Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Losing yourself in your spouse's culture


One of the questions that I am constantly asked is how I've been able to win over the hearts of my Indian family, to which I reply that bahu's HAVE to get to know your spouse's culture. I have often said that learning your spouse's culture can be the highest form of respect that you can give them, and that it needs to happen naturally. And while it has opened a lot of doors for me, it has come at a price....

Looking back at my now almost decade long intercultural relationship, if I were to tell my "rookie bahu" self one thing, it would be: don't get so consumed by your spouse's culture that you lose your own identity.

There is a very thin line between honouring your spouse's culture and getting completely overwhelmed by it. You want to get to know your spouse's culture not just for yourself, but for your children too. You want to be sensitive to the fact that they are often living thousands of miles away from their family and home country. You want to show your spouse that you are interested in where they came from, as a way of respecting their personhood. And then....slowly but surely, soon you may find yourself only celebrating Indian holidays and cooking Indian food. You may "become" Indian, in a way that you almost lose your own identity or forget where you came from.

I think women are more prone to losing their identity in their spouse's culture because globally, women are culturally conditioned to adjust, to adapt, and to be flexible. Men are raised to be confident and unyielding; whereas women are raised to be accommodating and put others' needs first.  Women are raised to cater to their man. [Social experiment: last year on facebook I posted two things in one week - one was to announce my first ever published magazine article; the other was that I made husband-ji a tiffin-box lunch.....can you guess which one got more likes? The tiffin box, of course!]

If you are a woman in an intercultural relationship, it is very hard to forget that your spouse's family would not have chosen you as an ideal partner. Especially if they were ever vocal about it in the early days - it breeds an insecurity of lack within oneself. You know your spouse loves you for who you are - but their family is another story! You may feel innately less than, and want to accommodate your spouse's culture as a way to prove to them that you're just as good as an Indian wife would be. Of course, it is a ridiculous concept - but how many bahu's have been told by their Indian families that just because they happened to be born in the West means they don't know how to cook, commit to a marriage, or raise children? ALL of us have...

When I met husband-ji, I was very wild and free. I danced with my friends; I wore revealing dresses frequently - not because I wanted attention, but because I just felt unbothered by the world; sometimes I drank for fun; I had about a dozen guys chasing after me at any given moment. I had just turned twenty years old. That was me - who he fell in love with. In those early days of dating, husband-ji told me, "I love how open you are", not knowing that it was the exact quality he craved for himself, after coming from India and repressing himself as an artist, as a man, and his own uniqueness.


On that first trip to India, it occurred to me that my entire existence seemed wrong to husband-ji's family. I was too vocal and open. I wore too much makeup. I was not "simple and homely". I was not vegetarian. They were horrified to find out that my hippie parents didn't marry until I myself was seven years old. I read novels about vampires who were all having sex with each other (thanks Lestat!). I watched films featuring gay storylines. I was clearly having lots of sex with their prized only son, and definitely wasn't apologetic about it. I hugged people. I swore a lot - saying "fuck" is my favorite adjective. I shook men's hands and stared at them right in their eye. I changed in front of my future MIL and SIL and let my boobs hang out - I didn't really know that one should hide herself, even from the same gender. I didn't understand why modesty was a positive personality trait for a woman. That you should stifle yourself and your emotions, to be deemed unthreatening. And husband-ji was adamant about marrying me - this free-spirited, Western temptress - who knew if I believed in the Indian version of "commitment"?

The reality was that despite me being wild and carefree, I was looking for a partner who would run wild with me. I was seeking for a loving companion that wouldn't try to control me...and I found him in husband-ji.

After being in India for several months, around all these chaste, conservative Tam-Brams, I was convinced that there was something wrong with me. Is it bad to feel free? Is it bad for a woman to be free? Does having a carefree and open personality (as a woman) automatically mean that I'm not cut out for marriage? Does it give people the impression that I'm promiscuous or unserious?



The many years leading up to marriage were extremely hard. We lived together like a married couple for five years, but we were unmarried. Which means that I wasn't valid, that I was just "a friend" - I had no Indian status. Relatives found out, and told husband-ji that he couldn't believe he would ever do such a thing - as if we were uncommitted and not intending to get married. As if I had forced husband-ji to do "immoral" things. As if our commitment to each other was less serious than married couples. My inlaws were shunned and spoken to condescendingly, as if they didn't raise their kids properly. That just the presence of me in this uncontaminated Brahmin family was a dirty little secret and that people hoped would eventually go away before they had to acknowledge it. "It" being me. Even recently, extended family members are asked of me, "who IS she to you?"..."do you know her?"...as if the sheer possibility of my presence in this family is questionable and impermanent.

