Saturday, February 14, 2015

My Intercultural Love: Simi & Sergio


Simi writes one of my favorite blogs - Boiling Wok - a witty, feminist diary that chronicles her life living abroad in Singapore....AND she also just got married to her super handsome European soulmate!


Introduction....
Simi: Indian Tamil, from Hyderabad.
Sergio: Southern European/Mediterranean.
Both currently living abroad in Singapore.

Three words that describe you...
Simi: I find it so difficult to encompass all of me in three words. The top words that come to my mind are organized, highly sensitive and passionate.
Sergio: Three words only? Can’t fit into three words so let me try like this: politically incorrect proud owner of a potbelly ;)

Where/how do you feel most inspired?
Simi: Inspiration can strike me anywhere from when I am reading books, cooking, listening to podcasts, walking, or in the bathroom. 
Sergio: Most inspired? Hard to say really. For one, teachers can inspire me. Besides that, perhaps a good book or a well written speech.

Where/how did you meet your spouse?
Simi: The University I studied in had a program where students could volunteer to pick up new international students from the airport and bring them around campus. I was free one Saturday afternoon and went to pick up an unknown student that day. The new student was Sergio and we met at the airport for the first time :) I used to show him around the campus and we used to hang out a lot together.

How long have you been together? 
Simi: 3.5 years

What qualities do you admire in your spouse?
Simi: Sergio is funny and is makes me laugh a lot. Direct and honest. Very warm and affectionate….
Sergio: Speaking truth to power, cute laughter, intelligence… 

Favorite memory together as a couple...
Sergio: Our Saturday ritual - we wake up late without an alarm, I have coffee and Simi has chai, while we surf the internet. Then we go out for lunch and spend our afternoon in cafes having coffee & cake and reading books/blogs/internet. We go for a walk in the evening and watch movies together at night.

What did you know about your spouse's culture prior to your relationship?
Simi: Nothing specific. Honestly, I used to view all westerners as a whole and Europe as one entity, not a continent with different cultures. 
Sergio: Not much per se, except that Indian culture is still conservative and traditional. As I had lived in similar cultures before, I had a general understanding of what to expect. Having said that, I have to emphasize that I never perceived Simi through the lenses of her culture. She was not conservative or traditional in a way that many other Indians I met were. In fact, that is one of the reasons I found her attractive. Let me elaborate further - when we first met and started socializing, culture (or technically, our different backgrounds) did not really play a role between us. 

How did you tell your friends/family about your intercultural relationship? 
Simi: I kept Sergio a secret from everyone as long as I could. I ended up telling my family when arranged marriage came knocking at my door. Initially, they were speechless and shell-shocked because I had never even mentioned him earlier. After a day or two of silence, they accepted it without drama. I was surprised by that and really happy about it too. Indian families need not always be full of drama as we always expect them to :) They had their apprehensions which were cleared when they spoke to Sergio. My close friends were non-judgmental about it. I think it did not really surprise them considering my personality and views.
Sergio: Simi was not the first non-European girl that I had dated. My parents and friends are very liberal. Nobody was shocked. I am very proud of my family and friends in this regard.

How has your relationship enlightened your life? How has it changed you & your outlook on life?
Simi: I am definitely more expressive now. I used to suppress my feelings until they exploded! I definitely do that less often now. Also, Sergio was the one who gave me the idea to start my blog - Boiling Wok!
Sergio: Enlightened is maybe a too big of a word but I can say that I have learned a lot (and I am still learning!) both about her culture and about myself. The latter is, in my opinion, equally important as the former.

Who proposed and how?
Both: We did not really have a conventional proposal with a ring. We were dating for over three years and getting married and a future together came into our discussions organically.

Describe your wedding... 
Simi: Our wedding was very unconventional from start to finish. You can read more about it on my blog...

What does being married mean to you?
Both: Safety, security, being able to rely on someone, togetherness, sharing the good and bad, the little and the big things like laughter over time. 

What are your dreams for your future together as a married couple?
Both: We wish to find a nice country to settle down in with stable jobs that we love. We want to have a nice spacious house with large windows and lots of natural light. One day, we might have a cat (Sergio), a dog (Simi) and a kid ;) 

What's the best marital advice that you received from elder family/friends?
Simi: Recently over Skype, my mum told me “marriage is you keep him happy and he keeps you happy”. That struck me as simple and yet profound.
Sergio: Clearly nobody gives me advice! I prefer to advise everyone - Simi calls me "The Indian Uncle"!

What positive cultural values do you bring to your relationship?
Simi: Sergio brings his directness and warm heart (he discusses problems openly, instead of brushing them under the carpet). Southern Europeans tend to be more friendly which Sergio definitely is.
Sergio: Simi is more of a cosmopolitan Indian rather than a conservative one. Simi's tolerance for things not working and dirt is definitely higher than mine!


