swam in the river. 

L: He had swum long distances before but over a few days down the river. In fact, 'Swimming' is an interesting word - more like lying in the river and drifting down the river. But in Hainan we swam more than 2km in the open sea. 

T: Before that that trip I think it was about 100km that time in the river, so yeah 2km in the sea. I thought I could swim 100km, but once I was in the sea... 

L: Tea nearly died. We were all so tired. But Tea was really really tired. Then afterwards he still swears he can swim 100km. 

Another time we were staying in a cheap hotel. And in the morning we went for breakfast we had prepared-

T: jian bing (fried pancakes)

L:  Yes, for our breakfast, and we had put them in the bag, in the panier to eat on the road. When we woke up, we were like "Where's outr breakfast?" And it turned out there was a big hole in the panier. Rats had come in the night and stolen our breakfast away. 

T: They don't see many people so they just climbed all over us.

L: In the end we slept in a tent on the beach.

T: Yeah and my friend was sleeping on a sleeping bag, and the rat was kissing on his mouth. The rats are really curious. And his whole body was covered with the sleeping bag so his face was outside. 

L: I was scared in the cave and I was scared of the rats.

T: I was scared of the rats but I had to pretend that I was not otherwise she would have been - 

L: I would have absolutely freaked out. 

[pause]

We've had really fun times. When I first came to China I was planning to cycle back to the UK. Tea has done cycling trips before, but I've never done a cycling trip myself. But then because I broke my spine so I will do the trip in a couple of years instead.. 

T: I've done a lot of cycle trips already. I would probably ride a motorbike and carry her stuff. 

L: I would like to travel by myself more. Obviously when I first came, Tea helped me quite a lot.

T: But she doesn't want me to help her.

L: True, but you did help me a lot!

Jessie and Andrea
Jessie and Andrea

Jessie and Andrea got married in 2013. They've been together 5 and a half years. Jessie is from Maine, USA, and Andrea is from Sicily, Italy. 

 

J: We were both studying in Finland. We met on a boat going from Finland to Russia. 

A: We were studying in Finland but in two different cities. We happened to be in the same school trip to Russia. I was in Helsinki.

J: Oulu. 

A: 7/8 hours apart by train. So it's really far. Yeah, so we met in the boat the first night - we talked for a bit. And then we had 4 days in Russia - we were all students so... at some point we saw again and started to talk again. That's how it happened.

J: For me, I remember - when I was going on this trip I was at a point in my life that I didn't want to get with any guy - I was in the man-hating stage. I'm not going to talk to anybody, I'm not going to do anything... So as soon as I decided this, and as soon as I saw Andrea I was like: Oh my God he's so hot, oh he's SO HOT. But I'm not going to talk to him... nothing's going to happen, and... he asked me to dance. The first night. And I said no because I was a strong independent woman... and then he left, and then the next morning we were all in a line queueing up for tickets or something, and I went up to Andrea and was like "Do you remember me?"

A: She regretted the second she said no. 

J: Things moved pretty fast you know, there was a lot of drinking involved... I totally broke my... strong independent woman thing!

A: We didn't exchange phone numbers. On the way back, I told her "Oh I'm going next week to Tallinn, what are you doing?" "Oh I'm going to Tallinn too! But not next week, I'm going in 10 days."

J: In fact it was the same trip.

A: And then one week after we were on the same boat again going to Tallinn this time. And we didn't know. A friend of mine said, “Jessie's here" - I was like "What? Not possible." And she was there. So we met again. Then we got back [to Finland]… She came to visit me, then after that I went there. We started to travel back and forth for a bit. And then after a semester, we went on a Europe trip together.

J: So after studying abroad my plan was to go on a Europe trip, even by myself. And then I was like why don't you come with me? So we went to Greece, Portugal, Italy. Our last trip was London.

A: And then she went back to the states and I booked a flight after to go see her, and I spent like the whole summer there. On a tourist visa you can't do anything, just stay for three months then... following her around. She was working.

J: Nannying. 

A: Then back to Italy, two months apart, then back to states, then she came to Italy to do her internship, because I found her an internship to do in my city. So she would spend three months there doing the internship. And then after that she went back.

J: I was still studying - I had four more months? So Andrea surprised me. Like he flew from Italy to the university [in America]. He told me he was going on this camping trip so he wouldn't be able to talk to me for a couple of days. And I was like okay whatever. Then he called me at midnight. My window was open. He was like “What are you doing?” I was like, like, I could hear him outside, I was like [screams]!

A: Then after 2 years we got sick of going back and forth 2 months, 3 months. We met in March 2011 and we got married January 2013. After almost 2 years we got married because we were sick of going back and forth. Also because when I go there, I couldn't work. When she came to Italy she couldn't work because it's on a visa. So basically one of us couldn't work for half of the year. And then after 2 years we got married in Sicily. We stayed in Sicily for 9 months. Now 3 and a half years later, we're here.

J: It was after I graduated. I went to live with Andrea's family. I just moved there temporarily, but I could only stay for 3 months, so we were like at the end of like 2 months…what are we going to do? Because I'd graduated, he had a job, y'know, where's our future? So we decided we either get married and cross our fingers that everything goes well or we don't because otherwise it's just going back and forth... so we crossed our fingers and got married!

A: She was sick of being in Sicily. Sick of not understanding people speaking Sicilian. Because she was studying Italian, she was also working as an English teacher, so we both had a job but she wasn't doing what she liked. 

J: It was very hard.

A: So we tried to look for a place that was English-speaking so she could find like a...like a proper job, one that she liked. And then I think I wanted to come to England because it was closer to Italy.

J: I had been travelling a lot and kinda just wanted to be in the states.

A: I also applied for the green card at the time because we weren't sure - is it England or the states? Wherever we find a job first, and I got a job in England first, in London. So we moved here - it was also much easier because in the states I had to wait for a visa, I would have to move there and stay five months doing nothing. And in England since being European, it was much easier.

Andrea and Jessie
Andrea and Jessie

J: For me, living in Sicily was really really hard. Like I had this idea before like Oh yeah I'm moving to Italy it's going to be amazing, I'm going to eat lots of good food, everyone's going to be so amazing. I didn't realise that people wouldn't speak any English. None. So we lived with his father, no English. I really think the big thing is the language.

A: Language is less of an issue [in America]. In the beginning maybe. It was like when we were with your friends and there were too many people talking to each other, and at some point I would just stop listening. I would just go outside or in the corner and relax a bit because there were too many. But no, language no. It's more like - I'm a city boy, I grew up in the city. So for me like living in London is the best. But she, like... yeah, that's our main difference.

J: Main topic of our fights. 

A: Oh yeah. She wants to live outside of London, I want to live in London. So that's gonna be like... not one of us is going to back up on this. We may have to find something like zone 5 or 6... but still call it London just because there is a tube but basically it's not London. So that's one of the main things...But also my family is different. 

