Monday, November 25, 2013

"How much has your husband adjusted?"

Usually in Indian culture, it is only the wife who is supposed to "adjust" to her husband's family, as well as within the marriage. There is more pressure on the women to do the changing, while the men typically have to do very less or none at all. In an intercultural relationship, it is different because there is a lot more adjusting to do - on all sides. Differences in cultures, language, food....the list goes on. An intercultural marriage has no chance of surviving unless both spouses adjust to each other equally - or if not equally, than as best as they can.


The other day I got an excellent question from one of my readers:

"it seems though only you have adjusted to indian culture like dress, puja's, giving your daughter an indian name etc... how much has your husband compromised?"

As I am the narrator of this blog, it probably seems like I have adjusted more. I think my adjustments are more on the outward side, and husband-ji's are more inward...

(He has a unique sense of style!)

Husband-ji was very Westernized before I met him. He is very different, very modern, and he couldn't care less what others think about him. He dressed differently, he talked differently, and he just carried himself in a different way. He definitely subscribed to the Western concept of individualism. In that way, I think he was made to marry a Western girl (or at least a more traditional one like me!) And the funny thing is, he had never been to the West before - I met him right after he came from India - although it seemed like he belonged in the West from the get-go. So, he really didn't have too much to adjust to, in terms of ideologies.

(My mum's Sicilian pasta is one of his faves)

The biggest adjustment for him was food. Husband-ji is a notoriously picky eater, and a strict vegetarian (no yogurt even!) so it has been a struggle to find things for him to eat when we go out. Before I met him, he had never had non-Indian food. I remember when we first started dating, we would go to a restaurant and he would only get french fries or mashed potatoes. Since then, it has been my mission in our relationship to find vegetarian foods from different cuisines that he will like. Since he is such a picky eater, it's either hit or miss! In our years together, I have encouraged him to experiment with non-Indian vegetarian foods, which in turn has helped him also find foods for his family when they visit us for long periods of time. He loves mexican food - vegetarian tacos, burrito bowls, guacamole (can be made spicy!); and traditional Italian food like pasta arrabiata, pesto pasta, burrata cheese and caprese salads. I have also got him addicted to veggie burgers, onion rings, and grilled cheese sandwiches, which are easy to find in diner-type places. He is also a big coffee addict, and he loves strong Italian coffees (at 49th parallel coffee shop or Nespresso)

(Decorating his first Christmas tree, 2008)

After we moved to Canada and by living close to my family, husband-ji also started celebrating our holidays. We celebrate Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Valentine's Day. When I first introduced husband-ji to our way of celebrating the holidays and decorating - little did I know that he was going to turn into a total holiday monster! I think this is because the festivals in India are celebrated with such grandeur - he wanted to celebrate it with the same enthusiasm! For Halloween and Christmas, he goes nutso decorating! He eagerly awaits them all year and starts setting up the decorations at least a month before! I think it is really sweet how he celebrates our holidays, and I am so happy that he has joined in our family traditions.

(Daddy & Maddy: besties!)

Besides not caring what others' think, he is also extremely close to my parents. This is quite different than the typical traditional Indian male, who usually gives priority to his parents only. He is always helping my parents out with their business, fixing things in their house and running errands for them. I come from a very chatty family, and his communication skills and expressive language has really improved by conversing with us.

(Bonding with baby)

The biggest way he has adjusted though, has been on his journey in becoming a father. In traditional India, baby care (diapers, bathing, feeding, etc) is not seen as the man's responsibility; and still there are no dads allowed in the room while the wife is giving birth (I personally think this is a huge disservice to fathers). As a parent, he is definitely more Westernized in terms of being extremely involved in the entire process. He attended every single prenatal doctors appointment with me, he attended every prenatal class (which helps prepare the dads for playing an active role in the birthing process), and he was there the entire time, right by my side, during my birth. He also took off work for a month after we had our baby, and has helped as an equal partner with all the baby care. In Canadian culture, the father is conditioned as an equal partner right from the beginning of the pregnancy and is encouraged to be fully involved during the process. In fact, husband-ji was so involved, that he even gave me advice on breastfeeding! (LOL! That was totally annoying though!)

