Saturday, May 16, 2015

My Intercultural Love: Timo & Ruowei

Timo writes an amazing and insightful blog about being married into a Chinese family (from a guy's perspective!) and raising their beautiful son between two diverse cultures...

I am Timo and I am both Finnish and German. My family originates from those two countries so I ended up living in both places when I was growing up. My wife is Chinese and was born in the city of Xi'an. Right now, we live in Germany. We met during university in Finland and lived there until 2014. Together we have a little son Nathan and we hope that he will get the best out of our cultures. As I am always surprised by my Chinese in-laws I started writing my blog CrazyChineseFamily.

Three words that describe you...
Creative, quiet and loyal.

Favorite childhood memory...
Going for the first time to our cottage in Finland when I was a child. It was such wonderous place for me to discover as a little kid. The lake, the forests, the house itself...and so much more. Up till now I have been there every single year and this summer will be actually the first time when I have no time going there due to us moving to Germany and me getting a new job! However we hope to be able to go there next year again - especially for our son to be able to experience everything as I did when I was growing up.

Where/how do you feel most inspired?
On bicycle and running trips around the countryside. During the summer, I always go on such trips alone to get my head cleared from the daily burdens and load up new ideas.

Where/how did you meet your spouse?
We met at university in a language course. However it took over one year until we started dating...but I guess some good things just need longer to develop than others!

How long have you been together?
We got together in February 2010 so now it has been over five years.

What qualities do you admire in your spouse?
She is able to see always positive things and how to turn bad situations into good ones. Because of her ability to plan perfectly ahead we achieved a lot in the past few years and I know I would have not been able to do so alone.

Favorite memory together as a couple...
This is a hard one as there are just so many good memories! I would say the most recent one is the birth of our son :)

What did you know about your spouse's culture prior to your relationship?
I knew only few things which were not even able to cover the basics. When we got together, I started to study more things about my wife's culture as it is so much different than my own. On the other hand, my wife barely had to learn anything new as she lived in Finland already four years by the time we got together!

How did you tell your friends/family about your intercultural relationship? 
I just told them without anything on my mind. My friends just accepted it as any other given relationship - especially at university, there are so many intercultural relationships that one more hardly matter to them. I didn't have any trouble telling my parents. From my perspective, they just had to accept it, what else should they do? My mother did have some mixed feelings about it only because she was thinking way ahead as to hoping that my girlfriend wouldn't leave me behind heartbroken in Europe and go back to China after graduating college. In the end everything worked out perfectly and my mother's worries were for nothing.

How has your relationship enlightened your life? How has it changed you & your outlook on life?
I became more positive about life, thanks to my wife. I was always rather pessimistic about everything and did not plan greatly ahead. With my wife, I suddenly wanted to plan our future, and wanted to make the best out of everything - even if it required to cut down certain other important things in my life such as my sports career which was anyways already on a downhill track due to injuries, I just didn't see it back then as clearly as she did.

Who proposed and how?
I proposed to her on her birthday in 2012. We went first to eat at a restaurant in downtown Helsinki and I had planned to propose there but I just didn't find the right moment as silly things happened non-stop - such as the noisy people at the next table, the waiter popping up at unexpected moments and so on. Due to this I decided that we should take a walk after we got back home to the nearby lake and I proposed to her standing on a berth just as the sun was setting.

Describe your wedding...
Which of the three weddings? We had one wedding at the registry office, one wedding in China and yet another wedding ceremony in a church in Finland. But I must say, the last of our celebrations was the best as we really had planned for it for over a year - as we got married at the registry office back in 2012 and we had the Finnish ceremony at the church in 2013! It was a wonderful celebration as we had guests from around the world there. Her parents came from China, my parents from Germany, my relatives from Sweden and Finland and our friends from China, Finland, Germany, USA and Ghana...the wedding was surely exhausting as it took the entire day and night but it was so worth it.

What does being married mean to you?
It means to be there for each other no matter what. There is no backing out because you don't feel up for it at that moment. Whatever you do you have think not only for yourself, but for the both of you. But I must say that I felt this way anyway already when we were still dating. Being married didn't change this as I always felt connected to her and knew that I can only be happy with her.

What are your dreams for your future together as a married couple?
To stay healthy and to have one more child. 

What's the best marital advice that you received from elder family/friends?
I don't know if it is a really good advice, but my father told me that being married doesn't mean you are happy together all the time. Happiness is one thing - but being able to live together and be satisfied is what really matters.

What positive cultural values do you bring to your relationship?
I actually have no clue.... we never really viewed our cultural backgrounds as positive or negative aspects for our relationship.

What do you do to keep your relationship alive? What kinds of things do you do to connect with your spouse?
Whenever we feel like it, we do things together. We don't try to force some schedule upon us about what needs to be done but just let it happen. For example we both love Lord of the Rings and also Harry Potter so few months ago I just bought the Harry Potter movie collection and we spent the following weeks watching them and discussing what happened back then in our lives when we were watching those movies for the first time, as it was years before we met each other. We do not try to connect to each other because we have to, but we connect as the years go on in a way that now we know already what we both want and what is going on in our heads.