J: My mum like, 16 or 18, she was like "Go on! Get out of the house," and that's what we do in America usually. 

A: My dad still calls me and makes sure if I'm okay. If I want to go back home, I could just go now.

J: They'd welcome him, and me too.

A: And sometimes I just don't understand the way it works there. For me it feels like they don't really care about it, but in reality they do, but in their own way. Like your brother. My sisters - I hear from them at least once a week. She doesn't hear from her brother for months.

J: Years. 

A: For me that's strange because... I don't know, like something is wrong. But it's just his way.

J: I think we're a bit different, like, that's not like normal. Me and my brother.

A: I get there [Italy] and the first two days everyone wants to see me, and it's like rushing here and there. And instead of being like a vacation, it's like... duties.

J: Pass Andrea around. 

A: Yeah! And after two days I want to leave right away. But then if you stay longer, like 2 or 3 days when everyone has seen me, then everything is fine. After 2 or 3 months I miss the food, because you cannot find some things here even if you try to buy the same ingredients and make the same things. It's not going to come out the same way. She [Jessie] didn't even know how to cook pasta before we met. She still doesn't do it the right way...

J: Babe I do! 

A: Do you wait for the water to boil before you put the pasta in?

J: Does it taste the way it's supposed to? This is the question.

A: Do you wait for the water to boil? She would overcook the pasta, like frothy - you would eat it and it would just melt. It would be like a soup. Like overcooked for hours.

J: [laughs] 

A: With kids we're going to have some cultural differences as well. 'cause I'm really protective, like if something is dangerous and I don't want them to do it. They are like - if they get hurt, next time they're not going to do it.

J: Builds up your immune system! Like - go climb the tree! You've never climbed a tree in your life, that's the problem. 

A: I did! 

J: That wasn't climbing a tree! That was to take pictures! Obviously I grew up with my family being like do whatever you want, take care of yourself. I don't think I'm going to be like that, I think I'm going to be more protective, for sure. Yeah Andrea like, especially if we have a girl he's going to be like "Who's that guy?"

A: No dating until you're 18! 

J: So the daughter is going to love me! 

A: I'm not going to be like that, but close to that. If she [Jessie] doesn't learn properly [Italian], then I'm going to have secrets with my kids.

J: He also has Sicilian, and Sicilian is completely different from Italian. Not completely but...it's much different. 

A: Imagine if you have your kids and you don't know what you're explaining with your dad! Even if we're planning a surprise party for you we could just plan it in front of you! 

J: Even if he talks to his dad in Sicilian - his wife is Romanian. She speaks Italian perfectly, but she doesn't understand Sicilian. So I'm screwed either way! 

A: Eventually she'll learn as well.

Xuefei and Daniel
Xuefei and Daniel

Xuefei is from Shenyang in north-eastern China, and Daniel is from Munich in Germany. They have recently welcomed their first child into their family, their son Lukas. 

 

X: We met in London when I was an exchange student. I did most of my undergrad education in the US but did a one-year exchange program at the LSE. When my friends found out that I was going to London they told me I should go to a May Ball in Cambridge. It would be the highlight of the exchange. The tricky part was that somebody from Cambridge has to invite you so meeting Dan seemed like a great way to get tickets. 

D: Apparently she only dated me because she thought I was going to get her May Ball tickets. 

X: [laughs] But he failed that task! 

D: I'd like to think that the baby made up for not getting you May Ball tickets! You now get to stay up all night and party with the baby.

X: After the exchange program I had to go back to the US. Dan followed me to the US. And then he followed me back to London.

D: It's a question of testing my determination! I used to work in consulting so luckily it was relatively easy to transfer internationally. We overlapped in America for about a year. Then she went back to the UK to work here, and I stayed another year in the US before transferring back myself. She was looking for jobs in the US but it was at the time of the economic crisis so a lot of companies stopped sponsoring visas. 

X: And I already had my job offer in London at that time.

D: She would have been able to find jobs outside of Boston, for example in New York or on the West Coast, but then we would be apart and we wouldn't know how soon we would actually be in the same location. With London we knew that a year later I could transfer back.

X: So we made it work basically. He did make a good effort the year we were apart. He came to visit almost every month. 

D: When I decided to propose it just felt right. I realize this is not a helpful statement but “when you know you know”. It felt very comfortable to be with her and I realized she is the person I wanted to be with for the rest of my life. I proposed on our 1 year anniversary. 

X: Actually I think the reason he proposed this early is because I went to a women's college - he wanted to lock me down before I get to see the world! 

D: True. In her school in China, girls had to dress like boys, have short hair, and weren’t allowed to flirt. Then she went to a women's college where there are no men. We met in her first week in London and started dating right away - I like to think she dated me because she didn't know any better. 

X: [laughs] Pretty much, yeah. 

 

D: [joking] I'm the first man she's actually met. 

 

X: My parents were in China at that time but wanted to come visit as soon as they found out that I had a Germany boyfriend so they can check him out. My grandma told me I should break up with him or she would not come to my graduation. She just felt like I need to marry somebody Chinese. She felt Westerners are not very trustworthy, that they don't take marriage very seriously, and it's better to stick with Chinese guys. But we didn’t break up, and she still came to my graduation. 

My parents sent me abroad for an international experience and to be educated, so I think they are quite open-minded. Me marrying a foreigner is probably not something they had in mind, but it's not totally surprising either. For my grandparents' generation it's definitely a big shock though.

D: For my family it was much easier. My mother is Polish and my dad is German so we had a precedent for an international relationship. When my parents first met Xuefei’s parents they were very conscious of cultural differences though and often asked what is culturally acceptable and not acceptable. They really wanted to make sure that they make a good impression. 

Daniel and Xuefei
Daniel and Xuefei

X: When we got married, we actually eloped...

D: It sounds more crazy than it actually was. We got engaged on our 1 year anniversary, then we eloped to Las Vegas and got married without telling anyone about 8 months later. So it wasn't completely spontaneous.

X: So our parents knew we were engaged for sure but we didn't tell them we just eloped to Las Vegas to register.

D: Part of why we married in Vegas was for simplicity. Xuefei doesn't have a birth certificate. It just wasn't issued at the time of birth so we knew that could cause problems with registering. When we heard stories from friends with similar issues, I eventually turned to Xuefei and asked "Shall we just go and get married in Vegas?". Her response was: "That's exactly what I was just thinking!" 

X: To me it was just a fun idea!

D: Great minds think alike. 

X: We dressed up as Cleopatra and Pharaoh to get married. We went to a tiny chapel in Vegas and got married for about $50. 

D: When the priest said "You can now exchange rings!" we had to tell him we didn’t actually have them yet. He told us to just kiss the ring finger instead. 

X: To be fair though, we did have a proper wedding in white afterwards in Cambridge for family and friends. 