In many ways, I am more Indian than husband-ji and he is more Westernized than me. His adjustments have mostly been internal, while mine have been more external.

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What do you think, dear readers? If you are in an intercultural relationship, how have you adjusted to your partner's culture? And how has your partner adjusted to yours?


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27 comments

  1. Alexandra, parts of this post had me cracking up. My first question- where can I find those shoes? I love them!

    Like your husband I was (and still am) more westernized than some of my Indian counterparts, even before the brief sojourn my natal family had in the United States at the beginning of my teens.

    I go all out for Christmas, and as you mentioned, I think a large part of this has to do with the absolute dhoom dhamaka with which festivals are celebrated in India. Add to that the fact that my natal family did not celebrate Christmas going up, so now I go crazy. My husband is Christian, I am agnostic, but I am the one who reads the Bible stories to my daughter and puts up the Christmas tree.

    Both my husband and I had some adjusting to do when we moved in together before getting married, but we didn't feel the pinch or feel like we were adjusting. Like I mentioned, I was already westernized and my husband had traveled quite a bit outside of the United States before he met me, so we are both quite 'open'.

    One of the best things about our marriage is how willing and open we are to being influenced by each other, and we have. Before we got married we were registered on opposite ends of the political spectrum; we are now registered as independents. Food is both Indian and American, movies are Bollywood and Hollywood.

    Thanks for letting me write a mini blog :-).

    Raina.

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    1. Yes, I think so too! The Indian festivals are so intense and meticulous - he celebrates ours in the same way he knows how! Total holiday monster...LOL! But boy, is it festive! I'll allow it but I'm putting my foot down if he wears some reindeer sweater...heeheehee!
      Yes, it is much easier to adjust while living together before marriage - you get everything ironed out before the wedding, like you're already married.
      You & your hubby sound sooooo cute :)))))) perfect match!

      P.S. Shoes are Jeremy Scott for Adidas ;)

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  2. I am an Indian dating an European. Since, my ideas are more on the western side, we didn't have much of a problem though we did have a lot of initial communication/what will parents say problems. Food wise, definitely, my bf has tried out Indian food since he met me and loves it (who doesn't). He def has become aware of patriarchal nature of India and learnt more about& watches some India movies too.

    Both of us do not fit in our respective countries, so it has been easy. Festivals wise, we both are too lazy to do anything for any festival, so that is not an issue.

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    1. So interesting! You guys sound great together. What part of Europe is he from? What part of India are you from?
      Yes, we used to have communication issues too...words are different, way of talking is different. Most of it got dealt with in the beginning as we got into the rhythms of our relationship, but sometimes it still pops up.

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  3. What a wonderful read, Alexandra. I really enjoyed that, and it seems your are so good for each other and share something special. I am so happy for you:-) I truly believe it is about adjusting on both sides, and we have done that too- give and take and make compromises- to make it our path together as a couple. And my husband is the same: he does not care what people might think about him: refreshing:-) Best to you and your lovely family!

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    1. Thanks Eli!
      Yes, I totally agree, the compromises are a must, but they are worth it, and we can make it fun, like an adventure!

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  4. Alexandra,
    The topic is really good. The emphasis is being together needs adjustment. It may be that only the wife need to adjust earlier. This is fast changing.
    So long as the adjustment is supporting the togetherness both mentally and physically, i dont see an issue in any of the adjustments. But if it is due the ego clashes that should be avoided.

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    1. Yes, both sides need to adjust - in any relationship, or else there will be resentment.

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  5. @Alexandra

    In India, there were larger joint families. The child rearing was a collective activity. There were plenty of women to take care of the child. That is why perhaps the men were kept out of it. It is not that Indian men never helped their wives in house hold work and child care during those times and even now. The Indian families may appear patriarchal in nature, but their internal operations are very differently. In the west it is apparent, in our country it is invisible.

