Living in a Foreign Country, My Fiancé and I Created a Home of Our Own
How merging our cultures improved our bond—and our space.
Updated Apr 30, 2021 3:21 PM
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My fiancé and I come from two different worlds, and together we live in yet another. I’m Native American and he’s Syrian—but now we both call Germany home. He’s unable to visit the United States with me, due to the travel ban, and we can’t return to Syria for obvious reasons. So we live together in a third country, often joking about how we don’t fit in.
We don’t drink alcohol in a land where beer is aplenty. Sometimes one of us can’t quite find the right German word and I have to break out the English, which he doesn’t speak. But when we are at home, we find ourselves in a world that we’ve created from scratch—full of his teetering Arabic tea sets, plush Pendleton pattern pillows, and meaningful items drawn from both of our childhoods. It feels like us.
When we moved into our two-bedroom apartment in a quiet neighborhood in Rüsselsheim, the space felt bland. It wasn’t until last year’s holiday season, as I made my way down an Etsy rabbit hole, that I started to think of ways to make it feel more personal. It was my fiancé’s first time celebrating Christmas and I decided to search for gifts related to Syria to make his present extra-meaningful. I ended up purchasing a map of his city, Aleppo, and got it framed. When I gave it to him, he danced around and immediately hung it up. Before then, I’d never considered how such a simple gesture could make a country foreign to us both feel more like home.
His reaction inspired me to start looking for Native art to incorporate into our space as well. Having grown up in a Northern Cheyenne home, I was always surrounded by objects central to my culture: watercolor paintings by local artists depicting the pine tree–scattered fields and hills that were the backdrop of my childhood in Montana and pottery sold by Diné (Navajo) and Apache nations. Pendleton patterns are also a part of my heritage, but since the blankets can get pricey, I’ve gotten vibrant Chief Joseph–patterned pillows to prop in pride of place on our couch. Supporting indigenous artwork out of solidarity has always been important to my family and I wanted to keep this tradition alive.
As it turns out, merging our cultures on the walls of our space hasn’t been the hot mess I thought it might be. When we moved in together, we figured that cultural clashes might get in the way. Instead, it has done the opposite—these differences have created the beautiful backdrop of home.
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