Here is what I learned dating someone that did not speak my language.
Late last summer, I made the move across the ocean from Peterborough, Ontario to Florence, Italy for an eight-month stint of travelling, studying and working. My level of Italian was, well… absolute zero when I made this move, so the first few weeks were an interesting adjustment. Luckily for me, I soon discovered that many Italians have a great level of English, though they will often say, “sorry, my English isn’t so good!” out of modesty. So, when I was sitting on the steps of Santa Croce late one night, drinking wine with some friends, and a girl approached us to say “hey, my friends over there wanted to say hello, but their English isn’t the best…” I assumed “isn’t the best” meant “just fine.” I looked over, noting that one of them in particular was really, really cute. Introductions were made, though over the din of the other late-night, church-step drinkers, not much could be heard. “Add me on Facebook,” I said to the cute one as they headed off to continue their night. He nodded. And so it began, my first international dating experience (with a language barrier).
I’ve learned a few things from this international relationship. First and foremost is how to appreciate non-verbal communication, and how to laugh at myself during the inevitable awkward moments that happen when you are not fluent in your guy’s native language. But the awkwardness can be totally worth it. As long as you can laugh at yourself, it’s a fun experience to improve your language skills by getting to know someone you really like. Here are some tips, if not to save you from, at least to prepare you for the inevitable awkwardness and at times hilarity that will ensue. Let’s start from the beginning shall we?
1. “My English isn’t the best” can mean A LOT of things…
In fact, it can mean, “This is the only sentence I know in English.” When he told me via text that his English was only so-so, I pictured perfect English with a cute Italian accent, and maybe some cute uhmmm’s and how you say?’s thrown into the conversation. Not exactly the case. Our first few dates I genuinely think he didn’t understand a word I was saying, since I tend to speak at rocket speed. But kudos to him for trying! I’ve since learned to slow down.
2. Thanks to modern technologies like Google translate, chatting online/via text can be deceiving.
Conversation seemed really easy until we met in person… We chatted for several weeks online before we met up, and I had no idea how laborious it would be to have a conversation face-to-face. My few, mal-pronounced Italian words and shyness at speaking them didn’t help much…but with some patience from both of us, we were able to get to know each other, slowly but surely. Patience is key!
3. Sometimes actions speak louder than words.
Our first real “date” was awkward… We were in a noisy pub, increasing the difficulty of understanding one another (though perhaps alleviating some of the awkward silences?). When I got tired of trying, I decided to just kiss him…
4. “Netflix and chill” will never be straightforward again.
Who’s turn is it for subtitles?? Every time we choose a movie, we have to decide who gets to watch it in their mother language, and who’s stuck with the task of reading along, since neither of us can speak the other’s language fast enough to understand a movie with quick dialogue.
5. Say goodbye to sarcasm.
In the beginning, I had to accept that much of my hilarity and funny jokes would by and large be lost on him (though I still made jokes for my own private enjoyment). However, now that his English is much improved, I can’t always get away with making my own private hilarious commentary on life without him catching it…but now we can laugh together much more than before! Anyways, sometimes trying to explain a joke can be as funny as the joke itself.