Do a quick test among yourselves: ask your friends what their favourite story of all time is and more than half will instantly answer ‘Romeo and Juliet’. And if you ask them what they want the most, ‘to find love’ will easily make in into their top 5.
Love is what Carole, Aurélie, Omar, Erick, Mariene, Stéphane and Karen found. They are all European, between 25 and 40, and fall into a category of ‘bi-national couples’. They are contemptuous of traditional values and the dominating belief that a union should occur most frequently between people from the same social group and of the same origin.
An end to ‘Stick to your own kind’
Since 1985 the Schengen agreement has allowed people to travel freely between the 15 Member States of the European Union minus the UK and Ireland. Aurélie chose Germany. After finishing university, she moved to Berlin to teach French. Here she met Tobias. ‘It was at a party, I was translating Serge Gainsbourg songs for him. During the song ‘Je t’aime…moi non plus’ we kissed’. That first meeting can sometimes happen in surprising places; Carole was in fancy dress as a cat. ‘It was during the Barcelona carnival. I had just left France to live there and was at a housewarming party. Levan, originally from Georgia, had also just arrived in Barcelona after spending a few years in London. We moved in together after only a month’.
First obstacle: language. The majority of these couples mostly speak to each other in the language of the country where they met. Aurélie came back to live in France with Tobias. ‘Tobias has been learning French for a year but we still speak in German when we’re on our own.’ Marlene, French of Portuguese origin and currently studying in England after a period in Germany, switches between French and English with her Italian boyfriend - something which helps to break down the barriers of both their national identities. ‘We are both foreigners in London, which puts us on the same footing. He lived in France for 2 years and I lived in Berlin for 6 years which has made the concept of national identity become more global, more blurred.’ This is something common to many of these couples which might help the formation of a new European identity. Stéphane and Karen have two children, Lucie and Marie. Stéphane is French, Karen Belgian. For them the question of nationality is almost of secondary importance. ‘When the girls were born, we chose to give them French nationality because they were born in France and they’re probably going to live there’. But it can cause problems in the event of divorce. A European regulation of March 1st 2001 has meant that the divorce in question and the decision regarding custody of the children will be undertaken in the courts of the country where the couple lived before separating.
Open to differences
Omar and Erick, a Spanish-Belgian gay couple who have been together for six years, live in Madrid. ‘We had both lived abroad before so we had a fairly similar political and social outlook because of our experiences. The majority of our friends live abroad. Borders don’t mean much to us anymore.’ But cultural differences are sometimes present. According to Carole, ‘when he moved to Spain, Levan had already been a bit ‘Europeanised’ thanks to the time he’d spent in London. But he still doesn’t understand some things. So, I have tried to help him understand my culture a bit more and he does the same. We each make an effort and the differences aren’t so important in the end. You just have to be a bit more open-minded.’ A cultural difference also cropped up with Omar and Erick at the beginning of their relationship. ‘Erick is much more reserved than I am. He found my very direct way of approaching people or saying things quite difficult to deal with at first. I learnt to restrain myself a bit more but I need to be able to speak loudly in the street without being looked at. So for the moment we’re not thinking about moving to Belgium!’
Ah yes, missing home. The Internet has had a profound effect. Friends and family don’t seem as far away anymore. Web cams and broadband connection mean that losing touch with the people close to you is less likely. And these same people are often making a big effort too. Carole’s mother has discovered a new enthusiasm for Georgia. ‘As soon as a book comes out on Georgia, she runs off to buy it. I come from Aubenas in the Ardeche. The other day she read in the local paper that a Georgian had joined the town’s football team. Now she wants to invite him to eat with us when we next visit!’
The only shadow on the horizon is the problems that sometimes crop up during daily life. When he moved to Spain Erick found himself facing several barriers. ‘Sometimes the system seemed a bit racist, like signing a lease for example, or getting a telephone line or a bank account in my name. So we got round the problem by putting everything in Omar’s name! We found that my nationality caused more problems than being a homosexual couple!’
But one thing is for sure: cross-border love is on the right track. Count on it.