Back then, I felt if I could just make myself more relatable to them, to become "right" by being more Indian, as opposed to "wrong" by being Western - I felt I could win them over. Five years is a long time to sit and wait to be accepted, so I decided to be proactive about it and improve my "bridal resume". I became a vegetarian. I took Indian vegetarian cooking classes. I learned how to tie a saree completely by myself. I studied Hindi at the University. I read only books by Indian authors. I did a whole series of Indian miniature paintings. I practiced Hinduism. I read the Gita. It was all to prove to them that I could adjust, respect their culture, and I would be better than an Indian DIL ever could be. Essentially letting them know that their dream of having a devout cookie-cutter Iyengar DIL from BharatMatrimony.com was superficial. 


Some of it came naturally, while doing other things felt forced. Indian attire seemed to suit me well, and I loved the glam comfortability of it. Although every time I wear Salwar Kameez, I don't really understand the point of wearing a dupatta, and I frequently lose it. I also love Indian food, however the vegetarian diet hasn't helped my postpartum anemia, nor do I enjoy eating rice twice a day like husband-ji does. Other things, like learning Hindi, were harder. It seemed frivolous to learn Hindi when husband-ji's family spoke fluent English (although them actually remembering to speak it... is another story). Or driving myself nuts trying to celebrate a particular Indian holiday that even husband-ji wasn't interested in celebrating it - all to show my inlaws that I could adjust. I felt like my non-Indian-ness was a handicap and I had to make up for it in other ways.

Husband-ji was happy that I was learning the cooking aspect (of course), but the rest of it he used to look at me and say, "you know, you don't HAVE to do all this...", which seemed easy for him to say because my parents outrightly always accepted him for who he is. There was a cluelessness about his understanding of my struggle as a Firangi Bahu - about the pressures of coming into an Indian family as a young foreign woman. There were pressures put on me that I couldn't even vocalise. I mean seriously, when was the last time that he was told that "after marriage you SHOULD wake up at 5am and cook for everyone" or "you SHOULD do pooja in  a nine yard saree every morning"? And me, not knowing how or what to cook, or how to perform a pooja, much less wrap a nine yard saree!!! Which, by the way, has nothing to do with our love!!!

I reveled in the fact that my inlaws would boast about my efforts, saying "see? Alexandra is foreign but she does all Indian things". My MIL would keep a tally of all the Indian things I could do, ready to boast to naysayers, as a way of excusing my "foreign-ness". She pitied other MILs with foreign DILs who did not do all these "Indian things". Elders told her she was "lucky" to have a foreign DIL that did everything "the Indian way", as if that was the "right" way. I was replacing my unacceptable "foreign-ness" with a more socially-acceptable "Indian" self, which seemed to be an easier pill to swallow. "If we have to have a Firangi in the family, it is better that she be more Indian like her," I overheard once. As if being more "Indian" somewhat increased my value.


Then, one day, I woke up and I realized that I was doing everything the Indian way. I had completely lost myself. That day actually did not come until I had my daughter. When I had Maya, she came out looking exactly like me. She looked like my father and my mother; and my grandfather and my grandmother. And I remembered. I remembered my childhood and where I came from. I remembered my playing in my grandma's garden with two long braids running behind me. I remembered going to church with her and singing bible songs. I remember spending summers in the water all day, coming out with my fingers looking like raisins. I remembered the smell of roasted meats for Christmas dinner. I remembered my grandfather teaching me how to ice skate and playing hockey with my little cousins. I remembered seeing my parents kiss - often. I remember walking to the record store with my friends in short-shorts and being the first in line to buy the Spice Girls CD. I remembered growing up around women who would howl with laughter, dance, and drink - all while being wonderful wives and gentle mothers. Women who were unquestioned. Women who were carefree.


And here I was, having spent the majority of my twenties making myself "right" by Indian standards. Trying to tone down who I was so I could be accepted for who I wasn't. Trying to become that cookie-cutter Iyengar DIL that they always dreamed of. After I had my daughter, I realized exactly how much of myself that I had lost in my relationship. I realized that my own culture was not a handicap, but something that was beautiful too - in its own way.

In many ways, becoming more "Indian" has opened a lot of doors for me that probably wouldn't have been opened otherwise. And when people tell me that I'm "just like an Indian girl", I always take it as a compliment. But now, instead of automatically doing things "the Indian way" to make myself more acceptable, I do it MY way. I have set out to raise my daughter MY way and the way that I was taught. That it's very much possible to celebrate my culture just as much as I celebrate Indian culture. And since then, we have achieved a beautiful balance of BOTH cultures in our life.


