Is it at all possible to create a strong lasting family with a person who grew up in another country, thinks in a different language and even makes sandwiches differently? Three young women from Russia living in Barcelona told Your City Barcelona what’s it like sharing life with a Spanish husband
On her birthday a young woman loses her way in Barcelona, enters her first restaurant to ask for directions and meets her future husband. This is not a synopsis of a romantic film but a real story of how a scriptwriter Elvira Araslanova met her now partner, a restaurateur Lino. Recalling that day, Elvira admits: “Initially I had a plan to fly to Rome, not Barcelona, but my Mum who takes astrology seriously told me “Your stars are in another city”. And by the way, just a few hours before I met Lino I entered Sagrada Famíia and from my very heart asked for a husband.” She laughs.
In Moscow Elvira graduated VGIK — Russian Institute of Cinematography and went to work on television. “Language is essentially my job and not knowing it was, in my perception a major obstacle. At times it would reach some ridiculous dimensions! For instance, Lino would suggest we go out for dinner and I would think that he is out with friends and I would stay at home waiting for him while he was waiting for me!” — says Elvira. On the other hand, the language barrier was instrumental in preventing conflicts at the sweetsand-flowers stage of the courtship period. “I am the type of women who loves asking stupid questions. But since it was close to impossible to formulate them I didn’t ask them. And later you kind of think what a great job I never did!”
Elvira and Lino have been together for over two years now. Recently they’ve had a newborn. They speak Spanish to each other, and to Leo, their young son, each of them speaks in their mother tongue. “We know a lot of couples whose kids are polyglots at the age of three or four. That’s why we decided from the very start that it would be good for Leo to speak both Spanish and Russian.” Elvira’s husband, however hasn’t learned any Russian. When Elvira gets moody about Lino’s lack of interest to the Russian culture he mails her poems in Russian, a mix of teenage poetry and romantic thug folklore.
“I am the type of women who loves asking stupid questions. But since it was close to impossible to formulate them I didn’t ask them. And later you kind of think what a great job I never did!”
As for the roles and tasks distribution within the family, Elvira admits that her views and attitudes on a relationship were from the very start different from her husband’s. “I don’t think that a woman should prove her equality by dragging along heavy bags. Feminism has, of course defended women’s dignity but at the same time it has made their life somewhat harder. It raised the requirements level. In Europe, once a child is born, women go back to their job very early after three or four months, which I found shocking. On the other hand, in Russia I never saw so many dads coddling their toddlers. Before Leo came into our lives it was hard for me to find a job and the entire responsibility for our material well-being was laid on Lino. There were times when it was rather strenuous for him and naturally he expected more effort on my behalf. After our son was born his perceptions and attitudes changed.” Elvira says that all the tasks related to looking after their child they share fairly.“Lino helps me a great deal around the house and with Leo. When I ask him he always takes his turn. Leo was three months old when Lino would let me go out for a business meeting. Before I gave birth I kind of accepted that I’d be confined to four walls for a year. Now, I always have a couple of hours two to four times a week when I can do some work, go the fitness club or just have a snooze. And most importantly, Lino is absolutely happy to babysit and frankly speaking he is a wonderful, gentle and loving Dad!”
“Like many Spaniards, Lino is very fluent when it comes to emotional expression. If there is something he does not like he says so straight away. Initially I found it shocking because I was totally unprepared for any defence and any swift reactions. Later, however, I learned to mobilize quicker and to let it go quicker and frankly, I’ve come to just accept it the way it is. He is exploding in emotion now and in five minutes time he will be in a brilliant mood. To be honest, communication is very important for us. If something feels wrong, we sit down and chat, trying to understand what is the root cause of the problem. Once we’ve done that we try to go back to our normal prior selves when we had just met and it was just me and him and the rest of the world didn’t matter.”
Anna Gogoleva moved to Barcelona five years ago together with her son Arseniy. In her hometown of Izhevsk she graduated veterinary medicine faculty and had an intention to practice in that profession. She also did horseback riding on a professional basis. Winning at a beauty competition completely changed her life though. She began getting invitations for photo shootings from fashion magazines, various castings and when she turned 23 she decided to sell her apartment and try it in Spain. “It was not easy to start with. On the very first day my bag got stolen at the airport. Then, even though I had learned some Spanish back home it was not always easy to reach understanding with people. And of course I was worried about my Grandma who I left behind. I missed her a lot because she is the person who actually raised me.”
