Introduction[edit | edit source]
The following study was conducted within the context of the Erasmus IP Summer School in Scotland (2012), Wales (2013) and Newcastle-upon-Tyne (2014). The aim of the first two groups was to gain insight into the differences and similarities between the participating countries in the area of dating and romantic relationships. From initial discussions, it was theorised that the countries represented had similar cultural patterns of behaviour concerning meeting potential partners. The 2014 group focused on interpersonal relations among people of participating countries in a broader sense. The research put stress on different views on family in terms of defining the family, individuality, friendship and the structure of relationships in general.
The research of the 2013 group would be incomplete with only the knowledge of the five international student researchers and online resources. A pole containing four questions was sent to friends in the respective countries; thus giving the thoughts of many, rather than the judgement of one. The following four questions were included:
- Where was the last place you met somebody with whom you started a successful/serious relationship?
- Are your parents still married?
- What is the longest relationship you have had?
- Do you feel uncomfortable demonstrating your sexuality in public, e.g. holding hands and kissing?
There were additional questions asked to members of the homosexual communities in the five countries represented. The two questions were:
- Do you feel excluded from the places your heterosexual friends would socialise?
- Have you found a specific place to socialise within the gay community?
The additional questions were used to gain insight into the minority of the gay sub-culture of each country. Each contestant who took part in the survey answered the first four questions.
The 2013 group questioned 83 people in total, between the ages of 20 and 34, with most participants being in their early 20’s. There were 15 participants in Ireland and Slovenia, respectively. Germany had 13 participants, whilst Croatia had 18 and Portugal had 22. There were 10 participants of the survey who answered the additional questions on the gay community in their country.
This article has been divided into five sub-topics:
- 1) Relationships in the Family
- 2) Meeting Potential Partners
- 3) Being in a Relationship
- 4) Marriage and Divorce
- 5) Friendship
The findings will be dispersed across these five sub-topics, allowing readers to understand the different stages of relationships. In each sub-topic, there is an additional paragraph on the gay community in each culture, also giving insight into the different stages of those relationships, as well as the legalisation and statistics.
Meeting Potential Partners[edit | edit source]
Meeting new people and being able to find someone who has the same interests and goals is not always easy. However, there are many ways to meet potential partners, including going to bars and pubs, blind dates, dating websites, hobbies, holidays, office romances, social networking, among others.
The participants from all countries were questioned on the subject of meeting potential partners and listed dating locations. 46% of participants who answered the questionnaire in Germany and 40% of the Irish participants met their partners in clubs, bars or pubs, as well as 11% of participants in Croatia and 13% of participants in Portugal, only 1 participant from Slovenia listed bar. Furthermore, 33% of Croatians and 20% of the Irish and Slovenians find schools and universities as frequent places to meet their potential partners, whereas 18% of Portuguese and 23% of German couples met at more uncommon places, such as beaches or on holidays abroad. Some couples in Slovenia met at a piercing studio or at the same student residence where they both live. Students report that Internet dating platforms could also serve as a good place to find a partner, because 23% of Germans, 11% of Croatians, 6% of the Irish, and 4% of Portuguese found their dates that way. In the same way, hobbies can be an informal way for people to meet; for example, 4% of people from Portugal met in parks while running or cycling. Only a few people from Croatia and Portugal met their partners at work. In contrast, house parties are very popular among 22% of Croatians, 13% of the Irish, and 9% of Portuguese participants.
Once a person has met someone they like, an appropriate venue must be chosen for a date. This is where certain differences in the customs of the countries were encountered. From the personal experiences of the representatives from each country on the research teams, it was concluded that cafés and pubs are a good place to get a drink, a coffee and to engage in private conversation. While Croatians and Slovenians prefer not to go to restaurants on their first dates, Germans and Portuguese find this to be very common in their countries. Germans and the Portuguese also commonly go to the cinema on their first dates. Geert Hofstede noted that Ireland is a country with a high rate of uncertainty avoidance, which means that the country in general avoids the types of conversation in which the certainty would be founded ("National Cultural Dimensions", n.d.). This relates to romantic relationships in Ireland due to couples avoiding the conversation about their status.
