REAL LIFE: My Multicultural Marriage

14 Dec 2011

Three couples from different parts of the world tell Ahlan! Live how they met, married and now manage their multi-cultural marriages

With so many people from all over the world meeting each other in the UAE, it’s not surprising that multi-cultural marriages are on the increase here. Most marriages will have some things in common; getting used to the term ‘husband’ or ‘wife’, learning how to live together and deciding on which bank accounts to share are just a few of the things that happen once the wedding celebrations are over. But the multi-cultural couple faces far more challenges than that. From being lost in translation to navigating the cultural sensitivities of in-laws, three UAE-based couples from different parts of the world reveal the obstacles they’ve had to overcome (plus the perks – like two weddings) and share the secrets of making multi-cultural marriages work...

Jennifer Rose Payne, 28 and Hamid Bahador, 29
Brit Jennifer and Iranian Hamid met in Dubai and have been together for over five years. They got married in 2011 and had two weddings, one in Iran and one in Dubai.

She says: “We met through a mutual friend and it was love at first sight... for Hamid! It took a little persuading but after three attempts I finally agreed to go on a date. It then took us several years to make it down the aisle, but it was worth the wait. We have been lucky enough to savour every minute of getting married, which is why we did it three times this year!

I enjoy discovering different areas of my husband’s culture, mainly through his parents and I really enjoy spending time with his family as it is completely different to the English lifestyle. Iranian culture very much centres around meal times, and my mother-in-law is by far the most amazing host and woman I have ever met. You never go hungry while in her care, and I love her food. My other favourite thing is teaching Hamid about the UK as he has never been and we have many a laugh at him trying to understand our northern sayings!

My advice to anyone marrying another nationality would be to take the time to understand and respect each other’s cultures. There may be things that you don’t want to do; you may need to wear the strangest clothing or meet hundreds of people you don’t know, but when you look back at your family and you see how happy it made them you will see that it’s all worthwhile. There is always a way to make everyone happy if you try.”

He says: “When you marry an Iranian, you marry the mother, father, aunty, uncle, cousins and even the pet hamster - when something goes wrong, everyone finds out! However, it seems when you marry a European you just marry her and sometimes her parents during Christmas!

It took me three years to prepare my parents to meet Jennifer! Up until then they had only seen pictures of her, then one day I decided to put my foot down and introduce them in Iran. I think it was the first time I ever told them something that you usually have to get permission for, even at the age of 30!

My parents came to the airport to collect us. My mum received flowers and my dad shook hands and smiled. The first thing my dad said was, “She wears the hijab better than most Iranians here”. That was when I knew my wife-to-be had their blessing. From then on, my parents’ love towards my wife has evolved tremendously.”

Jessica Dall’anese, 28, and Wesam Al Helu, 36
French national Jessica wed Jordanian Wesam in France. They have been together 18 months.

She says: “I’ve been in Dubai for three years and came for professional opportunities. I met Wesam at a friend’s gathering in September 2009 and we got married in July 2011. We did the paperwork in court in Dubai before celebrating in France and his family flew in from Jordan, Dubai and Qatar. We rented out a castle in the countryside. The format was actually more French in tradition but we had Arabic music, a belly dancer and halal food.

There are so many things I love about being married to someone from a different culture; you can learn so much from each other. From Wesam, I have learnt the importance of family values. The main challenge is the occasional misunderstanding due to different ways of thinking. From that, I have learnt to try to understand, have patience and communicate more openly. My advice to anyone in a similar situation would be to explain your point of view so things will be better understood by your partner and always remember your cultural differences. Also, learn each other’s language. Although we speak together in English, there can be a barrier, especially when it comes to our families as neither speak English, so you miss out on getting to know your new family in any great depth. I studied Arabic in college, but it’s not enough so I’m planning to learn more once I have time.”

He says: “I’m enjoying marriage – there is always something new to learn. I don’t think being in a multi-cultural marriage makes a huge difference compared to a couple who are from the same country; the world is becoming a smaller place and at the end of the day we are all human. Saying that, it’s important when you’re from different backgrounds to always try to understand each other and when disagreements arise, meet somewhere in the middle.

The food can sometimes be a challenge though, as I love spicy food and in Jordan it takes us 15 minutes to eat a meal but in France it can take two hours!”

Yenny Indrayanti, 31 and Milan Kalezic, 30
Indonesian Yenny Indrayanti met Milan Kalezic from Montenegro in May 2006; the couple married two years in later in the Seychelles.

She says: “I came to Dubai in 2004 straight from the Maldives. I had intended to leave but changed my mind after I met Milan. The day Milan proposed, he was acting very suspiciously. He told me he was going to buy groceries, which was strange! He had actually gone to buy a solitaire ring and was soon on one knee asking me to marry him. It was the most amazing moment in my entire life.

Both Milan and I appreciate the differences our cultures bring to the marriage. As English isn’t my mother tongue, I like practising every day, and I speak a little Serbian as it’s nice to be able to communicate with my mother-in-law.

I think being relaxed is the secret to a successful multi-cultural marriage. I believe you meet your partner through destiny, so if it’s meant to be, it will be! It’s important to savour the differences and take your time to get know your partner and their cultural thoroughly.”

He says: “I arrived in Dubai in 2005 and meeting Yenny changed everything. We started making plans together very quickly. If I hadn’t met her and started our relationship, I would not be in Dubai today. She was game-changer.

There are many things I would never have had the opportunity to experience – traditions, food, music, and the opportunity to visit some of most beautiful places in the world. Life is better since I met her. The best part is we will have beautiful children who will be bilingual and appreciate different cultures.

Multi-cultural marriage is a great experience as it broadens your horizons. It might be challenging sometimes, but it is constant learning and we as a family are becoming stronger and healthier. Coming from different backgrounds means that it’s never boring!”