    There are men who give respect to both their inlaws and their parents. I don't know why it has to be an either or thing and has to be explicitly celebrated.

    As far as letting Indian men in maternity wards. It is also practical because according to our culture, women may feel uncomfortable in their presence. Even those men who accompany their wives for check up in government hospitals are not allowed to get into the examination chamber. There may be some men who can indulge in some hanky panky. Indian men are notorious and so we all have to suffer for the misconduct of a few. However, private hospitals and clinics are slightly different.

    I do agree that a women needs the presence of his husband at the time of delivery. She is more comfortable with a know face before her. In India, it is unthinkable, but may be some day we will have such a system in place.

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    1. I asked my MIL and she said that there would always be a woman in the house to take care of the kids, that is why the dad would not get the chance to take care exclusively. I said, what if all the women went out for a party. She said there would always be at least one for the kids. The part I find difficult about that, is that I have noticed within our family, that the women actually interfere with the bond between the child and the father by swooping in too much. There is a special bond that develops between a father and a child when you leave them alone to have time together.
      I also asked my MIL about being in maternity wards and she said that the woman would not want the man to see her in pain, she would feel bad. But having been through the birth process - it is a life-changing experience - and a miracle to witness, having a child come out of the mother - what a miracle of life.....which is why it is so important for fathers to be involved, in my opinion. Yes, to be scared of the labor pains, to sweat along with you, to give comfort, to cry the tears of joy...it is a priceless experience. It is such a beautiful experience, not only for bonding between the father and baby; but also the husband and wife. It creates a team mentality right from that moment.

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  6. The bit about dads not helping out is only in very, very, very traditional households. Middle-class Indian men are generally brought up to be very family-oriented so unless the women in their lives are total control freaks and want things only done their way, the average Indian male is quite willing to change diapers, hold/play with the baby and warm bottles to feed it. In India, these ancillary jobs are usually taken over by grandmas, mothers, and domestic help so the guys generally don't get a chance. But when given the opportunity, most will rise to the occasion.

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    1. Yes, I have noticed a huge difference regarding this in our generation as opposed to my inlaws generation. My husband's cousins seem very ready to help out in terms of baby care.
      The only one thing is that none were allowed in the birthing room.
      And then I feel like there is an unspoken rule that no matter what - the wife must stay home and take care of the kids until they are in school - like it is an unthinkable thing for the wives to want to work. This I have noticed in our Indian family, educated middle class, but pretty traditional (no mixing LOL)
      I do feel like the guys need to be encouraged by the women more, because men are already behind in the process (pregnancy &delivery) so their bond needs to be nurtured as much as possible.

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  7. In response to the comments on dads not helping out, my dad, his brothers and my other uncles fit this description to a T. After I had my own daughter, my mom came to stay with my husband and I and she revealed that my dad hadn't changed a single diaper (this with two kids and he wanted a third, and why not, he didn't have to lift a finger!). Apart from one aunt, none of the others were "allowed" to work outside the home and one aunt was even forced to marry someone from the same caste when she fell in love with someone who was not "suitable" (i.e., not from the same caste or state). I am just very glad that I was not born in my parents' generation.

    On the other hand, I definitely see the men of my generation, my cousins and my brother, helping out their wives and being much more involved and hands on dads and good thing too.

    Raina.

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    1. Same with my FIL! Never changed a diaper in his life, and Maya was the first child he held (he already had 2 kids and 1 other grandkid). I thought that was ridiculous, so I went over and just plopped Maya on his lap and forced him to hold her. He was scared, but then he really liked it and gave her a kiss and a hug. It was so sweet, and I'm glad I did it! I think all they need is a little encouragement, they need to know it's not scary.
      I have also noticed a change with our cousins' generation - they are much more involved in helping out. The only this is that many of my cousin's wives are not allowed to work (with a small child), which is weird. It is an unspoken thing.

