Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Intercultural Relationship Book Giveaway



Today I am announcing a special book giveaway contest from my friend Tracy who has written the book "The Good Shufu". She is a fellow pioneer of intercultural marriage (being married to a Japanese man) and her book is releasing today with rave reviews. I personally can't wait to read it!

Click HERE to enter!
The giveaway ends on July 7th, so make sure to enter it soon!


Here is some info about the books:

The Good Shufu is a true story of multicultural love, marriage, and mixups. When Tracy Slater, a highly independent American academic, falls head-over-heels in love with the least likely person in the world--a traditional Japanese salaryman who barely speaks English--she must choose between the existence she'd meticulously planned in the US and life as an illiterate housewife in Osaka. Rather than an ordinary travel memoir, this is a book about building a whole life in a language you don’t speak and a land you can barely navigate, and yet somehow finding a truer sense of home and meaning than ever before. A Summer ’15 Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Selection, The Good Shufu is a celebration of the life least expected: messy, overwhelming, and deeply enriching in its complications.

In 2010, bookish 22-year-old Shannon follows her Eurasian boyfriend to Hong Kong, eager to forge a new love story in his hometown. She thinks their long distance romance is over, but a month later his company sends him to London. Shannon embarks on a wide-eyed newcomer's journey through Hong Kong—alone. She teaches in a local school as the only foreigner, explores Asia with other young expats, and discovers a family history of her own in Hong Kong. The city enchants her, forcing her to question her plans. Soon, she must make a choice between her new life and the love that first brought her to Asia.
Susan Blumberg-Kason, author of Good Chinese Wife, has called Year of Fire Dragons "a riveting coming of age story" and "a testament to the distance people will travel for love."


At 30, Californian Leza Lowitz is single and traveling the world, which suits her just fine. Coming of age in Berkeley during the feminist revolution of the 1970s, she learned that marriage and family could wait. Or could they? When Leza moves to Japan and falls in love with a Japanese man, her heart opens in ways she never thought possible. But she’s still an outsider, and home is far away. Rather than struggle to fit in, she opens a yoga studio and makes a home for others. Then, at 44, Leza and her Japanese husband seek to adopt—in a country where bloodlines are paramount and family ties are almost feudal in their cultural importance. She travels to India to work on herself and back to California to deal with her past. Something is still not complete until she learns that when you give a little love to a child, you get the whole world in return. The author’s deep connection to yoga shows her that infertile does not mean inconceivable. By adapting and adopting, she transcends her struggles and embraces the joys of motherhood.

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Saturday, June 27, 2015

My Intercultural Love: Jai & Ellie

(Img via Georgie Pauwels)

This fabulous Punjabi-Australian couple have lived in three continents (so far!) and blend their international, multicultural lifestyle effortlessly!

Introduction....
My name is Ellie and I am Australian. My husband is Indian, born and raised in Delhi. We have a 7 year old son and a new puppy. We lived in Australia, then moved the Delhi for 2 years and currently live in Dubai together.

Three words that describe you... 
Quirky, energetic, adventurous!

Favorite childhood memory... 
Summer time in Australia. Running under sprinklers when it was hot and rolling down the front yard hill. Spending a whole day at the beach!

Where/how do you feel most inspired? 
I love watching live performances of any kind. Whether it is a theatre, street dancing, musicians, a clown, public speaker or singing. It takes a lot of guts to perform in public!

Where/how did you meet your spouse? 
I met my husband in Sydney, when we worked for the same company.

How long have you been together? 
10 years of marriage this year (and 12 years in total).

What qualities do you admire in your spouse? 
He is very strong minded, loyal and always puts his family - us - first.

Favorite memory together as a couple...
Sitting outside in our backyard in Australia, sipping chai and talking about anything and everything. 


What did you know about your spouse's culture prior to your relationship? 
Very little! I knew what I mostly saw on TV - colourful clothing and beautiful prints, big weddings & spicy foods!

How did you tell your friends/family about your intercultural relationship? 
I told friends and family like any other relationship. I only had positive feedback from others.. I come from intercultural family myself (I am half Australian/half Chinese) so our mix wasn't even questioned. Even my husband's side of the family were positive and open minded. 

How has your relationship enlightened your life? How has it changed you & your outlook on life? 
My husband talks about certain parts of the history and culture of India with such passion, it has really opened my eyes to such a diverse and different way of living. At times I question the way things are done in India, and fail to understand why. In many ways, I have adopted both the Western and Indian way of living into our multicultural lifestyle.