“I come back home in ever so many different images after the photo sessions and Alberto likes that. He only gets somewhat discontent when I have to pose semi-nude. He is a jealous type”
What kept her from despair and giving it up was one simple realization: her son would be much better off in Barcelona. Gradually things started picking up. Eight months after she moved to Barcelona she began receiving job offers. This is when she met her future husband through the Internet. “What attracted me to Alberto was his sincerity, empathy and positive outlook. We shared many things in common! We both dreamed of doing a parachute jump, although to be honest, we haven’t done that yet.” With a pensive smile she recalls that their first date was at the movies. “For whatever reason we chose ‘Titanic’ and what really impressed me then was the fact that Alberto shed a tear or two. Then for each date he would bring me my favourite wildflowers that he’d gather outside the city. He would constantly help me with my Spanish and would never get annoyed or irritated when I would make a mistake. He would just calmly explain everything to me. I can’t say it was love at first sight. My feelings for him came gradually.” After about a year, the couple got married. Alberto’s parents initially took their decision to get married cautiously. “Spaniards would typically live together for about twenty years before they decide to legalize their relationship. Thankfully, they were not trying to dissuade us from the marriage and accepted me into the family. I love them very much, they are truly wonderful people and absolutely adore my son Arseniy.” At the moment because of their jobs the couple live in two homes. Anna continues to work in the model business and combines that with doing work at a marketing agency. Her husband does not mind her career in fashion. “I come back home in ever so many different images after the photo sessions and Alberto likes that. He only gets somewhat discontent when I have to pose semi-nude. He is a jealous type. He never goes berserk or anything but he wouldn’t mind putting a ‘Mine’ stamp on me.” The couple have their own individual budget each and it was Alberto’s initiative. Still, Anna insists that she also does not want to be a “kept woman” preoccupied exclusively with diamonds and her pedicure.
What is curious is that in all the years of living in Barcelona she hasn’t made any Spanish friends. “Women here talk a lot, and there is too much carnival. I don’t like it. For me the most important thing is inner balance and inner peace.” Meanwhile, the couple have found even more shared interests in these last few years of living together including travel, music and sports. “Alberto has even learned horseback riding — says Anna with a smile — and we often play chess when we have time. After I took chess lessons with an instructor my husband never beats me at the chessboard. He says he needs to find someone who knows how to lose.”
“I always do everything bravely and never regret anything” says Karina Chmyreva without doubt, neither in tone, nor face. She insists that while living in her tone, hometown of Volgograd she never had any interest in Spain nor did she dream of moving anywhere. Meanwhile, her life in the last four and a half years is immediately related to Barcelona. She met her husband Antonio, a computer programmer, through the Internet. They met in person only six months later. “I came to Barcelona, looked around and thought to myself, What on Earth am I doing here?” After a week she returned home to Russia, a few months passed by, and she took a job opportunity in China, bringing her son Arseniy with her. Antonio joined them in China. “Now that I know him well, I can’t help but wonder why he did this because Antonio is a stereotypical Spanish man whose whole life turns around his town and his job.” After China, Karina went to Spain for a month and then returned to Russia again. She wrote to Antonio two days later telling him “I am pregnant.” He replied “This is funny, sweetie.” They then spoke on the phone and he was extremely happy. He said he’d want more than one and that he’d never complain about having more kids until they had a full basketball team.
“We Russians have that innate tragic element sitting within us, always expecting some inevitable human drama. Here things are much easier, without hidden meanings and neurosis”
The couple got married after their son Breno was born, only three days before Karina’s visa was to expire. To start with, they shared an apartment with Antonio’s Mum, and soon after they found their own accommodation. Karina’s first son is embraced in an outpouring of love. “Antonio’s upbringing philosophy suits Arseniy better than my feminine overprotective and somewhat neurotic attitude. My son would actually often refer to Antonio as an example of the right attitude that I should follow. Frankly speaking, I am absolutely happy and content with the patriarchate that we now have established in our family. I guess this is exactly what I was looking for.”
When their younger son turned one and a half Karina continued private Russian instruction and then an offer of a job in ‘Raduga’ school came her way. She now works in diploma homologation and intends to dedicate more time to her translation work. “I am super active and don’t sit in one spot”, says Karina. “Antonio never pressures me or forbids me to do anything. If he feels it is something I need, he helps me and may even correct me on the way. Generally speaking, I am free to do what I want and so is he.”
According to Karina, due to her husband’s demeanour, she became more open, communicative and learned to take things much easier. “Antonio often tells me that everything in most cases depends on you and you alone and so does whether you let people upset you or not. We Russians have that innate tragic element sitting within us, always expecting some inevitable human drama. Here things are much easier, without hidden meanings and neurosis. My personal obstacle was that Russian lack of sociability, lack of readiness to bathe every passer-by in smiles and kisses. Meanwhile, people here expect mutual openness like that, albeit superficial. A smile and a calm approach are common. I came to that gradually.”
Meanwhile, Karina admits that there are still things that she cannot accept easily. ‘What really annoys me is that everything is done mañana and with my sense of order, I find it very strange.” Karina notes that Russians and Spaniards perceive and treat home differently. “For us it is an absolute norm to have your visiting friends staying in your house. Spaniards find it strange though. They don’t want to see strangers at home. Throughout my entire living in Spain I only had one friend stay once in our place and believe me it was a whole saga to explain to my husband that this is normal.” Karina and Antonio are expecting a daughter now. “I e-mailed him an ultra-sound scan after a check-up. Then I asked him if he had seen it. You know what he told me? He said he showed it to the entire office saying that this is his little daughter now. I think that’s what actually keeps us together. We never cease to amaze each other!”