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I married Cyprus!

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‘In Cyprus, you don’t marry one person. You marry an entire community!’ ALIX NORMAN finds out what it’s like to be wedded to the island

Marriage is never easy. Marrying into a different culture can add an extra challenge to the relationship. Yet, each year, hundreds of foreigners and locals couple up to say ‘I do’.

According to the annual data from the Republic’s Statistical Service, the vast majority of local weddings involve two Cypriots. But look at pairings of foreigners and Cypriots, and contrasts between the two sexes appear

Local men prefer brides who are Russian (149 marriages in the last recorded year), Ukrainian (92) and Filipina (77). They’re also coupling up with Greeks (83 marriages) and Romanians (61). And they’re as equally interested in Brits as in Nepalese (24 marriages for both).

Cypriot women, on the other hand, vastly prefer Greek men (214 marriages), along with Indians (46) and Brits (41). And, in contrast to their male compatriots, only 13 Cypriot women married Russian men.

Once upon a time, we referred to these as ‘mixed’ or ‘cross cultural’ marriages. But the scientific term is heterogamy. Unlike homogamy, where one marries into one’s own social background, race, ethnicity, age, education, or religion, heterogamy crosses these boundaries.

feature3 catherine beger arrived in cyprus at the age of 19
Catherine Beger arrived in Cyprus at the age of 19

Interestingly, various studies suggest that neither can predict marital success. Instead, the one single factor that is most likely to ensure a successful relationship is commitment: if both partners, regardless of nationality, are actively devoted to making the relationship work, it probably will…

“Initially, I was afraid of commitment,” says 33-year-old Alessandro Bianchi. “But the love was there from the start and, in time, so was the devotion.”

Born and raised in Verona, Alessandro met his Cypriot wife while studying public relations in London.

“We met in 2014, and came to Cyprus in 2018,” he reveals. “It was a mutual decision – it would have been borderline impossible for her to get a job in Italy. But here, everyone speaks English, so I could find work.”

The couple moved to Paphos, and Alessandro’s first impression of his adopted homeland was “that it was the most imperfect country I’d ever been to; dysfunctional in a way that reminded me of Italy!

“It’s an island where people have learned to cope with everything and anything. Nothing ever goes to plan here: I always expect the unexpected! But that’s forced me to adapt, which is good.”

feature3 elisabeth villiger toufexis in paphos in the mid 1980s
Elisabeth Villiger Toufexis in Paphos in the mid 1980s

Since his wedding in 2021 – “there were 280 guests! I know I’m Italian, but that’s a lot” – Alessandro has been enjoying his new, extended family.

“I’m a private person, so it’s hard that everyone knows each other’s business. But I think I’ve integrated well, and now I love how all these people are there for me. In Cyprus, you don’t marry one person. You marry an entire community!”

Of course there are many mixed marriages that don’t survive – though not necessarily due to cultural differences.

Fifty-five-year-old Russian IT expert Katerina Ivanova met her husband on holiday in Ayia Napa; it took 14 years for the two to call it a day. Matthew Steyn, a 42-year-old South African accountant, met his Cypriot partner in Holland, but divorced three years later.

Both suggest cultural values had a part to play in the break-up. But both have also remained on the Island of Love.

“It was all very Shirley Valentine!” says 51-year-old Catherine Beger, founder of Larnaca’s Little Muse Young People’s Theatre.

“Aged 24, I swapped London’s grey skies and endless elevenses for a vibrant world of sunburn and souvla and sensuality. And though the relationship didn’t work, the island magicked its way into my soul. It became home. Now, I’m married to Cyprus.”

Other marriages have stood the test of time.

In 1985, Swiss tour guide Elisabeth Villiger Toufexis met her husband-to-be in Limassol’s Caribbean disco.

“We didn’t get together back then; I went off and travelled the world for another nine years before we finally reconnected. But in December 1995, we got married. And to this day, we remain a great team.”

Today, 63-year-old Elisabeth lives in Limassol, where she’s the host of the Most Memorable Journeys podcast. “Since I first stepped foot on the island I’ve been entranced by its light, its forests, its mountains. And my love affair with Cyprus is as strong as ever!”

For Nicosia consultant Nicholas Height, the move was a little more fraught with challenge.

“My wife and I met in Kentucky in 1997,” he reveals. “She was on the great American road trip. For me, it was love at first sight – I thought she was the most amazing creature who’d ever walked the face of this earth!

The two went their separate ways, finished their studies, and worked around the globe. “But I never forgot her,” says Nicholas. “Years later, I called her up and said ‘I’m tired of travelling the world looking for a girl just like you…’”

In December 2017, the couple were married in Nicholas’ front room. At the time, he was working for the US government in Washington DC, pulling in a six-figure salary.

“Then, one evening, someone fired off an AK47 down the block. Instantly, all my friends grabbed their Glocks. And as I raced for my shotgun, I had a blinding realisation: this wasn’t the life I wanted for my children. The next day, I put my house on the market. And within a month, we were in Cyprus.”

The transition wasn’t easy for Nicholas.

“I’ve been to over 30 countries; I’m comfortable navigating different cultures. But I suspect I may be a little too American for Cyprus,” says the 46-year-old. “Where I’m from, we’re quite aggressive; we tell it like it is and we get things done,” he says. “Here, nothing goes according to plan, everyone knows your business, and I can’t get over how little everyone earns!

“On the flip side, the food and weather are amazing, and this is the safest place I’ve ever lived,” he adds. “My five-year-old is living her best life: horse riding, swimming in the Med, playing soccer and tennis every day. If we were still in Washington, I’d be teaching her about guns and drugs and child molesters.”

Marrying into Cyprus, he concludes, was not easy. “But you can’t put a price on a country that offers you safety. And the family of your dreams.”

 

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