Who proposed and how? 
In one of our many long chats together, marriage came up naturally. By the next weekend, we had bought our engagement rings to make it official. 

(Img via Nishanth Jois)

Describe your wedding...
We ended up having 3 weddings. Our first was a court wedding in Australia. Our second wedding was a typical 4 day big Hindu wedding in New Delhi. This was fun and also overwhelming, since this was my first visit to India and I was meeting most of the family for the first time. I wore a very heavy lehenga that was handmade. About a month later we had a 'white wedding' in Australia with a small group of close family and friends. 

What does being married mean to you? 
Having a partner and best friend for life. Growing together, confiding in and trusting each other. 

What are your dreams for your future together as a married couple? 
We would love to own a small, yet successful business together and work HARD at it, and then be able to semi-retire together so we can travel more! Also, my husband would like to own a small boat and to go fishing!

What positive cultural values do you bring to your relationship (from your own culture)? 
When our son was born, I kept to what I know. I put him in a very routined sleep/eating pattern which was different - but admired - from my husband side of the family.

What do you do to keep your relationship alive? What kinds of things do you do to connect with your spouse? 
We like to travel regularly to get out of the routine!

In what ways have you adopted aspects of your spouse's culture? 
I can confidently cook a full Indian meal for our family or when we have guests around. My husband's family are Punjabi and they love to cook and serve extravagantly. When we first married, it was important to me to learn how to cook Indian food authentically. 

Has your family adopted aspects of your spouse's culture? 
Nothing really - but when they come to our place they request me to cook certain Indian food. 

(Img via Meena Kadri)

What aspects of your spouse's culture do you find difficult to embrace? 
Formalities! This really only happened when we were living in India. When you have guests around and depending on how 'important' the guests are, the more drama there is! First, you serve the water on a tray (which I always forgot!); then you serve at least 3 different snacks along with chai; then you have a loooong chit chat; and then the main meal which consists of 4-5 dishes to choose from; you keep serving them and asking them to have more, meanwhile chiding that "you haven't eaten anything!". Then, there is dessert, possibly more chit chat and then you give them a gift - which is usually pushed back at you. I am not used to forcing a guest to take a gift! Even though now I am used to it, I used to get nervous and worry I was doing the wrong thing. It's a big procession!

Name some cultural faux-pas that you have unknowingly committed...
I think I unknowingly did this many times! One instance, during my first trip to India (when we got married there) I went next door wearing shorts and casual flip flops and my mother in law was shocked and embarrassed that I met the neighbours without dressing nicely! In India, when you get married, the daughter in law must always look her best, wearing makeup and dressy clothes everywhere. Now we laugh about it and she is used to me dressing down on these occasions. I just never felt comfortable over doing the make up, jewellery and heavy suits. 

What was the most challenging time in your intercultural relationship? 
When we moved to India and lived with my in laws for 2 years. I am so used to having my own space and being able to sit quietly! Being an introvert, it was weird living in India and doorbell starts at 8 in the morning, followed by a number of people entering the house. Whether it was the maid, dhobi, electrician, the driver, or the neighbour - something was always going on! 

However, it was totally worth it for our son. He now speaks Hindi fluently and understands his other half very well. Now he is able to connect with both India and Australia.

What's the best and the worst part of being in an intercultural relationship? 
Best: learning and appreciating the way other cultures live. 
Worst: formalities! 

What do you think are the biggest misconceptions that people have about intercultural relationships? 
That the marriage won't last. My parents were married in the 70's in very 'white' Australia and were stared at constantly and criticized for being mixed. Now, it's different..it is much more common and not even questioned. 

What are the biggest misconceptions about Australian women? 
I still get asked very innocently if I eat Indian food. I find this funny that after 10 years of marriage and the fact that I cook Indian almost every day! 

Take-away advice for other intercultural couples...
Understand more about your partner's culture before getting married. Be open to doing things that are important to the family, yet remember who you are and let them know if you are not comfortable. Make it clear to each other what is expected and not expected of each other. Enjoy learning about each other's culture and the differences!

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Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Adventures in Gold Shopping in Hyderabad


One of the things that we always do when we go to Hyderabad is to go gold shopping. This is definitely one of the ways in which my South Indian family has been a bad influence on me! Indians in particular are known for their fine taste in gold, and for South Indians - the bigger the better! In Hyderabad, thick temple-style gold is all the rage right now.