In what ways have you adopted aspects of your spouse's culture?
I started enjoying eating good meals during evening time! In my culture we eat barely anything for dinner except perhaps some bread. In China, on the other hand, dinner is the most important meal as a family or with friends and now I also enjoy it.

Has your family adopted aspects of your spouse's culture?
I do not think so because it is usually hard to adapt to such things for elderly people!

What aspects of your spouse's culture do you find difficult to embrace?
For me, it is very hard to embrace this whole traditional stuff in China. Whatever they do, no matter how ridiculous it seems for Western people they always defend it with "It is tradition in China, it has been done like this for 2000 years". Well, my wife also hates this, but only after she lived abroad for many years. Now we just combine what we feel is best of our cultures/ what suits our lifestyle the best. 

My wife had and still has trouble to accept my beforementioned "only bread for dinner" and how often elderly people are just pushed away by their families into retirement homes and I agree with her on that.

 What was the most challenging time in your intercultural relationship?
The biggest challenges has been for the family of my wife due to all kinds of small things. For example, many Chinese people expect foreigners to be rich so they expect me or my parents to buy her family a new apartment, cars etc. Of course her family does not expect that, but they get constantly asked about these things and this can be hard for them as well.

What's the best and the worst part of being in an intercultural relationship?
So far we had no bad thing - except of course the distance between our families. This means each year, we have to think how to use our holidays in order to visit both families in their distant countries.

What do you think are the biggest misconceptions that people have about intercultural relationships?
The biggest misconception is that people think that intercultural relationships are harder than "normal" ones. There is never any easy relationship. In order to make a relationship work, you need to commit yourself - but in the end this is needed in any relationship! Intercultural relationships are however perhaps more interesting as there are many things to discover about each others culture which is usually missing in a "normal" relationship.

 Have you come across people who disapprove of your intercultural union? If so, how do you deal with them?
Wherever we go, we have heard stupid comments by people. Especially in China, it seems that many people do not agree with Chinese women marrying foreigners. So each time in China, there are few bad comments from random people on the street. In Europe, it has been less drastic so far but there were about a handful of situations with people who told me openly how this is a bad relationship because "foreigners are all evil" etc!

Take-away advice for other intercultural couples...
Don't give up because you think there is some cultural difference which might be in the way because saying the cultural difference is making something harder is just an excuse. Work on it - and you will find a solution. I do not have any advice to give about telling parents as it always depends on the situation. You might be lucky, as we had been with our parents as they are understanding and supportive, but we heard also several horror stories where everything went basically downhill with the parents leading even to getting cut out of the family and death threats.

(All photos courtesy of  CrazyChineseFamily)


  1. :D the world is so small..they are just living around the corner! Cute family!

    1. Thank you:)

      Where do you live?

  2. I think this guy's comment about the biggest misconception about intercultural relationships hits the nail on the head "the biggest misconception is that people think that intercultural relationships are harder than "normal" ones. There is never any easy relationship. In order to make a relationship work, you need to commit yourself - but in the end this is needed in any relationship! Intercultural relationships are however perhaps more interesting as there are many things to discover about each others culture which is usually missing in a "normal" relationship." I remember in the beginning of my marriage to my indian husband, my indian MIL would always talk about all of the cultural differences between my husband and I when it actually never bothered my husband and I. However, she does not do this anymore and lets us be. I actually find in my own intercultural union that people are almost always intrigued by our marriage (both by Indians and non-Indians).

    1. Thank you :)

      My own family never really mentioned cultural differences, only the differences when it comes to food! However many of my wife's friends were often telling her that there are too big cultural differences between us and that it will never work. Now we are five years in, are married and have a child - appearently it worked out just well and those friends dont say a word anymore :)

  3. I've always been interested to read about inter-cultural couple from a guy's perspective and this! Will surely be reading this new interesting blog once I'm done with my exams :)

    1. Hey, thanks for planing to check out my blog more once you are done with the exams and got some time to spare. Hope it will be worthwhile as I have many posts about my crazy in laws (at least this is my opinion), some stuff about travel destinations, a couple of Chinese food posts and last but not least my wife writing about my own mom :)

  4. you guys are beautiful together:)

  5. What a beautiful story. I had a smile on my face just reading your story and looking at the photos. Thank you for sharing.


    1. It makes me happy that other people like reading our story. From my perspective it is nothing too special as there are so many other stories in the world, one more fascinating than the other :)


  6. This is really good, especially his view on intercultural relationships. I couldn't agree more that they're not harder, just different. The challenges you face may not be like same culture relationships, they're just not nearly as difficult as people perceive them to be. Of course, sometimes culture comes into the mix and complicates things a bit (such as faux pas you inadvertently commit) but in reality there's difficulty in every relationship. You could face the same problems if you married your next door neighbor as you would when you marry someone from the other side of the world.

  7. Life with my Chinese-American guy is easy. Understanding and coping with his parents...that's hard. Which is why I read so many blogs -- I only wish I had found them earlier.

    Also, disinheritance has been mentioned, but that seems minor compared to death threats. Always nice to get some perspective. :)


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