“Hamish must be really desperate to date a gook”.
Slouched on a stool in art class, Kate, the girl next to me explained why my first ever boyfriend was in a scuffle during morning school break. I’d heard something happened but didn’t know what had started it. It’s one of those moments you replay in slow-motion, in full technicolour; it was cloudy outside, my teal school uniform had Indian ink spots near the hem and the smell of acrylic paint lingered in my nostrils mixing with her words. She couldn’t look me in the eye and her voice took an uncomfortable quality between a whisper and a weird gruffness. I didn’t admit it at the time but what I felt was shame.
Nearly three decades later I hear how a handful of locals in the Arctic are calling the foreign women who move there to marry men “eBay Wives”. I’m here to report a story for Dateline about how technology and the internet is bringing multiculturalism to the Faroe Islands for the first time.
Single men living in remote villages hop online to websites like Faroedating.fo and connect with women in Southeast Asia and Africa. They chat for a while, make a connection and if it goes well they meet up and, in some cases, marry within a few weeks.
Southeast Asian women now make up the second largest ethnic group in the Faroe Islands. This is serious change for a place known for its history as a Viking settlement. In fact, the entire 50,000 person population descends from a gene pool of 5,000, according to gene testing done by Noomi Oddmarsdóttir Gregersen and the FarGen project, which is mapping the genetic profile of the Faroe Islands.
I actually created a dating profile of myself on Faroedating.fo for this story. Did it make me uncomfortable? Um yes. The questions were outrageously sexist. I almost pulled out when the researcher said I had to choose my “best quality” from a dropdown menu which included options such as chest and legs. I made clear I wasn’t looking for love but men who would share their story on TV. Some of the replies I got are not suitable for print.
Both the responses and nature of the website made me recall that episode at high school. It made me ask if certain ethnicities are valued as less or cheaper than others in the West. During filming, we met an Indonesian man who had come to the Faroes. He spoke eloquently about the judgement he felt, an undercurrent that his Faroese wife couldn’t get a Faroese man.
As I got deeper into the Dateline story, which focuses also on integration and its societal challenges, I started to think more about interracial relationships, is it really just a small handful of locals who feel these men “are desperate”? Aren’t many of us, even in modern Australia where multiculturalism has been present for decades, guilty of sometimes thinking that also? I have friends who have met people and made commitments within days. We might question whether it will last, but I notice if one person is not the same ethnicity as their partner. Maybe I’m paranoid but do we think less of one party in the relationship or somehow feel something other than love is in play if they aren’t the same race?
Regardless of whether it’s here in Australia or on the other side of the world, I think if we’re honest, whenever people date outside their culture and ethnicity, they are judged by the people around them. On both sides. SBS made a TV show about it.
My dad who is progressive and educated said to me, “it’s better you marry a Chinese person or you will always have cultural clashes which are very difficult to resolve. Relationships are hard enough and you may find members of his family deep down aren’t happy you’re Chinese, and that will be a part of your life forever.”
I didn’t marry my high school sweetheart but it had nothing to do with the schoolyard comments and I have dated both inside and outside my race. Was my Dad right? Sure, there are lots of stories of people being uncomfortable.
During dinner with my partner’s best childhood friend, his wife of 25 years, spent 20 minutes talking about how terrible Asian drivers were and Asians shouldn’t be allowed on the road at all. I was sitting next to her. When we drove home that night, my partner said, “I didn’t realise how racist some of my friends were until we starting going out”.
And of course, it happens on the other side, we’re all guilty of it. My parents have occasionally in the past been polite but lukewarm in their reception to a few European suitors. I’m pretty sure they still hold on to the hope of me marrying a Chinese doctor.
What I admired about the women I met who have moved to the Faroe for love is their resilience and courage. It’s achingly beautiful there, but the climate is brutal and lonely. They moved without knowing anyone, but everyone I met had found jobs and were getting on with it. I felt emotion between many of the couples I met, not all of them, but what I didn’t detect was any shame that people may judge them, which as a Southeast Asian woman myself, made me proud.
This piece was first published at News.com.au.