Saturday, April 11, 2015

My Intercultural Love: Cyn & Sid

Cynthia has been an "expat" for over ten years, writing about her experiences on her blog - Home Cyn Home - while living in India with her lovely husband Sid, and beautiful daughter, Ishita...

My name is Cynthia, I'm a Swiss citizen and my husband is Indian, from Lucknow. I'm originally from Geneva, but I have been living in India since November 2003. We currently live in Mumbai, but relocated quite a few times over the years. We have a daughter, Ishita; and a cat and a dog, respectively named Mittens and Jasmine. I write a blog called Home Cyn Home (previously known as Cyn's Adventure in India) and have been writing it for over a decade.

Three words that describe you...
Creative, Introvert and Loyal

Favorite childhood memory...
My father is a sailboat fanatic, so I spent all of my Summer vacations sailing with him. My most vivid memories involve staying up late in the middle of the mediterranean sea watching the stars in the sky. My dad had that special guide book with star maps to know which star was were at any given time on any given latitude. I also remember watching dolphins in the wild, but more important was that I learned about geography, travelling and different cultures - thanks to my dad's passion for exploring the world's unknown corners. 

Where/how do you feel most inspired?
I feel most inspired by nature. I crave nature and quietness, which is rather ironic considering I live in a crowded urban city at the moment. I still make a point to go on a walk to my local park every day, and I get to think, imagine and converse with myself then. 

Where/how did you meet your spouse?
I met him online. We were two geeks from worlds apart discovering the joy of early Internet in 2001. He was randomly looking for chat buddies on ICQ, I decided to reply to his "Hi how are you?" and the rest is history. It was an instant connection from thousands of miles away.

How long have you been together?
We met online in 2001, and got a chance to meet in 2002 when we were in London, thanks to a twist of fate. Then we spent nearly 2 years in a long distance relationship. I moved to India in late 2003, and we were together in 2004 for good. We have known each other for 14 years and been together for 11. 

What qualities do you admire in your spouse?
I admire his ability to keep his cool in all situations. I am an anxious planner with mood swings; I overthink everything and am quite emotional. My husband has that amazing ability to stay grounded no matter what. He really completes me there. 

Favorite memory together as a couple...
Well, you can't beat giving birth to our daughter together! I don't think anything can beat that as far as memories go. And there was nothing crazy involving to the birth of Ishita. You know, it is just that moment when we just see our lives changing forever as a couple, as a family and as an individual - sharing that moment without any words to describe it. 

What did you know about your spouse's culture prior to your relationship?
Nothing! I knew where India was geographically, and that he was Hindu. The only thing I knew about India then was that it was where yoga originated from. A land that had spicy food and sarees!

How did you tell your friends/family about your intercultural relationship? 
My family knew from very early on because we didn't keep secret. They didn't think it would last - not because he was Indian, but because we met online and spend a lot of time in a long distance relationship. To them, online dating was stupid, ridiculous and not solid, so they assumed it was a fling and a general moment of young love. My few friends were supportive though, but I was generally very private about my relationship in my social circles outside the family. 

When I decided to move to India for love, the reactions became a bit more passionate. I faced some racist comments from some of my family members. I had to put my foot down and tell people to stop being so crass, only to be told they were apparently reacting that way for "my own good". Sad but true. 

How has your relationship enlightened your life? How has it changed you & your outlook on life?
It is difficult to say how it enlightened my life as such. My husband compliments me in every way, and I do the same for him. We were a perfect match even without knowing it. 

Living in India has changed my life more than I think my husband did. But it is hard to really explain what changed. I have become a bit more flexible, and less prone to become catatonic if things don't go as planned. You need to be super flexible and adaptable to merely survive India. I was already flexible, but it really taught me that I was quite adaptable - much more than I thought I was!

Who proposed and how?
Nobody did. It might sound totally crazy, but we both knew that the logical next step would be to get married. We wanted to be together and build a future together. Besides, with our future being in India and me being a Swiss, the only way it could happen was through marriage. It was only logical. Both my husband and I aren't really the mushy romantic type!

Describe your wedding...
We let my in-laws plan the whole thing. They wanted it to happen in Lucknow because that is where all the family is, and it was their last son getting married. To us it was a bit of a formality. We chose our outfits and rings, and just showed up for the big day! I remember it being a ceremony neither my husband nor I grasped in detail. We just really enjoyed our families being happy and having fun together. In India, the couple usually just sits on chairs and wait for the guests to come for pictures. By the end of the reception we were both really tired, and I that was the ONLY time I saw my husband lose his cool! He wanted to go and eat while his mom wanted him to wait on the chairs for a few more guests and he started shouting at her in a high speed Hindi! It ended up with him getting his way and us finally getting dinner at nearly midnight. We were starving!