We told my parents about the wedding in Las Vegas on Skype. They congratulated us and stayed calm because he [Daniel] was there too and said, “Okay…okay…” but I could tell that they want to basically say “Oh my God this is crazy!”. They were definitely shocked. For Dan’s parents it was a bit more fun...

D: The plan was to tell my family in person on a trip to Germany about 1 month after the wedding. When we arrived in Germany, my mum picks us up from the airport, we sit in the car on the way home, and she says "Do you have anything to tell me?" "Why?" "You know I was almost thinking that you'd arrive and you'd tell me you got married in Vegas." She [Xuefei] was REALLY REALLY struggling to contain her laughter. And I was struggling to keep a straight face. "Of course I... why would we do that."

We eventually did tell my family over dinner the same day. Halfway through dinner Xuefei and I got up to “look for something in the suitcase”. We put on 'Married in Las Vegas' shirts and came back to the table pretending nothing unusual was up. My sister noticed right away and started asking "Really? Are those shirts real?" 

Everyone was extremely happy. My dad was absolutely over the moon. He keeps telling me to this day how lucky I am. 

Lucas, Xuefei, and Daniel
Lucas, Xuefei, and Daniel

X: At some point we’re probably going to move internationally. It's strange: even though both of us are actually foreigners here, we have been here so long that it doesn’t feel like an international experience anymore. That’s why we are thinking about some more international experience outside of the UK. Luckily we're both open-minded where we could move.

D: As long as I move where she wants to! [laughs] We're equal partners as long as I want what she wants. 

X: You know in China women are normally the boss so... [laughs]

D: [Laughs] Yeah, right….

X: It's actually quite interesting because a lot of my friends ask if it's true that women in Asia are very submissive. Actually that's not true for China at all! 

D: If only I would have known... mistakes were made. 

X: [laughs]

D: I think we are a team. We definitely have complementary strengths.

X: Yeah. He's really good at execution, and I'm very good at organising and planning things. So I just need to tell him the to-do list. 

D: [laughs] That makes me sound like her servant… It works out quite well though. For example, Xuefei tends to plan our vacations as she really enjoys comparing 5 different hotels and finding the best deal. She also wants to be that thorough when deciding what to cook though which can be agonising for her. On the other hand I just pick something tasty and start cooking. 

X: I find it very interesting to talk about different eating habits. Dan sometimes says "Oh I definitely can't do those Chinese breakfasts, how can you eat meat for breakfast? It's crazy!" And I'm like "But you're happy to have sausages for breakfast. Or English breakfast." It's just - he considers that to be very strange, but really it's just what we've grown up with, I think.

D: The most obvious example where this difference in habits is visible is dumplings vs. filled pasta like tortellini. Xuefei can enjoy a plate of dumplings for dinner which I think is really boring. But I enjoy a plate of tortellini for dinner…

X: And I find it really boring!

D: And it's actually conceptually the same food - both are filled dough - but we perceive it very differently due to our backgrounds. It's a very subtle difference in food but apparently it makes a huge difference to us.

X: We want to raise our son trilingual. German, Mandarin, and English. So we're going to be quite strict: I only speak Mandarin, Dan only speaks German, and then the child picks up English just because he lives here. We both agree on the language piece but we still need to think about education. I'm a little bit more pro elite-education whereas Dan is a little bit more chilled. 

D: Which comes back to our background:  in China you have these big entrance exams to go to the best schools and universities. Xuefei went to the best school in her province so her mindest is about …

X: …always the best best best. 

D: In Germany, you don't move to a different area because of a better school, or at least it's not something I've heard of. You just go to your local school. Then you move to another local school. Then you go to whichever university. That strong focus on the best school is not something that I'm used to from Germany. 

Our difference in opinion is not a bad thing though. Basically I think “Our son is smart, he will be successful whichever school he goes to” whereas Xuefei says “that might be true, but if he goes to a better school we can ensure his success” She is not wrong. 

Rongrong and Gareth
Rongrong and Gareth

Rongrong and Gareth met while working for the same company - Rongrong worked in the Beijing office, and Gareth worked in London. They got married in 2013. Rongrong is from China, and Gareth is from the UK.

 

G: I remember the first time we went for dinner - it was with your manager at the time [in China.] It was in a courtyard and it flooded, and there was a power-cut so they had to come round with candles.

R: In the Beijing office it's forbidden to have an office romance. You're not supposed to have a relationship with anyone in the company. A lot of Chinese companies do that. Also he's English and white and I didn't want people to feel that I'm going out with him with some… purpose. Some people in Beijing would judge you…

G: It's the preconceptions of wealth and different kinds of opportunities.

R: Like taking advantage of dating someone from America or UK. 'Better' countries.

{They had their first 'date' alone about half a year later and then in 2011, they went to Hong Kong on a 'secret' holiday. Rongrong could only be in Hong Kong for 7 days - Chinese mainlanders have to apply for a HongKong-Macaulaissez-passer, and that allows them to go to Hong Kong for up to 7 days as a general tourist. Gareth could enter freely on his British passport.}

G: There was no plan. It was just about spending time with each other away from prying eyes, somewhere where we'd both never been.

R: Hong Kong is a good place for people like us - combined culture for English and Chinese. After we went to Hong Kong, I decided I needed to leave the company. My manager in the company was very unhappy with it and because I was going to a competitor and because he [Gareth] was still working in the company, it was even more complicated so we had to keep it secret. We didn't talk about work at all, but if people knew about the relationship, they would think we did. Although people sort of sensed it. My new boss was asking me, "Your English is...quite good. And quite native. That's really strange because you've never studied overseas..."

{Until they got engaged, only their family knew about their relationship.}

G: I think there was less risk then... it's serious, and that's more important than work. So if people have got a problem at work, then just leave work. We'd done about two years of just seeing each other for a couple of weeks at a time. Most of the time it was 4 month gaps between time together and that was okay for a while. There was one time when we didn't see each for about 7 months. We got to 4 months, and there were another 3 months to go... I think at that point we realised we had to be quite decisive.

R: Every time I got back to China from the UK, or he got back to the UK from China, it was awful - just a really bad time. We thought we can't stand this kind of life anymore.

Gareth and Rongrong
Gareth and Rongrong

G: We didn't talk about it [getting married] explicitly, but when I went to Beijing, you sort of knew it was coming.

R: It was a really rainy evening. I went to Gareth's hotel to meet him. We went out for dinner. We got to the lift and he suddenly said, "Oh I forgot something." So he went back to the hotel room, and I thought that's suspicious... I was in his room and he didn't have a chance to get the ring!

G: I did have a plan! We were going to go to this rooftop bar. It was a really lovely afternoon - really warm, we had a late lunch, early dinner, walked around a bit. And then my intention was as the sun was setting we'd be at this rooftop bar... but an hour before it pissed it down! That torrential rain that floods the pavements. It was like that.

R: We didn't have an umbrella either!