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  8. Hi Alexandra. Thank you for your blog. It's been helpfull for me as my partner is also indian. He's still in India, but soon coming to stay in my country. You've been writing here in your blog a lot about how your life has been when married to an Indian, and about how Indians see western woman. I've been wondering how has it been from your husbands side? I mean when you are living outside India, have you or he ever faced any racism? I've been very scared already how life in here will be for my boyfriend. I can stand the stares and guestions in India, but people in europe can be very rude and in here they are also violent when they get drunk. I've alredy faced rasism when i've told about my boyfriend for the people in here. Even they havent ever met him. For some I've told about our plan to get married and I can see they are not happy for me. It hurts and I'm tired of explaining my desicions.

    Karoliina

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    1. I will write more info on a blog post on this topic.
      Where in Europe are you from?
      Hubby experienced a bit of racism in the US, like someone screaming "bin laden" at him once, and then he had trouble with a racist professor. And then there were the people who commented saying he was only marrying me for citizenship (that came from both westerners and Indians alike) -> LOL nobody asked me if I was only marrying him for Indian citizenship ;P
      We also have had trouble in US government offices, like the border crossings etc.
      In Canada we have not had too much trouble, we live in an area where all the other Indians are Sikh Punjabi's, so sometimes people will think he is also Punjabi. Also unfortunately, the only Sikhs that are in the news are gangsters, so sometimes they think he is some Punjabi gangster because of his big tattoo!
      We went to Europe in the Spring, and I noticed a lot of stares. I didn't see any mixed couples like us. My MIL also spent time in Switzerland and she said that she noticed the Swiss were keeping their distance, and more aloof, unfriendly. She heard from some of her Indian friends in Switzerland that some locals refused to speak or acknowledge them. But no overt racism.
      I felt like things in Europe were quite divided - not so much mixing like North America.
      I'm so sorry that you've had to deal with that. Remember, those people who are saying that nasty stuff will have to snap out of it, or get out of your life. Hopefully when they meet him they will think different. What types of things are they saying?

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    2. Thank you for your reply. I'm from Finland. Because my boyfriend has had some visa issues, some has asked is my boyfriend telling lies to me. Finland is a part of Schengen area and it's very difficult to get a visa here. Most people dont know about it. My friend has told to my teacher and he comes to me all the time asking questions about it, suspecting that I'm in touble. Once I tried to ask help for the visa from the intercultural center for foreigners here in my city, and they adviced my not get married because he must be only after my (or the coverments) money. I thought they offer help for foreigners, but they were only worried about me. My friends has said we have too different cultural backgrounds, it must be a problem. People sees India as a poor and filthy country, they think Indian men are treating women like slaves, even I tell them that my experiences with my boyfriend has been totally opposite and I've had much more problems with the local men in here. They are not only suspicious about my boyfriend, they just have very negative thoughts about India in general. I think if I would live in the capital city, it could be different. And also people here doesnt like foreigners only because we have social security system which pays money for students, jobless people and even for foreigners who has a residence permit for finland. People thinks that they come here only to get easy money from the coverment. I've already decided that after I finish my studies I wanna go back to India with him and start a life in there. This country is a difficult place to live even for me. I think that in general scandinavians are cold and distant. They love rules and hate everything what is exceptional. I'm also worried that people wont recognize him as an Indian because of his skin colour. He is very dark coloured (even he's from Orissa). I've also noticed that no-one's been questining if I will get benefits of marrying an Indian. Of course I will, I can apply for PIO card and leave this place forever. Luckily my mom and my sisters has been very positive about us. At least I have them on my side. In which part of Europe you visited? I also dont know any western-indian couples from here, so I cant relate to anyone. Thank God we have internet.