I don't make Indian food every single night anymore. Sometimes I make pasta, or other recipes of my mums. After I lost my baby weight, I proudly wore revealing clothes again...even around husband-ji's family. I only wear the thaali when I feel like it, which is not very often. I laugh and joke and swear, because that's just who I am. Oftentimes it embarrasses elders how crass I can be - on more than one occasion I have been told that I'm speaking something "inappropriate". I ate a holy cow hamburger and drank a glass of Kingfisher beer in front of my MIL once. I call my MIL by her first name - "Sandhya" - which is a deadly faux-pas, but it's the only way that feels natural to me (luckily, she doesn't hold it against me!). I also put my foot down and demanded that we explore other parts of the world, instead of only going back to India every year. And I'm more than okay with my non-Indian natural self - even if I'm complicated, improper, and immodest - because that true self is who husband-ji loves the most. I am valuable - and more importantly, I can cherish myself - for my non-Indian-ness too.

I learned how to preserve my own identity - while still appreciating husband-ji's. It took me nearly a decade to do that, and I'm still figuring it out...


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48 comments

  1. wooow Alex, congratulations.... great, awesome thoughts and writing, yeesssssss, yes and yesssssss that is it, that is exactly what I do and think about my marriage with my Punjabi husband and his culture. Really now you won me as a fan of you and your blog. I am reading your blog for sooo long but I often did not like how you all the time were trying to make yourself Indian as of your (our) culture meant less for you and as you said below like you were losing yourself. Whatever you do, your Indian in-laws will never look at you as an Indian but who cares. You rock now, keep it up, smart beautiful Alex! Enjoy your week!
    PS: Sorry, all Indian ladies who will read my comment, I do not mind your culture but really really I do NOT want NEVER to be consider as Indian. Thanks God my husband has no problem with that. :)
    Galiya

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    1. Thankfully Alex and her hubby know a lot about each others cultures and can be themselves and give the best to their daughter because I wouldn't have appreciated a mother / father who would have kept me away from either of my parents culture .....

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    2. good for you...enjoy your parents culture.

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  2. Such an apt post...without having the baggage of an inter cultural relationship, women start to lose themselves, its a very unsettling feeling, which u feel the need the need to shake urself out of...it is very important we revel in our true selves for thats how we will truly be happy with ourselves....on a lighter note, how did u manage the holy cow burger and beer in front of mil:-)

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  3. So glad u did this post. I often wondered if your enthusiasm to be more Indian alienated you from your candian friends and family. They must have wondered why being and acting more Indian was important to you and why you made such an effort to recreate India at home. I am happy to learn you have rediscovered your Canadian self. I believe that time and understanding is the key to acceptance. Do you often wonder what your relationship with your inlaws would be if you had not made efforts to be more indian. Your core values would have still been the same.. Sometimes you wonder does the cultural packaging of values make such a big difference?
    Love your blog .
    Keep writing.

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  4. Oh alex this is by far favorite article. I feel the exact same way. I am too loud, too open, too american. I am exstremely aware of my very unindian lifestyle. I lived with two gay men when I was dating my from india husband, this is something we did not share with his family. I did model united nations and speech and debate. A political science major and most people on the indian side were interested if I cooked! I traveled south america on are own with my younger sister. I was outgoing and communicated in broken spanish. But in india was secluded to the house and left only a couple times. PROTECTED. I was turned into a good indian wife focused on the home, husband, and child. Only recently I am reclaiming some of my identity. I love my husband and my inlaws and india, and its not their fault but its easy to get sucked into such a strong culture, gender roles, and sense of what is right in a culture. I am loud ,opinionated, I am american but celibrate the indian culture. Its always a balance. Thanks for writing such a lovely article

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  5. Loved it!!!! Once I was about to become a firangi bahu, and I questioned myself the exact same things you wrote! Keep the balance and keep 'Alexandra' alive :)

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  6. Strong text!!!!

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  7. Alexandra, I have often wanted to ask you if you have ever felt like you lost yourself in your husband's culture and this post answered my questions. What is very important though is that you have reclaimed and asserted your identity. Thank you for sharing.

    Raina.

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  8. I wish more of "us" would realize this early on. We do gain by learning and accommodating but we also lose a bit of who we are.

