I have been known to speak in tongues on occasion. At least, that’s what it sounds like to friends and coworkers when I am on the phone with Corina. The two of us speak exclusively in her native tongue, Romanian.
Over the years, we’ve been asked questions about living in an intercultural, international marriage. I thought it would be fun to answer some of the most frequent questions we get asked.
1. What language do you speak at home?
Corina and I speak Romanian at home, unless we have English-speakers visiting. Then, we speak English to each other (so our guests won’t think we’re talking about them!). Corina is as fluent in English as I am in Romanian, so shifting back and forth between languages is not a problem.
At times in our marriage, we’ve tried to speak in English when it’s just the two of us, but we find it to be cumbersome and unnatural. Take note: the language you date and marry in is the language you’ll likely stick with!
2. Where did you get married?
Corina and I were married at Emanuel Baptist Church in Oradea, Romania in December 2002. The ceremony began, in traditional Romanian fashion, with me and my family leaving my apartment to go to meet Corina and her family at hers. After taking pictures, we started the ceremony at 4:00 in the afternoon, finished around 6:00, and then had a four-course meal that lasted well into the night. Our wedding ended around 12:30 a.m. (Here’s the whole 8 hour event squeezed into an 8 minute video.)
3. Did Corina immediately become a U. S. citizen when you were married?
No. We had to apply for permanent resident status and prove our relationship was genuine. We lived in Romania for the first three years of our marriage, so we were not in a hurry. Corina’s “green card” was granted in 2003 and was set to expire in 2015, so earlier this year, Corina applied for citizenship. She became a U. S. citizen in April. We recently applied for her passport.
4. Are your kids bilingual?
Yes, but because they speak English among themselves and learn English in school, their English is much better than their Romanian. They understand 70-80% of whatever is said in Romanian, but their default is English. When we ask them a question in Romanian, they answer in English. When Corina’s mother is visiting, the kids talk to her in Romanian because they know she doesn’t speak English. They can translate back and forth when necessary.
A similar question is: What name do you call your kids at home, their Romanian or English names? For Timothy, we go by the Romanian – Timotei – and the nickname, Timo. For Julia, we go by the English, not the Romanian Iulia. David’s name is spelled the same, but the pronunciation is different. I think the English pronunciation is winning for him right now!
5. What language is Romanian similar to?
Romanian is the closest language to Latin still spoken today, which means it is similar to Italian, Spanish, and other Romance languages. Because of its location and history, there is also a Slavic element to Romanian. For this reason, there are often both Slavic and Latin versions of different words, with different connotations for each.
An example: “salvation” can be translated into Romanian via the Latin (“salvare”) or via the Slavic (“mântuire”). The Slavic version is used primarily for “saved” in the spiritual sense, while the Latin version is closer to “rescue” in connotation, and can be used in either spiritual or non-spiritual terms.
6. What cultural difficulties do you encounter in an intercultural marriage?
Every marriage is intercultural. The process of leaving and cleaving is the creation of a new family unit from two extended families, a union that brings different cultural expectations to the relationship. The normal tensions may be heightened in an international marriage, but we face many of the same issues any other couple faces. I think it helps that both of us have firsthand experience of each other’s culture and customs.
Sometimes, it’s about getting accustomed to little differences, like writing checks or using credit cards here in the States vs. using cash in Romania. Making friends is harder. Some people are excited to befriend an internationally married couple; others are less so.
The greatest challenge is the geographical distance from family members. The first three years of our marriage were spent in Romania, where we (and our son) were on the other side of the world from my family. Now, the situation is reversed, with Corina and I on the other side of the world from her family. Corina’s parents have received visas to visit the States, but the U.S. embassy has not allowed her brothers to visit us.
8. How often do you visit Romania?
Not often. As our family expands, it gets more difficult and costly to make the trek to Romania. Corina’s parents visited the States for extended periods before her father grew ill. Our last trip to Romania as a family was in 2009. Since then, Corina and our daughter have visited, and both Corina and I were there in 2013 to be with her father in his last days. Corina’s mother spent several months with us last year, as we welcomed our youngest son into the world.
9. Are you ever homesick for Romania?
When we were first married, we always felt a sense of separation, either because we were in Romania (and far from my home) or in the United States (and far from hers). Since we’ve had children, however, that homesickness has become less pronounced. It’s a continual ache for family and relationships, but we feel “at home” wherever we are with our family.
Getting updates and seeing pictures and videos on Facebook is excellent when it comes to staying in touch with overseas extended family and friends. We are thankful for Skype.
10. Does your family eat Romanian or American food?
Romanian food is not that different from American food, but like every country, there are some staples of the Romanian diet. We eat the best menus from both countries.
Because I spent so much time in Romania, I developed a taste for Romanian dishes, and Corina continues to cook them for our family. Her schnitzel and mashed potatoes are out of this world, as are her cabbage rolls (sarmale). She also makes a number of soups: one of our favorites is broth-based, and her ciorba de perișoare is to die for. Corina has found some stores that stock bread similar to what we find in Romania, and jarred zacuscă. We also love American food, of course; so we’ll try anything.
11. Are there any Romanian traditions you keep as a family?
At Easter, Corina and the kids will paint and decorate boiled eggs. Then, we do the traditional egg crunching with “Cristos a înviat!” (Christ has risen!) and Adevărat a înviat (He has risen indeed!). We also observe the “Easter season” much like our Romanian brothers and sisters who continue to celebrate in the weeks between Easter and Pentecost.
Speaking of Pentecost, we miss the celebration of this holiday more than any other. I didn’t know what we were missing until we enjoyed Pentecost traditions in Romania. Since we’ve been back in the States, the absence of this holiday in evangelical circles is felt.
12. Are there any books you recommend on international marriage?
Yes. Your Intercultural Marriage:A Guide to a Healthy, Happy Relationship by Marla Alupoaicei is worth reading. See my review here.