G: We were in this rooftop bar but inside, it was really loud, really dark. I was so tense I just thought I've got to do this. It doesn't matter if it doesn't quite happen as I envisaged - it has to happen now.

R: You brought the drinks back and said "Here's your drink." I said "Thank you very much - how can I return you?" He suddenly -

G: That's my moment!

R: "How about you marry me?" he said. I said "No! Not here!" Because there were so many people around us...

G: Mind you, nobody noticed.

R: I just felt so nervous, I didn't want people to watch us!

G: But the rain stopped as soon as it started.

R: We went out and walked around, that was really late.

G: Most places had shut.

R: We walked into a quiet little square, and I felt more comfortable.

G: And then it happened.

{They've now been married 3 and a half years. Gareth and Rongrong have met all of Rongrong’s family by now.}

R: Even though they're my family, I was surprised to see that there was doubt from some of them about my motivation to go out with a white guy. I think Chinese society has that feeling that if you're going out with a white guy... you basically get married to that person because you have some other purpose over love.

The media in China often reports on the negative side of the mixed relationships. People talk about the high divorce rates in the western world, and that white people are less serious about family and marriage because they can get divorced any time.

So the family read so much about it, and there are a lot of cases where people get married so that they can get Permanent Residence in America or Australia. At some point I'm sure some of my family doubted what I wanted. I was surprised and a little bit upset, but I kind of understand. I always worked and lived in Beijing which is far from them, so I think after a couple of years they probably felt they didn't know me well anymore.

It got better when they saw the photo of him. He's a nice guy of the same age as me, rather than an old man. When people imagine what we're like they imagine a very old wealthy white guy...

G: I don't think it's very common, but it doesn't need to be very common to be perceived as sticking out.

R: In China the image is: Chinese girl with a Western guy, one for money, one for - for - I don't know...

G: It sounds like a poem! 
Chinese girl with a Western guy, 
One for money, one for what? For what? How's it finish??

R: [laughs] After a few years we got married, got a house, now we're living in a serious life.

G: [laughs] My main motivation for getting the house done is just so that we can have a weekend where we don’t do anything. We haven’t had that for a while now.

IMG_7657.JPG
Untitled-1.png
Sam and Jessy (and Mochi)
Jessy and Sam
Julie and Michael
Michael and Julie
Lucy and Tea
Tea and Lucy
Jessie and Andrea
Andrea and Jessie
Xuefei and Daniel
Daniel and Xuefei
Lucas, Xuefei, and Daniel
Rongrong and Gareth
Gareth and Rongrong
Sam and Jessy (and Mochi)

Sam and Jessy got married in 2013. Sam is English, and Jessy is Chinese. 

 

How long have you been together?

S: We have been together since October 2008 so... nearly 8 years.

J: China fought Japan for 8 years and succeeded. We're almost there.

 

How did you meet?

J: Tell the truth.

S: What is the truth?

J: You went to school with my cousin, you were dating her!

S:; OK so when Jessy arrived in the UK for her A levels I was dating her cousin. I met Jessy the first week she was in Birmingham so she was still quite shy. The next time I saw her was at University.

 

How did your families react to your getting together?

J: Chuffed, over the moon, happy they will have a mixed grandchild! Also they think Sam is a lovely guy if he can put up with me.

S: My mum was just glad I had a girlfriend. I think they didn't really appreciate there's quite a difference until they went to China, for our wedding. My parents like to go to Scotland on holiday, the EU at most. China is quite different but they embraced it, I think they're quite welcoming of new things.

Jessy and Sam

Have there been any cultural challenges?

J: I think small things like life-habits you picked up or food we eat, that's the stuff you have to get used to. The things that get difficult are more cultural, maybe political things. Like you are very keen on 50:50 equality but in China the husband gives their salary to their wives...

S: Hah! Nice try. You're right, there are things I imagine any two people will be challenged by. Those strange little things you do that make up you as a person are what takes getting used to, but they're not really cultural. I don't see China as totally alien, I can relate to it, like I could relate to a different family from the UK.

Some things are different and they get negotiated. Like some things Jessy dominates culturally, like food. We mostly cook and eat Chinese 'type' food and there are a few meals that we cook that I'd call British but well, a lot of what I'd call traditional British food Jessy doesn't like. So there's a compromise there and it sides with whoever has the most to lose. I like chinese cooking so I don't have any problem with that. I suppose that's not exactly a challenge.

J: Wait what is British food?

S: Like shepherd's pie, toad in the hole, marmite.

J: But those are all awful!

S: Yeah! That's a silent negotiation to choose China over Britain, in that instance. Diplomacy.

J: I don't like lasagna either.

Julie and Michael

Julie and Michael met in their first year at LSE where Michael studied Geography, and Julie studied Economics, and they have been together just over seven and a half years. They live in London, where they both work. Julie is Chinese and Michael is English.

 

Have you had a Chinese girlfriend before?

M: I’ve only ever dated 2 women. The first one was…from secondary school. She joined in the 6th form time, and about a year after she started we dated for about 7 months. She was Chinese but she moved to the UK. I didn’t know her anywhere near as much as I know Julie. It was sort of like one of those MSN relationships. She was fairly Chinese - she had the Chinese parents that she’d sort of moan about telling her to do things…

J: I think it’s true that Chinese people tend to hide more of their actual lives from their parents. Even as you get older, you don’t become friends with your parents whereas in Western culture you eventually reach that stage where you become friend-ish with your parents. Well [looking at Michael] you guys are. 

M: I guess the thing with the whole ‘dated 2 Asian people’ - I have a bit of a chip on my shoulder because people start stereotyping me as that… The last thing I’d ever want to do is start stereotyping people I care very much about as being some sort of strange fetish on my side. I consider this relationship to be so much more than that that it would be a sort of insult to say “Oh you’re with her because she looks like this and… 

I think naturally some cultures are - at least on a surface level - more compatible. I think maybe you might make an argument that Chinese culture and British culture are compatible in that sense.

J: I think… there is a stereotype of white guys who tend to end up with Asian girls. They tend to be well-educated guys, generally introverted, tend to come from quite a stable middle class kind of - with a comfortable life… stereotype. I think Chinese culture also prioritises family, stability, education and introversion. Not on purpose, but in Asian culture, people generally don’t want to stand out. And that tends to be go with introversion. So there’s just lots of things that indirectly become very similar character traits. They may not manifest in interests or hobbies, but the core personality traits are very similar.

Michael and Julie

How would you describe your relationship?

J: I think of when we were in love after a year - it’s so different now! I cringe when I think of the relationship we used to have. To me that’s not what love is. The fluffy side. My analogy is that what we see of love is the beautiful flower that blooms above ground, but when you really love someone it’s the ugly roots you never see. But really for love to survive you need the roots. When you first fall in love it’s all oh how pretty it is, but the roots can grow in really ugly ways. 

M: It anchors you together so that even if you really don’t like each other at times [Julie laughs] - you still need each other on a certain level. 

