Exotica, Neurotica

There are many things you learn when you enter into an intercultural relationship. And you are always learning. Remember, though, that often these things are just the natural processes of getting to know your partner over the years. Don't get drawn into the misapprehension that he won't do the washing up because he's British; maybe a Polish man is far less likely to! That's men for you. Nor that he might prefer to watch an important international footie match to spending a romantic evening with you listening to soothing music. We're all the same.

Once involved with a foreigner it certainly adds a sense of exotica and adventure to life. I always had an inkling I would share my life with a foreigner, since I studied French and German. I had no idea, though, that the love of my life would be Polish. In fact, I thought she was French or Italian at first when we met by chance in London.

My own excitement was tinged with initial trepidation thinking about my future in-laws, especially when I didn't speak the lingo. Imagine how they felt at the prospect of an alien in the house. How do your parents react when you call them from 1,500 miles away saying, "Hi, Mama, guess what, I'm marrying an English/Irish man/woman," especially when they didn't even know you were going out with one.

And so, you bring your fiancé(e) home for the first time. I was once that fiancé. It was all smiles and kisses, but then, barely after getting my shoes off and putting on the mandatory slippers, I was sat down by my loved one, without so much as cup of tea (what about my human rights?), and told, "Go on, you have to make a speech." Confused and horrified, I asked: "What about?" Silly me. "You have to declare your intentions, say why you want to marry me and how you'll provide for me." Where was my cup of tea? "Oh, and don't tell them you're also an actor."

Back in England, where people wait until they've been together for about fifteen years before deciding to get married, if at all, and another fifteen before having children, our whirlwind romance came as a bit of a shock. But happily a rejuvenating one. The marriage rate subsequently soared among the under-thirties.

After the whirlwind what about the more down to earth matters, such as breakfast? Who could possibly eat herring, gherkins, cold sausage and pickled cabbage salad for breakfast? It may be good for a hangover, but not every day. I exaggerate, of course. But stereotypes need to be overcome. Don't you get fed up if you are British or Irish being told that we all eat big, fried, greasy breakfasts of eggs, bacon, sausage and baked beans? Or alternatively just cereal and toast? Pah! Boring.

How about opening doors? Foreign male, Polish partner: be careful! Let your wife or girlfriend (and any woman for that matter) pass through the door before you. If not, it's grounds for divorce or separation. For Polish men, it can go either way. Either your Western woman - not used to such treatment - may give you top marks for being the total gentleman, or you're an old-fashioned sexist for treating women differently.

One last note. Watch out for your tone of voice. It's so easy to get it wrong, sounding sarcastic or annoyed when you mean no offence. Couples can both be very sensitive about this. It's a relationship minefield. "You don't have to say it like that!" - "Say it like what?" - "So aggressively." -"What are you on about?" - "You know." - "My God, you are just so paranoid." - "Me?! Oh that's just great coming from you..." And so on, until one of you sleeps on the sofa. But don't worry; just remember that all is forgiven if you present your Polish wife with flowers, and lots and lots of them. It's the ultimate remedy.

- John Edmondson