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  9. a tale of swami vivekananda and english professor. once a english professor asked swami ji " given a chance what would you choose a bag of money or a bag of wisdom?" swami ji replied " a bag of money"
    professor pouncing on that " see ...you are no holy and i would have choosen a bag of wisdom" to this swami ji replied " people tend to choose what they don't have"
    i just want to make the point that your husband choose carefree,enthusiastic wife and you choose a mature, care taking and responsible husband.
    And one thing more.. please there are many indians and non indians( hindu) who also read your blog so don't hurt our sentiments ,you ate holy cow ok but just don't go on proclaiming it. at the end it's your life , your choice be carefree but just don't become insensitive towards other feelings.

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    1. Yes indeed very aptly put.One needs to be sensitive.
      After having written so much about 'proving' oneself to be won over by the TamBram family of husband and then react on the rebound and revel in it is in bad taste.
      One can and should be natural,normal and sage in action and reaction.
      Along with mutual respect,a marriage is 'choosing together' that which is 'elevating and enlightening' for both parties concerned.
      And at times one over shines the other.
      Everything is in the understanding,discrimination and wisdom of the evolving persons involved.

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    2. I fail to see how following the customs of your own country is "insensitive" and 'downgrading' ? These comments lack maturity and compassion. ~ LotusFlower

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    3. One never said that following the customs of your country is 'insensitive and downgrading'.One is just of the opinion to be sensitive to all.Each one to his own and no one can and no one wishes to force anything on anyone!
      It is all in the empathy of understanding.

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    4. i don't know either you have some problem with english or you are cultivating a prejudiced mind.I didn't mentioned a country specifically rather i mentioned a group of people (hindu) which her husband is part of has some religious feeling attached to it so if she can't accept or respect it atleast don't go on chest thumping about that fact. Her life , her choice and i don't have any legitimate right to direct her anyway but with freedom comes power and with power comes responsibility so utilize your freedom of expression with some responsibility.
      as far as maturity and compassion are concerned first ask yourself is showing compassion towards fellow human beings and your pets are only forms of compassion?.don't you have monopolized the compassion to suit your own vested interest?

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    5. Honeys, first marry someone who doesn't have the same diet as you and cook for that person for 10 years, then maybe you can thump your chest. You can't monopolize compassion, as if you are compassionate you know separation is illusion. Have a good day. ~ LotusFlower

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    6. Haha good one LotusFlower.

      I'm an Indian, vegetarian Hindu, but I don't find it offensive in anyway that Alexandra ate holy cow and wrote it on her blog.

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    7. Tons of Indians, Hindus even who eat the "holy cow". Ever been to Kerala or Mizoram?

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  10. Love this article, Alexandra, it gets to the heart of the struggle all of us Firangi Bahus deal with: if we didn't have some affinity to Indian people/culture we wouldn't be married to an Indian person, but we are western too. I was born, raised, and have lived my entire life in the west, not India. There can be strong social pressure to adapt, I am constantly trying to figure out how to be my most authentic self.

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  11. This post will strike a chord not only with firangi bahus but with Indian bahus too, because as a bahu you are expected to renounce your individual family and culture and adopt the 'boy's side's way'. I'm Indian but married a man from a different community, and I could sense the pressure, like you did, to become an honorary member of their community by adopting their ways (which is what a bahu is supposed to do anyway). For in-laws, if their bahu isn't from thier community (the shame!), then the secondbest thing is to have someone who converts wholeheartedly to their way of life like you did, so they can boast about it, and reinforce the sense of cultural superiority.
    Unfortunately, any kind of pressure makes me want to rebel, and that's what I did. I just resolutely refused to adopt anything except the barest bones of the new culture. After all, it wasn't as if the hubby was converting to my way of life. I adopted parts of their culture that I liked only when they weren't looking. It was only when I was accepted, that I started giving in a bit.
    And the acceptance came when I had a child. Not only a child, but a son! Suddenly, my existence made sense to them. I have a feeling that your in-laws found it easier to accept the changes in you because they came after you had a child. Not that they wouldn't have, but the child softens things, especially if they can see that you're a good mother.

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  12. Alex!! u live ur life as u want ..its not matter of indian and canadian

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  13. Interesting ! Having followed your blog for some time I thought you were doing/ learning all the Indian things because of your interest in them . Feel sad for you that you were doing it because of some pressure you felt from your Indian relatives or for their acceptance..... Really glad that you are at peace with yourself now and can finally live your life as you want and that's the way it should always be as long as you don't hurt anyone intentionally. Having a very western lifestyle and eating and drinking whatever I want , I still don't do it in front of my Indian relatives because I don't want to hurt their feelings . I am sure you can have your beer and beef burger with your MIL if she doesn't have a problem . If you think she may not like it just have it with your friends , how hard is that hey :-)
    Do remember just as you have a right to live your life the way you want and have your own opinion about things, they also have a right to their lifestyle , expectations and opinions and one shouldn't feel bad about them. If they criticise in front of you be brave and ask them to stop or walk away . Sadly you can't control other people's actions ..... But yes be yourself and be happy , life is too short ! Ana