Many Indians are smart at shopping. Although gold is extremely expensive, it is seen as one of the only things (much like real estate in a booming city) that you can get a return on your investment - by it going consistently UP in value. Therefore, it is seen as a smart purchase. In India, you can even get loans off your gold and it is seen as a security for the future. For many women, it is their only security, as many properties are handed down from fathers to sons. Some gold shops have options where you can pay it in installments (much like that flat screen TV that you can't afford!)

Over an Indian woman's lifetime, she may collect gold. It may be given to her at special events like weddings or important holidays. It is always kept safe, but then worn to show off. Kinda like a Lamborghini that is only taken out of the garage for a special night on the town!


 It is an Indian custom that the parents of the daughter will provide the gold for the daughter's dowry and also for her financial protection (because clearly, husbands are unreliable!). Many parents will feel secure knowing that their daughter will at least have her gold if the marriage doesn't work out.

Like many Firangi Bahu's, I had to purchase the majority of my gold myself, which is a bit taboo in itself. Basically, if you've gotten any gold from your Indian family, it is either because they feel sorry for you, or they are being extremely generous to you. Many Firangi's can get offended at how much gold they will give to their daughters but not to them.  

If you're not wearing at least one gold necklace to an important event, many people will harass and comment that you look "so plain" and openly pity you (as if women "need" to be decorated to be deemed "beautiful"). They may even compare you to looking like a widow, which has a lot of superstition attached to it. My MIL tries to attend every important function as the elder sister of the family, so I can only imagine how much she gets commented on, unfortunately.

At my own wedding reception, my MIL gave me her last gold necklace - a beautiful piece that my FIL gave her from Yemen - because she felt bad.  And then I felt bad, because she didn't have any gold for herself, other than her mangalsutram/thaali, which is not to be removed. And to be frank, I wasn't sure I even deserved it. I mean, I knew that I was never the bahu that she envisioned for herself. The sentimentality of the necklace she gave me means so much to me that I am not ever interested in wearing anything else - ever. For me, it is a symbol of my MIL's love for me. Not just acceptance, but love too. It is like a wedding ring to me. Not to mention, the quality and design of the necklace is something that you would not find nowadays.


On our recent trip to Hyderabad, I wanted to go to my favorite gold shop - GRT jewelers - to exchange my wedding bangles and to get my wedding ring fixed. By coincidence, we ended up going on a Friday night which was supposedly an "auspicious" gold-buying day, which was the equivalent of going into a discotheque in Ibiza, minus the alcohol. Seriously guys, if you want a classic Indian experience, visit a popular gold shop on a Friday night during wedding season! Not to mention, landing free drinks like orange soda or chai or the house!

There were huge packs of families, with serious-looking mustache men and giddy looking women, sitting in packs, slowly looking at each necklace with a serious poker face. Going back and forth with the employees on price negotiations, as if they were trying buying a car with the best mileage. The employees weighing the gold, as if they were weighing carefully cut cocaine in Columbia. I'd go to the gold shop just for people watching purposes!


Alas, all eyes were on me unfortunately, and my every move, since having white skin in this country means that you must be pissing hundred dollar bills. I think people were quite disappointed that I was only coming there to exchange some lousy bangles, easily denouncing me that I must be one of the poor hippie ashram Firangi's who tour India like they tour Target on sale by purchasing spirituality. And then when they saw husband-ji they realized that I was just an average, chubby, well-dressed wife of a middle class South Indian boy, just like the next woman.

I wanted to exchange my wedding bangles because they were in a swirl design and it kept snagging the fabric on all of my clothes (god forbid wrecking my fabulous wardrobe!), so I wanted to exchange it for a smoother bangle. Luckily, my bangles had gone way up in value in the past 3 years, so I was happily surprised that I could upgrade them to fancier ones! I also had to get my wedding ring fixed - a venki shape which needed to be reset. For that, we were lead to the basement of the massive 3 floored gold department store shop, to a "ring fixer" man who had an office set up on the floor under the staircase, much like Harry Potter. He looked extremely grumpy, but he fixed the ring for free. I quite liked him, without reason. He looked really eccentric, like the grumpy Indian uncle that I was never blessed with, with a fat potbelly and answering questions with grunts and heaves, and hair pouring out of his ears that you could make a wig out of. I gave him 1000 Rs note, just because it was the end of our stay, as a way of thanking him for his service and for not bothering to ask anything of me - a first.