Where Do Gay People Meet Potential Partners?[edit | edit source]
Further questions were asked to ten openly gay individuals, whose places to meet people do not differ much from those where heterosexual people met their partners. They met their partners online, at parties/night clubs, at work and in college. Five of them go to specific gay places, clubs and bars to socialize and meet people; the others use gay portals on the Internet or just go out at regular places with heterosexual friends.
Being in a Relationship[edit | edit source]
When a relationship is established, it takes on certain characteristics that can vary across countries. One of the characteristics the 2012 study dealt with is the question of exclusiveness, i.e. whether or not the partners are allowed to date other people. The findings showed that in Croatia, Germany and Portugal, this matter is discussed at the start of the relationship or shortly after. In Portugal, a relationship would be considered casual if exclusiveness was not explicitly stated. In Ireland and Slovenia, relationships would be assumed to be exclusive from the very beginning and the matter would not be discussed. The 2013 group, on the other hand, believes there are no significant differences between the countries as regards this question, as it depends entirely on the personal preferences of the partners.
Another question is whether or not couples express their affection in public. Public displays of affection are generally accepted in all the examined countries, as long as it is restricted to holding hands and moderate kissing. Couples may be frowned upon when a certain line is crossed; the opinions of the participants vary as to what actions exactly breach this unspoken rule, but there is no indication of any country-specific rules. The 2012 group stated that in Ireland, the smallest public display of affection is frowned upon and commented with “get a room”. Results of the 2013 survey disprove this claim, as the vast majority of Irish participants stated they were completely comfortable with kissing and holding hands in public, which makes them no different from participants of other nationalities. The 2012 study also established a time frame for when the physical aspect of a relationship usually comes into play: after 1–2 months in Croatia, 4–5 months in Germany, 2–4 months in Portugal and 1–3 months in Slovenia.
In 2012, the participants examined when partners meet each other's parents. It was established that this happens after 3–6 months in Croatia, Germany and Slovenia; whilst in Ireland and Portugal, parents are introduced as late as possible. Ireland seemed to stand out as the only country where partners occasionally do not meet the parents at all. The 2013 group's experience, however, suggests that the time of meeting the parents is not fixed, it depends on factors other than nationality, and there are no observable differences between these nationalities.
In 2013, the length of relationships was also examined. Participants included were asked to provide the approximate durations of the longest relationships they have had. This method yielded the following average durations:
- 2 years and 10 months for Croatians,
- 3 years and 7 months for Germans,
- 1 year and 5 months for the Irish,
- 2 years and 11 months for the Portuguese,
- 1 year and 10 months for Slovenians.
Even though the research sample is too small for the results to be conclusive, it is interesting that in Croatia and Portugal, which are Mediterranean countries, relationships seem to be significantly longer than in Ireland and Slovenia. This is in opposition with the stereotype of Mediterraneans being promiscuous people.
Being in a Gay Relationship[edit | edit source]
The longest gay relationship one participant from Croatia had was 8 years. The length between the others varied between 6 months and 4 years.
The results show that out of the 10 people asked, 6 gay people answered the question if they are uncomfortable showing their sexuality in public – whether it is kissing or holding hands – with “no”, the 4 other respondents answered with the argument that they make the decision depending on the situation they find themselves in. One German respondent, for example, stated that on holidays in Turkey, she noticed how she tried to not act too “male” or “Lesbian”, while she normally does not feel uncomfortable displaying her sexuality. The question whether they felt excluded from places where heterosexual people would socialize was unanimously answered with “no”. While this cannot be seen as a representative survey, it showed that none of the ten gay people who were asked felt particularly uneasy while living their sexuality in their home countries.