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    1. yes i agree with u ... even i am indian and i m arranged marriage girl ... even though i feel i have forget my identity for happiness of my in laws .. but now i also live at my style ... but i also respect them ..for eexample : in my in laws place .. i have to take my dupatta with head in front of male candidates like FIL, or eleder bIL (Jeth ) or any other .. i follow this witwithout complaning as i think that if they are happy by doing this .. so pallu is not a big issue for me .... ven i also dont understand that they know that i wear jeans n all in absence of them and i am so confidenet in fron of large no of male ..even i am working where no lady is with me ..whol;e day i work with male persons ..and i have no problem still i am doing this ... so be simple ...

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  14. I loved this blog post because it is so honest and raw!

    I feel every firangi and non firangi bahu should read this because Asian cultures emphasize so much on the DIL adapting to her husband's side of family and women not having their own personalities while being obedient DILs and daughters.

    This is typical Asian tactic - always make you feel you are never good enough hoping that it will make you work harder to win approval and believing that praising spoils the person and makes them lazy.

    I think it is important to remember who you were when your husband fell in love with you because that is what they fell in love with.

    Wow, you were living such a wild and carefree life, I would have never guessed from your posts ha ha. That reminds me that hubs used to call me a "wild uncontrollable Indian" and how I did not meet the standards of what he had been led to believe - a docile Indian girl.

    While I never had to adjust in my spouse's culture because we both do not fit in 100% in our own cultures, I have always felt this disdain + non-acceptance + judgement from relatives who did not like that as a child/teenager, I was not a total tam bhram.

    - I wore mostly shorts
    - I did not cook or know to even make tea until I went abroad
    - I barely knew tam bhram rituals or culture or way of doing things - I am still a big fat zero on that and way lower on the scale compared to you.
    - I questioned everything - every stupid ritual, every superstition and wanted logical answers for doing anything and they could never ever give me any logical answer
    - I never did pujas and still do not. Now, they think hubs is the reason I don't do it & deviated from the tam bhram culture but the thing is I never did it in the first place.
    - I don't celebrate festivals. My only idea of a celebration is going to a restaurant and eating good food and I don't ever cook the festival specific dishes. If it is a weekday, I might not even go the restaurant. I know about most festivals from blogs than me knowing what falls on what date.

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  15. Cheer, cheer ! I think that's one of your best posts ever, Alexandra. And I feel so relieved it wasn't your husband who asked you to do all this. Love that picture of you in the swimming pool.

    I have to say I am often surprised by what you mention of your tam-brahm family, they do seem very fussy at times. I have already seen my MIL walking around the house with only a towel on her. There was one time where SILs and their small daughters all took bath on the roof together, but hubby explained I shouldn't, which I think is proper because we don't know each other very well and the skin colour is also a barrier... I wouldn't drink alcohol in front of my MIL, as hubby doesn't either, but he buys beers on the way to the hotel every night (and then has to invent schemes to get rid of the empty bottles discreetly) lol

    The more I get to understand family dynamics, the more I understand the main issue is not that I am western. I feel with most people, they try to figure out what they can gain/ask from me/my husband, because the Indian family system is a very complex system of allies. I also get a lot in return from the family, so that's OK, but I don't think it's spontaneous so it's also a little scary...

    When I told my parents what happened in India last time, they were stunned and my dad exclaimed "oh so that's where they get inspiration for movies, in real life !" lol - meanwhile my favourite niece was sad to learn we do eat holy cow in Europe (wink wink Subtle007) and disturbed to hear we did indeed have a love marriage. This time I was very surprised to understand how little some Indians really know about the "west" - and after all why should they ?

    I feel we, intercultural famiies, are like bridges. We are weaving ties around the World. By adopting some customs, and explaining others, we are promoting peace and understanding. Sorry for the long rant ;)

    Take care (Pad)

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    1. a single blog has done what even great leaders of european union couldn't seems like west is united (wink wink pad).