What does being married mean to you?
Frankly speaking, marriage is just a paper that legalises a union. We needed it, but we had no doubt about our future was together. I would prefer saying that being a couple, it means being on the same page and guiding the boat on the sea of life together. It requires common values and ideas to do so. Being married just really means our relationship is acknowledged by the authorities. We love each other, and function very well as a unit - to me this is what is the most important thing. 

What are your dreams for your future together as a married couple?
Continuing to be who we really are. But it wouldn't hurt to have a house of our own one day! Possibly one more child. I want to see us growing old with each other, raising our daughter, and enjoying life as we go along....

What's the best marital advice that you received from elder family/friends?
Don't try or expect your partner to change once you're married - or even while you're dating! You must love someone for who they really are without any high expectations for change.

What positive cultural values do you bring to your relationship?
I brought the idea of being in charge of your life to my relationship. For my husband, the idea that one can actually do something for themselves was a bit alien! He also admired my do-it-yourself attitude. Swiss people are generally hard-working, self-made individuals who only rely on external help when needed. Kids are learned to be very independant at an early age. He absolutely loves that I teach these values to our daughter. 

What do you do to keep your relationship alive? What kinds of things do you do to connect with your spouse?
We give each other space, and plenty of it. We are both introverts and really enjoy evenings doing nothing in particular, but reading or just being with our own selves. We connect when we talk about things in our daily lives and topics that interest us. But the greatest bond we have is our mutual need for "me time" and quietness. 

In what ways have you adopted aspects of your spouse's culture?
I live in India, so there is a lot that I adopted. I wear kurti often, though not full salwaar suits - you won't find a lot of young ladies wearing the full regalia in a city like Mumbai. I have no problem having dal and roti for dinner. A few hindi words found their way in my English. I do the head wobble, add "na" at the end of sentences, and "ha" has replaced "yeah" a lot! I also eat a lot more with my hands than I ever did in Switzerland. 

Has your family adopted aspects of your spouse's culture?
Not really, other than the fact they bought salwaar suits in India and enjoy wearing them when they come. 

What aspects of your spouse's culture do you find difficult to embrace?
The evil eye superstitions. I dont believe in them AT ALL, and luckily my husband doesn't either! We really dismiss it all superstitious beliefs. But it is still there...all around us. I'll never embrace it. Not my cup of chai!

Name some cultural faux-pas that you have unknowingly committed...
None, even though might sound arrogant! I always ask beforehand of what to do when I feel in doubt. I travelled throughout my childhood, so I knew not to take anything for granted. I am also a very good observer, I watch the world around me a lot...all the time!

What was the most challenging time in your intercultural relationship?
In the early days it was definitely meal time! My husband likes to eat lunch right in the middle of the day, and dinner late at night. We also had a few clashes over cooking, but then these would probably be similar to challenges in non-intercultural relationships. What relationship has none anyways? It is just that for us, it involved being irked at calling fruits or paratha with ghee for breakfast. Or whether dinner shall be a 7pm meal or a 11pm one!

The next big challenge was facing adversity from those who have issues with our intercultural relationship. We learned to ignore it, and we still do. We are good at it!

What's the best and the worst part of being in an intercultural relationship?
The best part is that you get to create an entirely new culture, by blending everything. It is like getting a pot of red paint and a pot of yellow and creating this magnificent orange out of it! You gain so much in diversity and perspective. 

The worst part? All these judgemental people who feel you are committing a sacrilege in mixing cultures. The world is going global, with it!!!

What do you think are the biggest misconceptions that people have about intercultural relationships?
They think kids growing in such relationship will be confused and have no identity. I can assure you that my daughter isn't confused. Specialists even tend to agree - kids that grow up with parents who are clear about themselves are not at all confused. Besides, what defines "normal" to begin with? Our normal is eating Indian food, continental food and celebrating both Diwali and Christmas with oomph!

What are the biggest misconceptions about Swiss women? 
That we are apparently made of money, and have it so easy in life. Like life itself fell cooked on our plate without any challenges! I wish that was even remotely true!!!

As a foreign woman (without necessarily being Swiss - many just see me as "foreign") I am apparently lazy, can't cook, love divorce, have no family values and am promiscuous. I would be a millionaire today if I got a rupee for every time someone uttered on of these stereotypes at one point or another!!!