J: It’s true. I say to Michael we’re really good as a couple when we’re facing something together. e.g. exams, housing issues, my family issues. We are really good at putting difficulties aside. When we tend to get more argumentative - or I do - is when there’s nothing happening, there’s nothing of substance and you start wondering oh why isn’t that happening, why isn’t this happening, and you start picking at issues. We’re very boring together!

M: Julie’s extremely Chinese and proud of being Chinese but in terms of culture, she’s so British that there’s no disconnect on that level. 

J: I’m culturally Chinese in that I like Chinese food and history, but I think a lot of my other values are not Chinese at all. That comes from my personal experiences. I think in a practical sense, we do the same things [me and other Chinese people], but for me a lot of that is not upbringing, it’s my experiences that have made me realise… in that sense, I don’t think my core underlying values are very Chinese at all. We’re very similar - our political values, our world values.

M: Which in part is because we got together so young that we moulded each other into that. We do a lot of talking…

J: [laughing] WE do…

Lucy and Tea

Lucy and Tea have been together for 9-10 months. Tea is from Jiangxi in China. Lucy is from Barrow in Furness, in the UK. They met when studying together at university. 

 

L: It's a special course with lots of different majors. So I studied environmental science, my background is science. Now I'm working in sustainable development.

T: Yeah my Masters is in Entrepreneurship. And I'm trying to get an entrepreneur visa to start my own business in the UK. My ultimate goal is to start up an outdoor tourism company for Chinese tourists, to introduce a new way for them to travel, to be more active, to be more outdoors. More environmentally friendly.

 

What are the main cultural differences between you?

T: The main difference is I think she's so independent. There's a lot of things that a Chinese girlfriend would expect me to do. But if I do that stuff for Lucy she will find it offensive - like carrying heavy stuff for her. She will say, "I've got girl power - I can carry my own stuff - why are you doing that for me?"

L: Thats a small example but there are many things like that. Or if we have to make decisions together as a couple, then Tea would like to act like the man and always make decisions, but I would like it to be a discussion - like we talk and make the decision together.

T: Also, another very important difference is that in Chinese relationships people can force each other to do things. They feel quite natural to be like "Do this for me, and I'll do this for you." Without asking. Like, we don't have to ask permission or give permission to do things. 

L: [laughing] Consent! Mmm yeah! We talk about this a lot. Like, giving permission, or asking for permission and having autonomy as a person is one of the core concepts of my own feeling of how to be a person... And I think in - especially now, 2016 in the UK, this thing about consent and permission is essential to absolutely everything. And it just - it just doesn't exist in China. 

T: Also you guys say thank you all the time. It's very formal in China.

L: Saying thank you or being grateful is also a big one – like if I would do something nice, a small thing, or give him something he would say that saying thank you would be impersonal making a distance between the two people. Whereas...British people are famously polite, even to their closest friends. We're like "thank you" and "sorry" - British people are constantly saying thank you and sorry...

When we first started going out, the thing about the dominance in the relationship. Like he would naturally assume that that would be the way it is and I was really pushing back, and that was causing tension. But now it's more chill. I think it has just equalised over time. And got used to it... It's not easy sometimes to be a feminist in a relationship with a Chinese man! 

Tea and Lucy

What do your [Tea's] parents think about you dating an English girl?

L: She [T's mum] wanted him to be more traditional. She said to him, you should find a girl who - can I say this? - Oh you know what would be best for you, because of his personality, you should find some girl who's very submissive and not very smart. Just agree with what you say and doesn't have a lot of her own opinions about things.

T: Yeah she thinks that - for me, I would probably like, go outside and do a lot of stuff. And start my business and I would be really tired and the girl would stay at home for a lot of time, and take care of me a little bit. But I think she, [mum] she's fine with Lucy. She asked about us, and she likes her a lot. 

L: I think she likes me a lot as a person. I don't know how she would feel if it got more serious... A lot of the Chinese couples I've met, the married ones, the woman is 100% the boss in some ways, but it’s not equal.

T: They're 100% the boss at home. But when they're outside it's a bit different.

L: Yeah that's probably true. 

 

But you [Tea] didn't have that expectation?

T: No.

L: Yes he does.

T: Or just a little, like...

L: Yeah... it's not easy to reconcile those things. That's really been the core challenge. 

 

So where will you live next? China? UK? 

L: I'm going to Beijing for probably two more years, that's my plan. But I don't know, I haven't got my visa so I don't whether it's going to be - I might come back, and if I'm miserable I'll come back. I might not be able to stay. And Tea doesn't know where he's going to be.

T: Yeah, I'm applying for the thing [entrepreneurship visa], I'm also having another project that would probably require me to stay in Shenzhen. So I haven't made up my mind.

L: There's a cool startup and there might be an opportunity - that would be in Shenzhen. The entrepreneurship visa is a big challenge and a bit risky.

T: So I don't know at this time.

L: So we have no idea where we're going to be. We don't know. 

 

What was the best time you've had together?

T: Probably Hainan. We were cycling in Hainan. She laughed at me! Constantly! I never swam in the sea before but I had swam in the river. 

L: He had swum long distances before but over a few days down the river. In fact, 'Swimming' is an interesting word - more like lying in the river and drifting down the river. But in Hainan we swam more than 2km in the open sea. 

T: Before that that trip I think it was about 100km that time in the river, so yeah 2km in the sea. I thought I could swim 100km, but once I was in the sea... 

L: Tea nearly died. We were all so tired. But Tea was really really tired. Then afterwards he still swears he can swim 100km. 

Another time we were staying in a cheap hotel. And in the morning we went for breakfast we had prepared-

T: jian bing (fried pancakes)

L:  Yes, for our breakfast, and we had put them in the bag, in the panier to eat on the road. When we woke up, we were like "Where's outr breakfast?" And it turned out there was a big hole in the panier. Rats had come in the night and stolen our breakfast away. 

T: They don't see many people so they just climbed all over us.

L: In the end we slept in a tent on the beach.

T: Yeah and my friend was sleeping on a sleeping bag, and the rat was kissing on his mouth. The rats are really curious. And his whole body was covered with the sleeping bag so his face was outside. 

L: I was scared in the cave and I was scared of the rats.

T: I was scared of the rats but I had to pretend that I was not otherwise she would have been - 

L: I would have absolutely freaked out. 

[pause]

We've had really fun times. When I first came to China I was planning to cycle back to the UK. Tea has done cycling trips before, but I've never done a cycling trip myself. But then because I broke my spine so I will do the trip in a couple of years instead.. 

T: I've done a lot of cycle trips already. I would probably ride a motorbike and carry her stuff. 

L: I would like to travel by myself more. Obviously when I first came, Tea helped me quite a lot.

T: But she doesn't want me to help her.

L: True, but you did help me a lot!

Jessie and Andrea

Jessie and Andrea got married in 2013. They've been together 5 and a half years. Jessie is from Maine, USA, and Andrea is from Sicily, Italy. 