What do you do to keep your relationship alive? What kinds of things do you do to connect with your spouse?
Both: We communicate a lot, spend quality time together, and enjoy watching movies and TV series.

In what ways have you adopted aspects of your spouse's culture?
Both: Though we both come from technically very different cultures, we are not really different in terms of values and worldview. We are basically liberal Westerners. In addition, we are also not nationalists and that same world view is one of the key reasons why we get along so well. Perhaps globalization of values is not such a bad thing after all! 

Having written this, clearly there were things that we did differently. For example, Sergio was appalled that anybody would make pasta in a wok! Also, some differences arose when we went shopping for kitchen utensils and Sergio was looking to buy what his mom had and I didn't want them because that was not what we use in Indian kitchens. 

Simi:  I have adopted a lot of things in terms of food. I definitely eat more bread, pasta, cheese, olives, olive oil and Brussels sprouts than before. I had never tried olives (except on a pizza) or Brussels sprouts or so much European cheese before I met Sergio! Also, I bake bread, pizza, cakes more often - now that I have Sergio to finish them off!

Sergio: I definitely eat a lot of Indian food now and I love it! We watch Indian movies and I discovered Mahesh Babu. I am his biggest European fan! In addition, I also learned how to win an argument, Indian style – be the first to start guilt-tripping! ;)

Has your family adopted aspects of your spouse's culture?
Both: No and we don’t live with either of our parents.

What aspects of your spouse's culture do you find difficult to embrace?
Sergio: Formality, too many rituals and traditions. But we do not face it too much because we don’t live in India. 

Name some cultural faux-pas that you have unknowingly committed...
Sergio: Saying no when I should have said yes. I say no in situations where Indians would have said yes out of respect for elders and this is is something I LOVE to do! So, yes, I do it knowingly ;)

What was the most challenging time in your intercultural relationship?
Both: We have been through a lot together. We both had a lot of issues with our Master’s degrees - research, scholarships - it was one hell of a time. Also, when Simi was unsure that she wanted to date a non-Indian.

What's the best and the worst part of being in an intercultural relationship?
Simi: We are in an intercultural relationship, simply judging by our backgrounds. To me, it is not really intercultural because our values and worldview are the same. I definitely get along with Sergio better than I get along with a lot of Indians!
Sergio: The best part is the food and the worst part is the formalities.

What do you think are the biggest misconceptions that people have about intercultural relationships?
Both: How every intercultural relationship needs to be difficult or challenging in terms of adaptation.

What are the biggest misconceptions about Indian women?
Simi: That everybody has an arranged marriage.

What are the biggest misconceptions about Southern European men?
Sergio: That we are lazy. But I would call it ‘la dolce vita’!

Have you come across people who disapprove of your intercultural union? If so, how do you deal with them?
Simi: I have had some conservative Indian acquaintances who were prejudiced against Westerners/liberal Indians. They were afraid of Sergio and avoided us when he was around. We ignored them and are not really bothered by them. I cannot see myself hanging out with someone who has problems with Sergio just because he is a white guy.

Take-away advice for other intercultural couples...
Simi: Stop building monsters in your head and don’t assume things. I spent well over 2 years going through my family’s reaction to Sergio and it was nothing like I imagined. Might as well have saved myself from the anxiety! Always remember that you and your spouse are a team and act accordingly. Put your spouse above family/friends/society. Many people will not stand up for their spouses in front of their families even when the the family is clearly wrong.
Sergio: As Frank Sinatra sang “I did it my way” - do it YOUR way. Rebel all the way! Stop listening to other people and do what makes you happy. Very Western advice :)

(All images courtesy of Boiling Wok)
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5 comments

  1. Great post, and as a European I as chuckling on some answers. Brussels sprouts indeed ! What wouldn't you do for the sake of love ;) (Padparadscha)

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  2. I loved this story but I even loved more their blog boiling wok, with a section named Menstruation :)
    Sometimes our own expectations on how other people will react can cause a lot of stress. I read a lot of articles and heard lots of things about Chinese mothers in law, tiger moms. To then inmediately realize my mother in law is a mother, also my mother now, and she is not close to be a tiger mom.
    Expectations... :)

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  3. I am an Indian girl and I am dating a German guy....this is giving me hope...God bless the couple...

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  4. Beautiful interview :) Great to read about Indian Women with European man experiences. I honestly have not met as many. I know mostly White women married to Indian men and I always wondered if the experience was different.

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  5. Really enjoyed the interview, especially Sergio's analysis of how Indians deal with arguments by guilt-tripping!! LOL!! He knows us well!!

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