Relationships in the family[edit | edit source]
The 2014 group examined interpersonal relations among people of participating countries in a broader sense. The research focused on different views on family in terms of defining the family, individuality and its structure. Participants of all countries consider family an important part of people’s lives, but the interpretation of the word itself slightly differs across cultures. The Slovenian, Croatian and German and Irish definition of the nucleus of a family normally includes parents, children, and sometimes grandparents, depending on the circumstances. It is not uncommon for the people in Croatia and Slovenia for two generations to live under the same roof.  For the Portuguese, the word ‘family’ carries a slightly different connotation. They usually interpret the word in a broader sense that also includes their aunts, uncles and cousins and not just the parents and children. As for the family gatherings and personal contact, the Portuguese generally seem to be the most tactile people and keep the most intimate relationship with the family. The Germans and the Irish are considered the most reserved when it comes to expressing emotions and physical contact, while Croatians and Slovenians seem to be somewhere in between. If we compare our findings to Hofstede’s cultural dimensions theory, Ireland and Germany are considered the most individualistic countries with relatively high scores of 70 and 67 respectively, followed by Croatia with the score of 33, Portugal 31 and Slovenia 27. It was not surprising that Ireland and Germany are at the top of the list, since the participants of the summer school described themselves as rather individualistic societies where people mostly rely on themselves. There is a considerable gap between Ireland and Germany and the rest of the participating countries on the scale dealing with individualism. This is reflected in the fact that Croatians, Slovenians and Portuguese find family not only important, but an integral part of life. The Portuguese participants furthermore consider themselves a closely connected society with strongly collectivist values where family plays an essential role in personal development.
Marriage & Divorce[edit | edit source]
Divorce was rare before the second half of the twentieth century in the EU, but during the seventies the rates started to increase rapidly. The marriage rates have also been falling since the sixties, according to Wilson and Smallwood (29). According to Hofstede (2010), a society can have different degrees of independence amongst its members. It has to do with “people’s self-image defined in terms of ‘I ‘or ‘we’ (Hofstede, 2010). Individualist societies, like Portugal and Germany, have higher divorce rates, while the collectivist societies, like Croatia and Slovenia, have the lowest divorce rates. Although Ireland is considered to be an individualistic society, its lowest rates amongst the five countries have likely to do with strictness of the divorce laws and with religion. The results of Hofstede's research (2010) correlate to the survey which was undertaken. Participants were asked whether their parents were married or divorced. Among the eighteen Croatians examined, all the parents were married, unlike in Portugal, where the roughly half, 57%, were divorced. Furthermore, in Germany there were 61% of parents that were married. Ireland and Slovenia have the same ranking, 86% married parents.
The graphic below shows the marriage rates of the five countries according to the European Commission Website. In ascending order Slovenia has the lowest marriage rates, followed by Porugal, Ireland, Germany and finally Croatia with the highest rate. The rates given can be seen in corrolation to different factors: It appears that economic factors and the religiousness of the countries inhabitants play an important role in deciding whether or not to get married.
Wedding customs[edit | edit source]
There are some curious differences to note when it comes to gifts to be received at a wedding in the respective countries. For example: Irish brides and grooms receive no material gifts at their wedding; instead, they commonly receive approximately 50€ per guest in a greeting card to pay for food and drink and to add a little extra money, if the couple and the guests are closely related. It is similar in terms of monetary gifts in Croatia; in addition, the bride receives gifts like jewellery from the groom's parents before the ceremony. German wedding couples mostly receive monetary gifts as well. There is no fixed price but the wedding invitation already kindly states, often in form of a poem, for what purpose the received money is to be spent, e.g. honeymoon or wedding party. Banknotes are usually creatively folded and wrapped up; putting the money in envelopes or greeting cards is considered very impersonal in German customs. Wedding gifts for the couple's home are often given at Slovenian weddings. In Portugal, the godparents of the couple to be wed traditionally help the parents of the bride and groom financially in the planning of the wedding ceremony. At the wedding itself, material gifts like decorative objects or household goods or even money are to be received from the wedding party.
These different customs could potentially cause problems if, for example, a person from Slovenia would go to a wedding in Ireland not knowing about the custom of giving money instead of material objects. Therefore, it is a good idea to inquire in advance about wedding customs in the area.