 

J: We were both studying in Finland. We met on a boat going from Finland to Russia. 

A: We were studying in Finland but in two different cities. We happened to be in the same school trip to Russia. I was in Helsinki.

J: Oulu. 

A: 7/8 hours apart by train. So it's really far. Yeah, so we met in the boat the first night - we talked for a bit. And then we had 4 days in Russia - we were all students so... at some point we saw again and started to talk again. That's how it happened.

J: For me, I remember - when I was going on this trip I was at a point in my life that I didn't want to get with any guy - I was in the man-hating stage. I'm not going to talk to anybody, I'm not going to do anything... So as soon as I decided this, and as soon as I saw Andrea I was like: Oh my God he's so hot, oh he's SO HOT. But I'm not going to talk to him... nothing's going to happen, and... he asked me to dance. The first night. And I said no because I was a strong independent woman... and then he left, and then the next morning we were all in a line queueing up for tickets or something, and I went up to Andrea and was like "Do you remember me?"

A: She regretted the second she said no. 

J: Things moved pretty fast you know, there was a lot of drinking involved... I totally broke my... strong independent woman thing!

A: We didn't exchange phone numbers. On the way back, I told her "Oh I'm going next week to Tallinn, what are you doing?" "Oh I'm going to Tallinn too! But not next week, I'm going in 10 days."

J: In fact it was the same trip.

A: And then one week after we were on the same boat again going to Tallinn this time. And we didn't know. A friend of mine said, “Jessie's here" - I was like "What? Not possible." And she was there. So we met again. Then we got back [to Finland]… She came to visit me, then after that I went there. We started to travel back and forth for a bit. And then after a semester, we went on a Europe trip together.

J: So after studying abroad my plan was to go on a Europe trip, even by myself. And then I was like why don't you come with me? So we went to Greece, Portugal, Italy. Our last trip was London.

A: And then she went back to the states and I booked a flight after to go see her, and I spent like the whole summer there. On a tourist visa you can't do anything, just stay for three months then... following her around. She was working.

J: Nannying. 

A: Then back to Italy, two months apart, then back to states, then she came to Italy to do her internship, because I found her an internship to do in my city. So she would spend three months there doing the internship. And then after that she went back.

J: I was still studying - I had four more months? So Andrea surprised me. Like he flew from Italy to the university [in America]. He told me he was going on this camping trip so he wouldn't be able to talk to me for a couple of days. And I was like okay whatever. Then he called me at midnight. My window was open. He was like “What are you doing?” I was like, like, I could hear him outside, I was like [screams]!

A: Then after 2 years we got sick of going back and forth 2 months, 3 months. We met in March 2011 and we got married January 2013. After almost 2 years we got married because we were sick of going back and forth. Also because when I go there, I couldn't work. When she came to Italy she couldn't work because it's on a visa. So basically one of us couldn't work for half of the year. And then after 2 years we got married in Sicily. We stayed in Sicily for 9 months. Now 3 and a half years later, we're here.

J: It was after I graduated. I went to live with Andrea's family. I just moved there temporarily, but I could only stay for 3 months, so we were like at the end of like 2 months…what are we going to do? Because I'd graduated, he had a job, y'know, where's our future? So we decided we either get married and cross our fingers that everything goes well or we don't because otherwise it's just going back and forth... so we crossed our fingers and got married!

A: She was sick of being in Sicily. Sick of not understanding people speaking Sicilian. Because she was studying Italian, she was also working as an English teacher, so we both had a job but she wasn't doing what she liked. 

J: It was very hard.

A: So we tried to look for a place that was English-speaking so she could find like a...like a proper job, one that she liked. And then I think I wanted to come to England because it was closer to Italy.

J: I had been travelling a lot and kinda just wanted to be in the states.

A: I also applied for the green card at the time because we weren't sure - is it England or the states? Wherever we find a job first, and I got a job in England first, in London. So we moved here - it was also much easier because in the states I had to wait for a visa, I would have to move there and stay five months doing nothing. And in England since being European, it was much easier.

Andrea and Jessie

J: For me, living in Sicily was really really hard. Like I had this idea before like Oh yeah I'm moving to Italy it's going to be amazing, I'm going to eat lots of good food, everyone's going to be so amazing. I didn't realise that people wouldn't speak any English. None. So we lived with his father, no English. I really think the big thing is the language.

A: Language is less of an issue [in America]. In the beginning maybe. It was like when we were with your friends and there were too many people talking to each other, and at some point I would just stop listening. I would just go outside or in the corner and relax a bit because there were too many. But no, language no. It's more like - I'm a city boy, I grew up in the city. So for me like living in London is the best. But she, like... yeah, that's our main difference.

J: Main topic of our fights. 

A: Oh yeah. She wants to live outside of London, I want to live in London. So that's gonna be like... not one of us is going to back up on this. We may have to find something like zone 5 or 6... but still call it London just because there is a tube but basically it's not London. So that's one of the main things...But also my family is different. 

J: My mum like, 16 or 18, she was like "Go on! Get out of the house," and that's what we do in America usually. 

A: My dad still calls me and makes sure if I'm okay. If I want to go back home, I could just go now.

J: They'd welcome him, and me too.

A: And sometimes I just don't understand the way it works there. For me it feels like they don't really care about it, but in reality they do, but in their own way. Like your brother. My sisters - I hear from them at least once a week. She doesn't hear from her brother for months.

J: Years. 

A: For me that's strange because... I don't know, like something is wrong. But it's just his way.

J: I think we're a bit different, like, that's not like normal. Me and my brother.

A: I get there [Italy] and the first two days everyone wants to see me, and it's like rushing here and there. And instead of being like a vacation, it's like... duties.

J: Pass Andrea around. 

A: Yeah! And after two days I want to leave right away. But then if you stay longer, like 2 or 3 days when everyone has seen me, then everything is fine. After 2 or 3 months I miss the food, because you cannot find some things here even if you try to buy the same ingredients and make the same things. It's not going to come out the same way. She [Jessie] didn't even know how to cook pasta before we met. She still doesn't do it the right way...

J: Babe I do! 

A: Do you wait for the water to boil before you put the pasta in?

J: Does it taste the way it's supposed to? This is the question.

A: Do you wait for the water to boil? She would overcook the pasta, like frothy - you would eat it and it would just melt. It would be like a soup. Like overcooked for hours.

J: [laughs] 

A: With kids we're going to have some cultural differences as well. 'cause I'm really protective, like if something is dangerous and I don't want them to do it. They are like - if they get hurt, next time they're not going to do it.

J: Builds up your immune system! Like - go climb the tree! You've never climbed a tree in your life, that's the problem. 

A: I did! 

J: That wasn't climbing a tree! That was to take pictures! Obviously I grew up with my family being like do whatever you want, take care of yourself. I don't think I'm going to be like that, I think I'm going to be more protective, for sure. Yeah Andrea like, especially if we have a girl he's going to be like "Who's that guy?"