Have you come across people who disapprove of your intercultural union? If so, how do you deal with them?
Yes, and I usually just walk away and ignore it. The worst instance was when a total stranger came up to me and asked me if my daughter was mine. And then, tried to extort my husband's caste out of me. And then, worriedly asked me if my daughter was Indian "at least" (as if her not being Indian would have been the most horrible thing!!!). When I told her that my husband was Indian, she breathed a sigh of relief and then addressed my toddler saying, "Yay! You are Indian, just like me! We are the best!". I was absolutely speechless. I just gave her a stare and left because there was nothing I could have said that would have made it right. 

I also had to put a few of my own family members back in their place too, but that was when I was just dating. 

Take-away advice for other intercultural couples...
You need to stand as a strong unit with your partner. Tolerate no abuse from your family toward your spouse and always stand up for them. Remember that intercultural relationships aren't different from any other relationship. It is just that sometimes the challenges and clashes are a bit more obvious. Don't think you have to do anything special that you wouldn't do in a same culture/same faith relationship. With every couple, you need to have common values, mutual respect, and a will to stand up for the other in hard times.



  1. I really recommend Cynthia's blog to all the newbie expats trying to settle in India. Because she is one of the oldest expats who started a blog and it was in 2003 when India wasn't globalized as it is now. The change has been drastic and from friends I've come to know that expats now face very less challenges when it comes to food, accommodation workplace environment and even dress code. All her posts during the initial years of stay regarding the culture shock and other experiences are a laugh riot. Very honest and to the point. They're drafted so well enough to even publish a book out of it!.

    1. Thank you :-)
      Yes India in 2003 was no picnic compared to now. It is amazing how fast this country has changed. There were a lot of things I simply wouldn't even have tried doing back in the old days, even in a very urban city like Bangalore where I was at a time. Wearing cropped pants and shorts in cities was still out of question, so was pairing a well cut kurta with leggings or a well cut pair of western style pants in smaller cities, but now it is possible.
      And don't get me started about the food option. The only thing continental one could cook without breaking the bank was bambino pasta, and most of the time they turned to mush while cooking them.

  2. Thanks for sharing Alexandra:-) I love to read about all these across-the borders-stories:-) That was an interesting and entertaining read, and will definitely check out Cynthias blog:-) Hugs

  3. I would add that Cyn adds a distinctively 'European' viewpoint to the I ever changing indian expat blog scene.
    "You must love someone for who they really are without any high expectations for change."
    Best advice ever. I've met too many couples where either the man or the woman expects some huge change will take place because they L O V E their partner. Nope, love your partner 'cuz they is how they are!

    1. The European viewpoint made me smile. First because it is true, and then because that reminds me of a friend that said my home had a very distinctive European feel, which got me thinking hard and blogging about it.

      I think people expecting their partner to change because they love them is the surest way to head to splitsville.

  4. Thanks for introducing Cyn! I have been following her blog for a while, but I feel like I didn't get a picture about who she really is and how she finds living in India. I should take the advice and read about when she first arrived to India, I think.
    " I faced some racist comments from some of my family members. I had to put my foot down and tell people to stop being so crass, only to be told they were apparently reacting that way for 'my own good'. Sad but true. "
    Been there, but still not ready to say I came out of it. Thanks for sharing about these things, it makes the burden a little bit easier to bear.

    1. Hang in there, it gets a bit easier with time. With those racist family members of mine, I made it clear that I didn't want to hear their opinion anymore. They probably still think I made a wrong choice of life partner, probably are still racist. As long as they don't rub it in my face I am good.

      I've been living in Idnia for so long, that it is my new normal. Which is probably why the recent years on the blog aren't feeling that "exotic".

    2. Haha...Even I didn't get who she really was. I simply thought she was an NRI with a modern mindset of the west who fell in love with an Indian. Only when I made my sis read a hilarious post of hers and she pointed how very foreign she is. (was?).

  5. I love Cyn's blog and it's nice to see a family picture ! I remember on my first visit to India, I paid an outrageous amount in a hotel for a mixed saladad at the end of the trip. To this day, I find it weird that people eat rice and gravy when it's hot. I still have to eat what hubby tells me too because I'm lost. (Padparadscha)

  6. Whew... That was commendable ..being an Indian and a woman I know what she is talking about.. Hats off to the couple ..Indian or any nationslity inter cultural, religious, international marriages all require hard work and of course lots of LOVE ..wishes:)

  7. I liked your post particularly because you have understood the knack of adjusting to an entirely different culture. You have totally changed my thought that marriages from entirely diverse background will never work. Yes, I now understand that love can make any relationship thrive.


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