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    2. Great leaders follow the people ;o) (Pad)

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  16. I don't get this entire hullabaloo of trying to adapt Indian culture. You're living in canada away from our Indian family. It makes little sense to me. How far can u go here in canada?! Indian wear isn't designed for the cold climate of north america. Even if you do try you end up wearing a lot of layers or ultimately discarding ur salwar for jeans over your kurta. Even Indians don't go to the trouble for that. As far as religion goes from your posts I've gathered that youre not attached to the religion you're born into like the 90% percent of the continent celebrate christmas new years and easter more as social events.You're living a life as any other liberated woman of north America does. So y bother reading the gita or giving up non veg food!? Also i find it really silly among the brahmin families that alcohol is OK but non veg isn't. When alcohol is far more damaging. Cooking indian food is exhausting everyday, more and more Indians are looking into shortcuts, y put yourself through that trouble? Indians have a lot of festivals which they themselves aren't sure about so I don't get y non indians have to make a deal about it just to please a bunch of people. But its easier for you since you're living away from them and can don the costume of ideal daughter in law just during vacations. I feel for the ones who had to move to India with them and still adjust and continue to please them every single day.
    Its more harder on those women.
    Anna

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    1. Let's put it this way, if your hubby is a baseball fan... maybe you don't care and you don't want to hear about it, or maybe you want to know about the game and his favourite team and go see a match with him... Same with another culture/religion. (Pad)

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  17. superb post. just got confused by 1 point. You were married to TamBram family but learnt Hindi instead of Tamil?
    If they could speak Hindi, they could have as well spoken English?

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  19. Awesome post, Alex!!! I loved reading your whole "Indian culture" journey from start to present! I loved it!

    "how many bahu's have been told by their Indian families that just because they happened to be born in the West means they don't know how to cook, commit to a marriage, or raise children? ALL of us have..."

    I agree, we have all been through this, not so much with my Indian family (apart from the divorce thing, I have had divorce lectures from family) but from strangers or friends of family!!

    I really think we should be able to cherry pick things that resonate with us, that's what I strive to do. It didn't take long to get fed up doing everything the way I was "supposed" to do it. Now I am the master of cherry picking. We should have the choice and the freedom and never feel the culture we grew up in is a negative thing.

    Even my mother-in-law has starting adopting some of my Western cultural tendencies!!! It's great!!

    Thank you for sharing so beautifully and openly, this will help a lot of women (and I guess some men too!), I know it!

    Lots of love xx

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  20. What an amazing post. It is interesting the amount that we will deny of ourselves in order to make people we really care about happy. I have an easier time of it with my in-laws as we aren't even in Qinghai anymore, but also because my husband is older and I think they are just happy that he got married at all (and didn't care so much about who it was to). My inlaws seem to like me as I am and find me interesting. I do try to learn as much as I can about the culture, and I feel like a large contribution of energy is to not say anything about the things I think are terrible. Keeping my mouth shut is hard and I do it because my husband asks me to. I just hope one day I don't snap.

    I really enjoyed reading this and I love that you've blended your cultures together for your daughter. It is an inspiration to me as I hope to do the same with mine :)

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  21. Wow. I never thought for a second you were doing these indian things just to please ur inlaws. I thought it was because you liked doing it. Liked being vegetarian , liked wearing salwar kameez.
    And why should you have to try so hard to accommodate? Unless you're living with them it shouldn't be so difficult. So what if your in-laws aren't accepting!? They should like you for who you are. And how has your husband adapted your culture? Does he attend church? Then why such expectations from you. I can easily bet more than half the indian youth aren't aware about their own culture traditions. I think you went overboard with reading gita and all that. No one reads gita as far as I know. I would comprehend all of this if it weren't for the fact that you're not practicing your own religion. So how can your in laws expect you to practice theirs?
    Sorry but I think you have tried too hard to fit into them when there wasn't any need for it!. I'm interested to know why the boundaries should be drawn regarding food only? Considering the major health problems you've had, he should not have a problem with you cooking/eating non veg at all. Also is your husband OK with the fact of raising Maya the way you were? I mean totally cool with drinking, wearing revealing clothes and partying wild? Honestly I wouldn't want to hurt anybody's sentiments by going against their culture or values as long as I'm only visiting them. But in the long run I don't think anyone can change their identities.
    Heather

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  22. Hi Alexandra
    As always I enjoy reading your blog and I truly believe that this is your best post yet! I fully agree with your ideas of not losing yourself and not considering one culture to be better than another. I guess we all go through that phase of thinking that we have to be Indian to be accepted, which should not be the case.
    All the best and keep writing these lovely posts!

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  23. Hi Alexandra! What a great post!! So honest and true! One of your best posts!!

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  24. Hi Alexandra!