A: No dating until you're 18! 

J: So the daughter is going to love me! 

A: I'm not going to be like that, but close to that. If she [Jessie] doesn't learn properly [Italian], then I'm going to have secrets with my kids.

J: He also has Sicilian, and Sicilian is completely different from Italian. Not completely but...it's much different. 

A: Imagine if you have your kids and you don't know what you're explaining with your dad! Even if we're planning a surprise party for you we could just plan it in front of you! 

J: Even if he talks to his dad in Sicilian - his wife is Romanian. She speaks Italian perfectly, but she doesn't understand Sicilian. So I'm screwed either way! 

A: Eventually she'll learn as well.

Xuefei and Daniel

Xuefei is from Shenyang in north-eastern China, and Daniel is from Munich in Germany. They have recently welcomed their first child into their family, their son Lukas. 

 

X: We met in London when I was an exchange student. I did most of my undergrad education in the US but did a one-year exchange program at the LSE. When my friends found out that I was going to London they told me I should go to a May Ball in Cambridge. It would be the highlight of the exchange. The tricky part was that somebody from Cambridge has to invite you so meeting Dan seemed like a great way to get tickets. 

D: Apparently she only dated me because she thought I was going to get her May Ball tickets. 

X: [laughs] But he failed that task! 

D: I'd like to think that the baby made up for not getting you May Ball tickets! You now get to stay up all night and party with the baby.

X: After the exchange program I had to go back to the US. Dan followed me to the US. And then he followed me back to London.

D: It's a question of testing my determination! I used to work in consulting so luckily it was relatively easy to transfer internationally. We overlapped in America for about a year. Then she went back to the UK to work here, and I stayed another year in the US before transferring back myself. She was looking for jobs in the US but it was at the time of the economic crisis so a lot of companies stopped sponsoring visas. 

X: And I already had my job offer in London at that time.

D: She would have been able to find jobs outside of Boston, for example in New York or on the West Coast, but then we would be apart and we wouldn't know how soon we would actually be in the same location. With London we knew that a year later I could transfer back.

X: So we made it work basically. He did make a good effort the year we were apart. He came to visit almost every month. 

D: When I decided to propose it just felt right. I realize this is not a helpful statement but “when you know you know”. It felt very comfortable to be with her and I realized she is the person I wanted to be with for the rest of my life. I proposed on our 1 year anniversary. 

X: Actually I think the reason he proposed this early is because I went to a women's college - he wanted to lock me down before I get to see the world! 

D: True. In her school in China, girls had to dress like boys, have short hair, and weren’t allowed to flirt. Then she went to a women's college where there are no men. We met in her first week in London and started dating right away - I like to think she dated me because she didn't know any better. 

X: [laughs] Pretty much, yeah. 

 

D: [joking] I'm the first man she's actually met. 

 

X: My parents were in China at that time but wanted to come visit as soon as they found out that I had a Germany boyfriend so they can check him out. My grandma told me I should break up with him or she would not come to my graduation. She just felt like I need to marry somebody Chinese. She felt Westerners are not very trustworthy, that they don't take marriage very seriously, and it's better to stick with Chinese guys. But we didn’t break up, and she still came to my graduation. 

My parents sent me abroad for an international experience and to be educated, so I think they are quite open-minded. Me marrying a foreigner is probably not something they had in mind, but it's not totally surprising either. For my grandparents' generation it's definitely a big shock though.

D: For my family it was much easier. My mother is Polish and my dad is German so we had a precedent for an international relationship. When my parents first met Xuefei’s parents they were very conscious of cultural differences though and often asked what is culturally acceptable and not acceptable. They really wanted to make sure that they make a good impression. 

Daniel and Xuefei

X: When we got married, we actually eloped...

D: It sounds more crazy than it actually was. We got engaged on our 1 year anniversary, then we eloped to Las Vegas and got married without telling anyone about 8 months later. So it wasn't completely spontaneous.

X: So our parents knew we were engaged for sure but we didn't tell them we just eloped to Las Vegas to register.

D: Part of why we married in Vegas was for simplicity. Xuefei doesn't have a birth certificate. It just wasn't issued at the time of birth so we knew that could cause problems with registering. When we heard stories from friends with similar issues, I eventually turned to Xuefei and asked "Shall we just go and get married in Vegas?". Her response was: "That's exactly what I was just thinking!" 

X: To me it was just a fun idea!

D: Great minds think alike. 

X: We dressed up as Cleopatra and Pharaoh to get married. We went to a tiny chapel in Vegas and got married for about $50. 

D: When the priest said "You can now exchange rings!" we had to tell him we didn’t actually have them yet. He told us to just kiss the ring finger instead. 

X: To be fair though, we did have a proper wedding in white afterwards in Cambridge for family and friends. 

We told my parents about the wedding in Las Vegas on Skype. They congratulated us and stayed calm because he [Daniel] was there too and said, “Okay…okay…” but I could tell that they want to basically say “Oh my God this is crazy!”. They were definitely shocked. For Dan’s parents it was a bit more fun...

D: The plan was to tell my family in person on a trip to Germany about 1 month after the wedding. When we arrived in Germany, my mum picks us up from the airport, we sit in the car on the way home, and she says "Do you have anything to tell me?" "Why?" "You know I was almost thinking that you'd arrive and you'd tell me you got married in Vegas." She [Xuefei] was REALLY REALLY struggling to contain her laughter. And I was struggling to keep a straight face. "Of course I... why would we do that."

We eventually did tell my family over dinner the same day. Halfway through dinner Xuefei and I got up to “look for something in the suitcase”. We put on 'Married in Las Vegas' shirts and came back to the table pretending nothing unusual was up. My sister noticed right away and started asking "Really? Are those shirts real?" 

Everyone was extremely happy. My dad was absolutely over the moon. He keeps telling me to this day how lucky I am. 

Lucas, Xuefei, and Daniel

X: At some point we’re probably going to move internationally. It's strange: even though both of us are actually foreigners here, we have been here so long that it doesn’t feel like an international experience anymore. That’s why we are thinking about some more international experience outside of the UK. Luckily we're both open-minded where we could move.

D: As long as I move where she wants to! [laughs] We're equal partners as long as I want what she wants. 

X: You know in China women are normally the boss so... [laughs]

D: [Laughs] Yeah, right….

X: It's actually quite interesting because a lot of my friends ask if it's true that women in Asia are very submissive. Actually that's not true for China at all! 

D: If only I would have known... mistakes were made. 

X: [laughs]

D: I think we are a team. We definitely have complementary strengths.

X: Yeah. He's really good at execution, and I'm very good at organising and planning things. So I just need to tell him the to-do list. 

