Multicultural couples ‘bring best of both worlds’

Canadian Wendy Williams is the author of a book called The Globalisation of Love. She spoke to The Local about life in Vienna and why 'expat' is a misleading term for multicultural couples.

Multicultural couples 'bring best of both worlds'
Photo: Wendy Williams

You've been married to an Austrian for 16 years. How did you meet, and was it an easy decision to settle in Vienna?

We met at Schloss Plankenstein, an 800-year-old castle, in the middle of a snow covered forest in Niederösterreich on New Year’s Eve. It was like in a fairytale – fireworks and the Danube Waltz, and my husband is extremely charming. So yes, it was an easy decision to move here. Settling in took some time however. The beginning of an international move is often challenging. I did not speak German well and it took a couple of years to find friends and to find my place in Vienna.

How's your German? What language do you speak at home?

Well, I do dream in German sometimes, however I still count in English. At home, we speak both languages as we have a young daughter. She is currently in the first grade. I learn a lot when I help her with homework!

Do you feel more like an immigrant or an expat, or neither? Does Vienna now feel like home, or is Canada still 'home' for you?

I don’t know if ‘immigrant' or ‘expat' is really the right word. We describe ourselves as an ‘international family’ because it’s not just about me. Having an ‘immigrant’ or ‘expat’ wife or mother also has consequences for my husband and daughter. In my book, I call families like ours ‘GloLo’, which is short for The Globalisation of Love.

I love living in Vienna and it does feel like home, however I probably have a flexible definition of 'home'. I also feel at home in Canada. When I am here, I miss things from there, and when I am there for a couple of weeks, I start missing 'home' here. That’s why ‘international’ or ‘GloLo’ might be a better term. We are at home in different places in the world, which is rather nice.  

What are your favourite things about Austria, and what do you miss about Canada?

There are many things I love and appreciate about Austria of course, however as a passionate skiier, I have to say that I really love the skiing here. I grew up watching the sports programme on the weekend and now I ski at the places that I used to see on TV and dream about as a kid. I still get that childlike thrill on the slopes – I love skiing!

What I miss about Canada is the openness and friendliness of the people. Canadians are well known for their easy-going nature and extreme politeness. When two shopping carts crash together at the grocery store, everyone apologises profusely. And then they start talking about the weather. It makes daily interactions in society less stressful.

What do you think is the most difficult issue that multicultural couples commonly experience?

The most difficult issue is that there is not only one most difficult issue. Every couple is different and will have their own collection of difficult issues, and the issues will change over time. That is the difficult part. Multicultural couples are in a fairly constant state of negotiation and compromise, starting with where they live and which language they speak at home, and which religion the children will follow and how they celebrate Christmas/Hannukah/Ramadan. The ‘cultural balance’ in the relationship that works right now will likely change over time and it is very important for couples to recognise and accept the shifting balance.   

Are multicultural relationships more likely to fail than mono ones? Can it be more difficult raising children together?

Studies have shown that multicultural relationships fail more often … and less often, depending on how you define ‘multicultural’. Is it just about nationality and language, or does it include religion and ethnicity? I observe that if multicultural couples fail, they tend to fail early. If they get past those first three or five years, and they find a way to balance their cultures and create their own ‘GloLo’ culture, then the bond is very strong and resilient.

Successful multicultural couples bring the best from both worlds and create a rich and wonderful environment for their families and friends. It is both a challenge and an opportunity for children. Children who grow up in multicultural families understand that there is not just one way to do things in life, but that there are many ways. They are extremely good at compromise and tolerance. They are mini-ambassadors for global peace.

You can read more on 'GloLo' relationships on Wendy's website

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