    This was definitely one of my favorite posts. I think we all appreciate it as it resonates with all of us. As a non-Indian married to an Indian man, I have gone down this same path of trying to prove my appreciation and respect of my spouse's culture to win over my husband and in-laws. This was mostly done through cooking Indian dishes, being willing to have a Hindu wedding, and participating in Indian holidays, and befriending other Indians. However, over time I realized how unnecessary it was to try so hard. I can't remember at what point this happened over the 6 1/2 years we've been together, but I eventually grew tired of it! LOL. At this point I cook the occasional indian dish, will participate in Indian functions only if it is for a family event (like engagement, wedding, etc)-but I do not go to the lengths I used to. My in-laws are well aware their son did not marry an Indian and have come to terms with the fact that I will never be the Indian DIL they envisioned for their eldest son. The fact that we have a 1 year old son together has in their eyes 'cemented' our relationship and made them realize we are here to stay. Their youngest son is set to marry a very traditional Indian girl in a couple of months whose family is very entrenched in south indian culture. I think the sort of turnout they wanted for their eldest son will be happening with their youngest son, so that gives them some hope and happiness that their dreams of an Indian DIL will come true. Without a doubt this girl will be their favorite DIL for a whole host of reasons, but I'm completely ok with that.

    I think it's great that you started to remember where you came from. This is important. You wouldn't be who you are or where you are if it wasn't for your own cultural background.

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  25. Hi Alexandra - this has to be the best post that you have written; such a brave, heartfelt, truthful and loving post. I truly admire you for writing this. I think that it was also a necessary post not only for you and all the Bahus that have been there / done that but especially for the younger ones that are just getting involved in a relationship with an Indian man.

    One of the things that needs to be addressed and discredit from the beginning is the notion that the family did not choose us as the son's bride hence we are not good enough. And to that I say "who cares". They should not be meddling in decisions that are best left for the two people involved in the relationship. Too much meddling and oppression in the name of culture and tradition if you ask me. This emotional blackmailing and this "better and more family oriented, moral culture" needs to be tossed out the window because quite frankly, they are not.

    I'll be honest and say that I have not been posting like I used to because some of the post especially the ones "Ask Firangi Bahu" leave me sad and disheartened. Just reading about all these young western girls getting down, sad and desperate because all the negativity and objection from their Indian boyfriend's family and the men themselves not doing anything to give them the place they deserve and standing up for them really breaks my heart. The worst is the girls buying into all this bullshit.

    There should never be the thought of "maybe if I act more Indian, if I wear the clothes, if I learned Hindi, if I become a vegetarian and change myself" I'll be accepted. This does a lot of damage to one's self esteem and like you said, you loose yourself in the process for people that are not willing to even bend an inch to assimilate to us.

    I only had the first six months with some minor problems with my husband's family and I'll be honest to tell you that after that I really did not care how they felt or thought about me because all that really mattered to me at that point was how my husband and I felt towards each other. To all other people I thought "they can suck on a lemon". Harsh yes, but again did I care? NO!!! I was lucky that I got a very loving an accepting immediate Indian family. The rest of them, I really could care less about what they say or how they feel about us. I am not here to impress and win anybody over and hell to the no I was not going to do things just to show them that I was as good as having an Indian daughter in law. We are both good.

    So again, thank you for writing this. Many blessings for you and your beautiful family.

    Milly B.

    P.S. - for those that are getting offended about the "holy cow eating comment"... Seriously??? Nobody is been insensitive and rubbing it in. It may be offensive to you but not to us beef eaters; that is the way we grew up so is normal for us to eat beef.

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  26. This post reminds me of a 1987 telugu movie "padamati sandhya ragam", in which a telugu girl and an American boy fall in love and elope to marry each other and the same questions that you answered in this post are asked in the movie, I am sure your MIL would have seen the movie. I am sure you'll relate a lot to this movie.

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  27. Alex...Hats off to you for changing and adjusting so much! It is really commendable. Even Indian DIL'S are not this flexible nowadays...including me 😀

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  28. hello Alex !!!
    u know... its not ur problem or non indian girls problem .. its the problem of each n every (mostly ) ladies who marry with indian man/family .. we all are same as a bahu.. ya difference is ..if we qunatify our pomblems ..u foreign girls have more issues than indian girl .. BUT these feelings are same for every BAHU ... infact in india .parents are against love marriage ... and mainly suffered pepople says dat they refuses their love because of fear of society ..and yes this is d big reason .. but other reason which i felt in my total 30 years of life ... in india u well know so many cultures .tradition .. every area has own different color .. if one girl goes to different area after marriage ..this is really big task to learn /adopt /accept /understand all those things of in laws place ... so girl's parents know these things and want to reduce her daughter's mental and physical task ... ... and as per parents .. u both love each other it is good ..but both person should well mature to handle all wort situation with same feelong of love .... then only realtion ship can ne maintained ... because life is not bed of roses .. so many problems we faced in our life ... so in twenties girls and boys are not so mature to understand/analysis life ... and i also agree if they against love marrigae .. because it also shows that how much love couple is strong to sustain their committment . ... i respect them

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  29. Wonderful post Alexandra that I am sure most of us foreign DILs can relate to.

