14 Things You’ll Hear When Dating a Man from a Third-World Country
As a white New Zealander living in Nepal and seeing a Nepali man, I’ve received a lot of understanding and encouragement, but also some pretty offensive assumptions from friends and strangers alike. Here are some things that I keep hearing, over and over again, and that I know other Western women with Nepali partners face. I believe a lot of these comments are also applicable to women dating men from other non-Western, developing countries.
1. Don’t men from (insert name of country) just expect women to cook and clean?
Sometimes. But I guarantee that a proportion of men from every country are guilty of this. Patriarchy and misogyny are pretty borderless. My dad in New Zealand was justifiably offended when, after my mum’s death, his colleagues implied that he would be incapable of feeding himself without resorting to takeaways. I mean, with my mum gone, who was going to take care of the domestic stuff?! I’ll judge men on how they behave, not how others expect them to behave. (For the record, my Nepali boyfriend is an exceptionally good cook, he prepares multi-dish feasts with whatever happens to be in the fridge, and always cleans up after himself).
2. You’ll encounter cultural problems.
This is a very vague way of saying that we might do things differently. Well, I know people from my own country who do things differently to me, too. Some of which I don’t like, some of which I could learn from. This issue isn’t unique to people from different cultures. When I asked my Nepali boyfriend if there was anything I needed to know about how to behave in his village, he thought for a few moments. “Just don’t wear a bikini. Village people don’t understand.” That seems easy enough to me! Cultural differences don’t always translate into cultural problems, and if they do, I’ll face them when they occur rather than be put off from the beginning.
3. What class/caste/religious background does he come from?
An Indian friend warned me that my Nepali boyfriend may not be from the ‘right’ caste. How many f***s do I give about caste? Zero. It’s not a component of society where I come from, and even if it was, I’m certain I’d disapprove of it. When it comes to religion, as long as he isn’t fanatical and doesn’t try to impose anything on me, he can get on with it.
4. I’ve always wanted to do that.
Then what’s stopping you? ‘That’, I presume, is taking the risk of being with someone from a different culture, with all the difficulties and rewards that go along with it. What gets lost in the excitement here is that relationships still come down to individuals with unique personalities and values, and just adding ‘dating a local’ to the bucket list could lead to disappointment if such relationships aren’t entered for the right reasons.
5. Your (insert foreign language) will really improve.
I hope so. My boyfriend is very encouraging of my attempts to learn Nepali, and is happy to practice my currently extremely banal and limited sentence structures with me, ad nauseum. And while he may be rather optimistic in predicting that I’ll be fluent in two months (he said that two months ago, too!), there is no better way to practice and learn new words quickly than making the effort to learn his language.
6. You won’t be accepted by his family.
This isn’t a problem restricted to cross-cultural relationships. Anyone’s family has the potential to be difficult, even if you are from the same culture or country. Certainly, cultural and language differences can compound problems and lead to misunderstandings, but they don’t always. Many families are simply happy that their son/daughter has found a good person whom they care about. As it should be.
7. He might just be interested in your passport.
Clearly, this is offensive. Yes, there are unscrupulous people out there who see marriage as a path to living in a different, often more-developed, country. But firstly, this is assuming that all relationships have an end-goal of marriage, which isn’t true. Secondly, it’s not giving me a lot of credit as a mature, intelligent woman who can judge character for herself. And thirdly—and this is something that a lot of Westerners struggle to understand—many people from less-developed countries don’t want to leave everything they know to pursue a life of increased material wealth. Life in an economically poor country may come with specific challenges, but not everyone actually wants to leave permanently. It’s home.
8. It’s just a holiday fling.
Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. That’s not for someone else to decide.
9. I don’t get what you see in them.
Them?! Last time I checked, my boyfriend was only one person. Attraction is somewhat random and very individual, related to personality, values, behaviour and appearance. It’s not like I decided that I wanted to be with someone from Nepal regardless of these very important factors.
10. Long-distance relationships don’t last.
Who says there has to be any physical distance? With increasing opportunities for location independent work, coming from different countries doesn’t mean we have to be in different countries. Both my boyfriend and I have careers that enable a lot of travel—me as a freelance writer and editor, he as an outdoor adventure sport guide—so if we decide we want to be together long-term, the potential to travel together, or divide our time between our home countries, is on the cards.
11. A lot of Western women hook up with men from (insert country).
Often, the implication here is that I am a ‘type’ and my boyfriend is a ‘type’, rather than two people who like each other. It’s true that there are many cross-cultural relationships in Nepal, often involving Western women and Nepali men (more so than the other way around). I see that as a sign that open-mindedness is abundant here, and the potential for compatability, understanding and respect between Nepalis and Westerners is high.
12. What do you talk about?
What does anyone ever talk about!? Life. TV shows. What’s for dinner. Weekend plans. Childhood memories. Favourite travel destinations. Work highs and lows. How to time a hot shower around the power-cut schedule. (OK, that one’s a special highlight of life in Nepal!) We’re not fluent in each others’ languages, but that doesn’t restrict what we can talk about—just the speed at which we can do it!
13. You’re just exoticising each other/it’s a novelty.
Maybe some people exoticise their partners, but I see this as akin to being attracted to someone just because of their looks. It may be one small component, the cause of an initial spark, but unless there’s something more, it’s unlikely to lead to a deeper relationship. So I treat this response much the same as I would if someone said “You only like him for his looks.” It’s rather insulting and doesn’t give either of us much credit.
14. You’re so brave.
At the end of the day, I have faith that most people in this world are good and wish others no harm. I may be brave for many reasons, and I’ll welcome any compliments sent my way. But I don’t believe that being in a relationship with a man from a different country and culture—an economically less-developed country than my own, even—makes me especially brave.