Gay marriages[edit | edit source]
Between the five countries, there are few significant differences in marriage rights for gay people. Even though the rights and restrictions granted, for example, by the governments of Portugal and Slovenia are the same, one country terms it “marriage”, the other calls it a “union”. The governments appear to be reluctant to use the term “marriage” in referring to a lawfully wedded homosexual couple, and full adoption rights are not granted in any of the five countries this group has evaluated, as it is often a sensitive topic which touches core family values. Some of the Constitutions in these countries do not allow the term to be used. It may be questioned why gay couples want to get married, after all, it is not only a matter of a personal bond or making the relationship “official”, but also has a lot to do with state restrictions that do not grant the same right to same-sex couples as to heterosexual couples – for example, when it comes to not being allowed to see the partner in the hospital in a case of emergency, not having the benefits heterosexual couples have in terms of tax, pension, inheritance or property rights or not being granted any adoption rights in some countries. Same-sex couples Same-sex marriage in Portugal can get married in Portugal, even if they do not have permanent residency in the country or their home country does not allow gay marriage. Adoption is only granted if the partner intends to adopt the other partner's child – a step-child adoption. Germany, Slovenia and Ireland recognize same-sex unions, or registered partnerships. Slovenia grants full marriage rights to gay couples, except in terms of adoption, only step-child adoption is allowed. In June 2013, Germany granted almost full rights for gay couples in same-sex unions; the last step was concerning equal tax benefits, and the last remaining step would be to grant full adoption rights as well, which the conservative party is refusing. The Irish Constitution makes granting equal rights to gay couples a bit more complicated, as a special paragraph about family rights is included in it. Gay unions in Croatia are officially termed “Unregistered Cohabitants”, Croatian gay couples can only apply for similar rights as heterosexual couples in terms of financial and inheritance rights if they have lived together (are cohabitants) for more than 3 years. No other rights are granted.
In terms of numbers, Germany has 34.000 registered partnerships (2012), Ireland has 734 (2012), Portugal 277 (2010) and in 2011, Slovenia only had 17 registered partnerships in total, but with a population of just 2 million inhabitants. There is no data to be found on Croatia.
All of these countries hold annual Gay Pride Parades, which are also used by equal-rights supporters to underline the need for extended gay rights and abolish restrictions in the respective countries. For example: the 2013 Gay Pride parade in Zagreb protested against a new referendum put forward by an anti-gay group to change the Croatian constitution to define marriage between a man and a woman, which gathered 700.000 signatures.
Friendship[edit | edit source]
Friendship is an essential part of everyone’s lives, regardless of the culture a person originates from. Participants of all countries stated that friendships are mostly formed in primary schools, secondary schools or at the faculties. There are some differences among friendships across the participants’ countries, though. Slovenians, Croatians and Portuguese tend to socialise with a large group of people. However, they will form a close friendship only with a few of them whom they consider trustworthy. As far as Germans and the Irish are concerned, it seems that they prefer smaller groups of people with whom they establish close ties. If we take a look at Hofstede’s (2010) graph, which compares individualistism as opposed to collectivism of the participating countries, the conclusions drawn once again overlap to a great extent with his findings (see graph in section Relationships in the family).
Conclusion[edit | edit source]
The research conducted confirms the initial thesis that the nations in question do not differ greatly in their dating habits, viewes on family and romantic relationships. There are some minor cultural differences among the participating countries when it comes to divorce rates, which rise in more individualistic societies as opposed to the collectivist societies. Furthermore, homosexuals who travel from their own countries and seem to be more open to their community might find conflicting views in other countries, as there are still tensions in countries like Croatia (at gay pride parades, for example. Finally, it was concluded that most dating and relationship habits are similar across Europe and that they they mostly depend on individual experience, rather than being culturally defined. Concerning family and friendship, there are noticable differences between cultures in terms of defining those relationships. While everyone considers family as well as friendship to be an important factor in life, some countries seem to be more individually-based and do not rely too strongly on personal relations. It is of course essential to bear in mind that there are exceptions for the conclusions given.
References[edit | edit source]
Crude Marriage Rate, selected years, 1960-2011 (per 1 000 Inhabitants). European Commission Eurostat. N.p., n.d. Web. 8 Aug. 2013. http://epp.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/statistics_explained/index.php?title=File:Crude_marriage_rate,_seleted_years,_1960-2011_(per_1_000_inhabitants).png&filetimestamp=20130130111229.
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- For more information, cf. Blake, Jason (2011). Slovenia. Culture Smart! The Essential Guide to Customs & Culture. London: Kuperard/Random House.