    It is unfair that your in-laws expected you to conform to their cultural expectations. You are not Indian, never will be and if they think that you should be then are cultural supremacists. I am happy for you that you are finding a more balanced identity.

    Fortunately my MIL and FIL are a rather unconventional Mumbai couple who had an inter-caste, inter-ethnic love marriage in the 70s, they were quite revolutionary for their generation. They are nominal Hindus, my MIL only visits temples when a family member is pregnant. This meshes well with my atheism although they did not have an issue with me regularly attending church when I was a Christian. Also, they are not traditional and do not expect me to practice any rituals, they hardly practice any rituals themselves.

    There was only one incident years ago when I refused to wear Indian clothes to a party we hosted in India (at which of course all of the younger women in the family wore western clothes.) My MIL was miffed and told me "Now that you are married to an Indian you have to be Indian." I quickly replied, "I do not." Then she aptly observed "You only want the man, not Indian culture." I did not have an interest in Indian culture prior to meeting my husband and did not even know an Indian. I love him for who he is, not because he is Indian.

    Intercultural marriages can be difficult at times, especially when boundaries are not appropriately set and it can be challenging to bring two worlds together. Yet an advantage is that the partners have an outsider's perspective of each other's cultures, which can remove bias and provide greater clarity. My husband and I actively attempt to raise our children with the best of both cultures and reject the bad elements of our native cultures.

    - Rebecca

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  30. I can share how it feels from the other side of the intercultural relationship. My mother-in-law doesn't understand Indian culture and expects certain things of me. Sometimes she says things that are a little racist but as she is very loving and accepting otherwise, I ignore it. As my husband is not close to his extended family, I haven't met them yet but I am very nervous, especially about the ones in Quebec. While I strive not to lose my identity, I find myself suppressing some of my "Indianness" to make him feel more comfortable. Even though it goes against my very Iyengar upbringing and the smell makes me want to throw up, I allow him to eat meat in the house and serve alcohol. I don't listen to the music I want or go to concerts, events and movies like I used to. While I cook Indian food, I make more Western meals now. He never discourages me from doing anything and likes that I try to maintain my culture, but it is not the same when your spouse doesn't participate. If I follow any Indian traditions at all, it is because my kids want it as they don't get any exposure when with their father and grandparents. I am glad that you have regained some of your lost identity as it is never good to forget who you are. I should say though that some of your experiences are certainly not a general Iyengar or Indian thing. I have never come across anybody so conservative that you can't change in front of other women or being expected to wear nine yards and do puja everyday. You seem to face expectations from your family that even an Iyengar girl wouldn't face. And an earlier post where you mentioned the criticisms you faced horrified me. While I have heard that mothers should not praise or be affectionate to their children in public lest the "evil eye" hurt them, criticizing your loved ones is not natural. And certainly not directly to their face. The only people that did that were my ex and his family and it was because they never accepted or liked me, not because they were of Indian origin.

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  31. I was in an intercultural relationship with an Indian man for two years. We were living in Paris (I am French) and it was soo difficult. I met his grand-mother who was the one who really raised him in Paris and then the rest of his very small family in Hyderabad and Delhi and I can only say I felt inadequate the entire time. It was such an uncomfortable feeling... although I knew a lot about India and all the do's and don't's and we could speak in English easily together.
    Your article is very well written, very honest and open and I love reading your blog even though I am now with a man who shares the exact same east-european origins as me (but of cours, we didn't know it at first).

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  32. I was in an intercultural relationship with an Indian man for two years. We were living in Paris (I am French) and it was soo difficult. I met his grand-mother who was the one who really raised him in Paris and then the rest of his very small family in Hyderabad and Delhi and I can only say I felt inadequate the entire time. It was such an uncomfortable feeling... although I knew a lot about India and all the do's and don't's and we could speak in English easily together.
    Your article is very well written, very honest and open and I love reading your blog even though I am now with a man who shares the exact same east-european origins as me (but of cours, we didn't know it at first).

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  33. As an indian girl living in India I feel that we are brought up with a modern outlook and suddenly with marriage everything becomes about the family of the groom.. I think the right thing to do is be yourself, that is, warm, friendly and helpful as required.. but devoting even a penny of my life to some hypocrisy or passive aggressive psychological disorders is not what god gave me a life for.. it's important in this day and age to discuss this with a prospective partner..

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