Ever heard of the Kelly Family? An incredibly cheesy, kitsch Irish family pop combo featuring tens of kids? (If you added the Corrs and the Nolans together you’d still be well short of the kind of numbers we are talking here). They were vaguely big in Germany (but then again, who wasn’t?) and had a hit or two in these parts, not least Fell in Love With Alien in the mid-1990s. If you visited Romania around 1995-1997 chances are you heard this song on repeat. It was a bizarre taxi driver favourite, up there with the even more dreadful Casablanca by Jennifer Jay. (If you have a strong stomach, the video for Fell in Love With an Alien is here. Definitely not safe for work, unless you want to be a figure of ridicule for many months).
We had ourselves happily forgotten all about the Kelly Family until a draft of a new book by Angela Nicoara, Loving an Alien, popped into our inbox last month. We will forgive her, for the book, which documents a number of cross-cultural marriages, is rather lovely.
A series of interviews with the female half of 27 multicultural couples, the book began as an idea when Nicoara one day realised how many of the women she knew had married foreigners. She began collecting their stories and the idea grew into a charming collection of often hilarious vignettes that anyone in a mixed marriage will almost instantly recognise. Note of the 27 women Nicoara features, only two are Romanian (including herself: Nicoara’s own, rather talented alien is Mike Ormsby, whose Never Mind the Balkans remains one of our favourite books ever written about contemporary Romania in English).
Anyone in a cross-cultural relationship will love this book. On almost every page is a scenario you will recognise, be it a tale of Kafkaesque paperwork or a comical failure to communicate with future in-laws.
There are stories from Burundi (where a woman was one day going about her business in a Bujumbura market only for a Romanian called Stefan to hand her a card with his phone number on and say he simply had to see her again – they are now married) and Indonesia (where, because of the country’s backwards laws governing marriage between different faiths an American named Bob had to pretend to be a Muslim and call himself Abdul Yusuf during the wedding ceremony).
The things we do for love.
In fact, you will notice that many of the couples featured eschewed a traditional marriage ceremony, or had a much smaller-scale affair (as indeed did Mr. & Mrs. Bucharest Life on our big day back in 2001). Other couples had two weddings in various parts of the world. (We ourselves know an Anglo-Romanian couple who had no fewer than three).
There is also a huge amount of spontaneity in this book: love is not meant to be too carefully planned. One couple wake up in Brussels on a Monday morning, go to the Town Hall and get married. Just like that. ‘If it doesn’t work out, we’ll get divorced. No big deal.’ They are still married of course, and their parents – who wanted big religious weddings – have forgiven them.
When you think about it, weddings are far too often spoilt by parents who make their children’s big day their own, inviting hundreds of their friends, who the happy couple may hardly know. We have long said we have no intention of doing that. As and when our kids tie the knot it can be as grand or as simple an affair as they want. Only two people matter at a wedding: the two people getting married. If they want to do it at the top of a volcano with no one else present, that’s fine with us.
In the very first interview in the book an American student in 1980s Moscow falls for one of those shady characters who used to hang around Red Square and buy jeans from foreign visitors to the USSR. But she has a boyfriend and returns home to the US. On returning (single) to Moscow a year later she decides not to contact the denim trader, only to then bump into him. Call it serendipity, call it fate, call it what you like. But if there’s a theme to this delightful book it is that some things are just meant to be.
You can get Loving an Alien here.