      Karoliina

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    3. @Karoliina - How awful...I would get rid of those friends, fast. And how hypocritical too! It is very difficult when people who you thought were friends say bad things about your soulmate, or petty things...it's like, why can't they just be happy? It sounds like ignorance to me, and stubborn ignorance too. Love is more powerful than cultures, languages, everything...some say it cannot be done just because they are too small-minded to ever do it themselves!
      A fellow blogger friend of mine also had difficulty with people stereotyping all Indian men in general, thinking they are all rapists due to the news.
      I think it would be noticeably better in the bigger city, but thank god your mom and sister are on board supporting you. Forget about those other people. Just focus on the good. I wish I was there to support you too! :(
      I have traveled in Europe extensively during my childhood (mostly France/Spain/Italy/UK), but have been back only once since I have been married, as an intercultural couple. I think it was only then I noticed there were none others like us! I have never been to Scandinavia though, but I have heard so much about the social security benefits. Actually IHM's blog just did a post about it recently:
      http://indianhomemaker.wordpress.com/2013/11/13/why-scandinavian-women-make-the-rest-of-the-world-jealous/

      That is so annoying that people think immigrants are going to steal the social security benefits - immigrants contribute greatly to whatever society they settle in, and why should they not get that country's benefits?
      Thank god for the internet...it unites us all...!
      Hugs to you...

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  9. Karoliina, I hope Alexandra won't mind my jumping in and adding my two cents, but in the end, you cannot make everyone happy- you simply can't. As long as you and your partner are happy together, then you will be alright. Yes, people around you will make nasty comments but you can ignore them and live a happy life or you can respond and give these people the satisfaction of being unhappy and irritated. My husband and I live in a conservative part of California which is racist, sexist and pretty conservative when it comes to religions intermixing. People did ask some intrusive questions when my husband and I married and even made some nasty comments (because of course, I MUST be marrying my husband for citizenship) but those people are not in our lives any longer and we are just fine. Good luck and hang in there.

    Raina.

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    1. Thank you for your comment Raina. I know that I shouldnt care, but when I get negative comments from my friends it is very difficult to understand. One of them even got married to non european guy herself, and is still able to judge me for my desicions. Her husband had a right to move in here because they are in love, but my boyfriend apparently doesnt have the same rights because he is Indian.

      Karoliina

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  10. My husband adjusted to the western way before I met him as he had already been living in Australia for a few years. He is open to any food, he loves wine now and started speaking in Australian slang. (although he lost it since moving back to India). I have adjusted in many ways to Indian culture but stick to what I believe is right. I try not to take things I don't agree with too seriously!!
    My son has become totally Indian now! Nice post Alexandra...your husbands shoes are awseome ;-)

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    1. I totally agree - we have to stick to the customs which fits into our life. OMG your son is too cute!!!
      Hubby's shoes are totally taking over our closet...good thing we are the same size so I can steal his, but he can't steal mine! ;P

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  11. My husband is a picky eater too, non vegetarian but not to hot about continental cuisine unless it's a dish that has enough gravy to be moist. He is however totally hooked to swiss style muesli (uncooked oats in yogurt with nuts and fruits) and even like eating this one instead of Indian food for dinner, for breakfast he loves his fruits, paratha and desi breakfast dish is his weekend stuff and no longer a daily thing.
    Private sector hospitals do let the husband in the labour and delivery room, and OBs are actually expecting it. Governement hospitals are the one banning the husband from the room. This was one of the few questions DH asked my OB when I was pregnant : "Can I be in the room with her while she is in labour" and my OB's reply was "You bet, I'm all for dragging you by the ear in there if you refuse because it takes two to concieve a chile and two to bring that child into the world" :)

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    1. That's so cool that he loves muesli - so healthy for him too! He sounds just like my FIL - he prefers all Western style light dishes.
      Oh thank god they are letting the husbands in! I have only heard from our cousins that they are not allowed in the birthing rooms - must not have been private sector. It is so important for the dads. So wonderful to hear that your hubby was there with you!

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  12. Hi Alexandra - can you please please please post (with your Mom's permission of course!) the recipe for that vego pasta - it looks amazing!

    Yet another great blog post xx

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