D: [laughs] That makes me sound like her servant… It works out quite well though. For example, Xuefei tends to plan our vacations as she really enjoys comparing 5 different hotels and finding the best deal. She also wants to be that thorough when deciding what to cook though which can be agonising for her. On the other hand I just pick something tasty and start cooking. 

X: I find it very interesting to talk about different eating habits. Dan sometimes says "Oh I definitely can't do those Chinese breakfasts, how can you eat meat for breakfast? It's crazy!" And I'm like "But you're happy to have sausages for breakfast. Or English breakfast." It's just - he considers that to be very strange, but really it's just what we've grown up with, I think.

D: The most obvious example where this difference in habits is visible is dumplings vs. filled pasta like tortellini. Xuefei can enjoy a plate of dumplings for dinner which I think is really boring. But I enjoy a plate of tortellini for dinner…

X: And I find it really boring!

D: And it's actually conceptually the same food - both are filled dough - but we perceive it very differently due to our backgrounds. It's a very subtle difference in food but apparently it makes a huge difference to us.

X: We want to raise our son trilingual. German, Mandarin, and English. So we're going to be quite strict: I only speak Mandarin, Dan only speaks German, and then the child picks up English just because he lives here. We both agree on the language piece but we still need to think about education. I'm a little bit more pro elite-education whereas Dan is a little bit more chilled. 

D: Which comes back to our background:  in China you have these big entrance exams to go to the best schools and universities. Xuefei went to the best school in her province so her mindest is about …

X: …always the best best best. 

D: In Germany, you don't move to a different area because of a better school, or at least it's not something I've heard of. You just go to your local school. Then you move to another local school. Then you go to whichever university. That strong focus on the best school is not something that I'm used to from Germany. 

Our difference in opinion is not a bad thing though. Basically I think “Our son is smart, he will be successful whichever school he goes to” whereas Xuefei says “that might be true, but if he goes to a better school we can ensure his success” She is not wrong. 

Rongrong and Gareth

Rongrong and Gareth met while working for the same company - Rongrong worked in the Beijing office, and Gareth worked in London. They got married in 2013. Rongrong is from China, and Gareth is from the UK.

 

G: I remember the first time we went for dinner - it was with your manager at the time [in China.] It was in a courtyard and it flooded, and there was a power-cut so they had to come round with candles.

R: In the Beijing office it's forbidden to have an office romance. You're not supposed to have a relationship with anyone in the company. A lot of Chinese companies do that. Also he's English and white and I didn't want people to feel that I'm going out with him with some… purpose. Some people in Beijing would judge you…

G: It's the preconceptions of wealth and different kinds of opportunities.

R: Like taking advantage of dating someone from America or UK. 'Better' countries.

{They had their first 'date' alone about half a year later and then in 2011, they went to Hong Kong on a 'secret' holiday. Rongrong could only be in Hong Kong for 7 days - Chinese mainlanders have to apply for a HongKong-Macaulaissez-passer, and that allows them to go to Hong Kong for up to 7 days as a general tourist. Gareth could enter freely on his British passport.}

G: There was no plan. It was just about spending time with each other away from prying eyes, somewhere where we'd both never been.

R: Hong Kong is a good place for people like us - combined culture for English and Chinese. After we went to Hong Kong, I decided I needed to leave the company. My manager in the company was very unhappy with it and because I was going to a competitor and because he [Gareth] was still working in the company, it was even more complicated so we had to keep it secret. We didn't talk about work at all, but if people knew about the relationship, they would think we did. Although people sort of sensed it. My new boss was asking me, "Your English is...quite good. And quite native. That's really strange because you've never studied overseas..."

{Until they got engaged, only their family knew about their relationship.}

G: I think there was less risk then... it's serious, and that's more important than work. So if people have got a problem at work, then just leave work. We'd done about two years of just seeing each other for a couple of weeks at a time. Most of the time it was 4 month gaps between time together and that was okay for a while. There was one time when we didn't see each for about 7 months. We got to 4 months, and there were another 3 months to go... I think at that point we realised we had to be quite decisive.

R: Every time I got back to China from the UK, or he got back to the UK from China, it was awful - just a really bad time. We thought we can't stand this kind of life anymore.

Gareth and Rongrong

G: We didn't talk about it [getting married] explicitly, but when I went to Beijing, you sort of knew it was coming.

R: It was a really rainy evening. I went to Gareth's hotel to meet him. We went out for dinner. We got to the lift and he suddenly said, "Oh I forgot something." So he went back to the hotel room, and I thought that's suspicious... I was in his room and he didn't have a chance to get the ring!

G: I did have a plan! We were going to go to this rooftop bar. It was a really lovely afternoon - really warm, we had a late lunch, early dinner, walked around a bit. And then my intention was as the sun was setting we'd be at this rooftop bar... but an hour before it pissed it down! That torrential rain that floods the pavements. It was like that.

R: We didn't have an umbrella either!

G: We were in this rooftop bar but inside, it was really loud, really dark. I was so tense I just thought I've got to do this. It doesn't matter if it doesn't quite happen as I envisaged - it has to happen now.

R: You brought the drinks back and said "Here's your drink." I said "Thank you very much - how can I return you?" He suddenly -

G: That's my moment!

R: "How about you marry me?" he said. I said "No! Not here!" Because there were so many people around us...

G: Mind you, nobody noticed.

R: I just felt so nervous, I didn't want people to watch us!

G: But the rain stopped as soon as it started.

R: We went out and walked around, that was really late.

G: Most places had shut.

R: We walked into a quiet little square, and I felt more comfortable.

G: And then it happened.

{They've now been married 3 and a half years. Gareth and Rongrong have met all of Rongrong’s family by now.}

R: Even though they're my family, I was surprised to see that there was doubt from some of them about my motivation to go out with a white guy. I think Chinese society has that feeling that if you're going out with a white guy... you basically get married to that person because you have some other purpose over love.

The media in China often reports on the negative side of the mixed relationships. People talk about the high divorce rates in the western world, and that white people are less serious about family and marriage because they can get divorced any time.

So the family read so much about it, and there are a lot of cases where people get married so that they can get Permanent Residence in America or Australia. At some point I'm sure some of my family doubted what I wanted. I was surprised and a little bit upset, but I kind of understand. I always worked and lived in Beijing which is far from them, so I think after a couple of years they probably felt they didn't know me well anymore.

It got better when they saw the photo of him. He's a nice guy of the same age as me, rather than an old man. When people imagine what we're like they imagine a very old wealthy white guy...

G: I don't think it's very common, but it doesn't need to be very common to be perceived as sticking out.

R: In China the image is: Chinese girl with a Western guy, one for money, one for - for - I don't know...

G: It sounds like a poem! 
Chinese girl with a Western guy, 
One for money, one for what? For what? How's it finish??

R: [laughs] After a few years we got married, got a house, now we're living in a serious life.

G: [laughs] My main motivation for getting the house done is just so that we can have a weekend where we don’t do anything. We haven’t had that for a while now.

show thumbnails