Even though I was not really doing any shopping, of course I got roped in to looking at the amazing necklaces which hypnotized me and made me a bit woozy. At first, I was just standing and looking at them....and then I sat down....and then they gave me a drink....and then I proceeded to try on all of the necklaces... and take 50 selfies like a total loser. Somewhere in this sober drunkenness, I had a big "Aha" moment....

I wasn't going to get myself a necklace - because I already had the most perfect Yemeni necklace on Earth - but I could surprise my MIL with buying her a gold necklace. I ran the idea by husband-ji, and he said although it was not necessary, it would surely be a nice gesture. "Unnecessary" being the green light, because I knew "unnecessary" meant someone who was unappreciated and did a thankless job. Kinda like being a mother.


That night we went home to MIL's sister's house and I showed her all of my ridiculous selfies as she and her sisters crowded around and agreed on the most beautiful one. It was an amazing 24k Kasulaperu (coin necklace), accented with red rubies. Secretly, I got a lot of satisfaction in tricking her, thinking that she was picking out one for me, instead of unknowingly picking it out for herself. I had hoped that they didn't see the mischievous glimmer in my eye.

The next day, we went back to the gold shop and purchased it. We went back to visit MIL at her sister's house, where she opened the present in front of everyone, shocked as she unwrapped each layer, that I was purchasing a gold necklace for her. Backwards-style like only a Firangi would do, and could get away with. And as a cherry on top, I simply said, "it is to thank you". Everyone's jaw dropped. She was filled with joy, embarrassment, and pride. She claimed that she didn't need it, however we both knew differently since she always used to complain to me that FIL was not buying her any gold. She was embarrassed that she was the one getting gifted gold before her niece's wedding, as the spotlight was off her - until now. She was proud in the sense that it showed off how close we really were, because her sisters never really believed that we had managed to escape the typical saas bahu melodrama that hangs over every Indian family like a thunderous dark cloud. Just like my gold necklace was a symbol of her love to me, her necklace was a symbol of my love to her.

She put it on over her sweat-stained cheap chiffon saree, as she had just spent hours cooking for everyone, even though she was a guest in their house. As her sisters came through the door, she proudly showed it off to each of them and they gleamed with a mixture of awe and jealousy. In that moment, I think a few had regretted doubting me and maybe even felt bad that they spent years not speaking to me for my non-Brahmin-ness. That maybe having a seemingly useless Firangi Bahu was not so bad after all.


I nearly cried myself when I gave it to her, since I have never adequately thanked her for all the things she has done for me. How she dropped everything just to help us, after I came down with meningitis. How she has counselled me on hours-long tearful midnight phone calls after fights with her stubborn son every few months. How she has defended me when people talk badly of me. How many things she has cooked for me while I have fattened myself up deliciously. Sometimes, just saying thanks just seems flippant.

In many ways, I am also married to her too...'til death do us part...!!!


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Monday, June 22, 2015

Recipe: Andhra Tomato Dal


This dal is famous from husband-ji's region and a versatile dish ("pappu") that goes along with any curry or stir-fry. This dish is very healthy, using very little oil but maximum flavor. It has roughly 16 grams of protein (31% of your daily value) and 18 grams of fiber. This dish is one of the fundamental basics of classical Andhra cooking. It is the perfect beginner recipe for any Bahu - one that you can master quickly in the Indian Kitchen.



Madh Mama's Andhra Tomato Dal
(Serves 4-6 people)

Ingredients:

- 1 cup toor dal
- 2 cups water
- 2 roma tomatoes
- 3 green chillies
- 1/2 tsp turmeric
- 1/2 tsp salt (to taste)
- 1/2 cup fresh coriander leaves

Tempering:
- 1-2 tbsp oil (sunflower or peanut oil)
- 1 tbsp mustard seeds
- 1 dried red chilli (rip in half)
- 2 dashes asefoetida
- 1/2 tsp cimun
- 1-2 sprigs of curry leaves
- 3-8 cloves of chopped garlic (as per your taste)



Directions:

Wash the dal, drain it, and add it to the pressure cooker with 2 cups of water. Chop the tomatoes and add it to the pressure cooker. Slice the green chillies in half, keeping the stem intact, and add it to the pressure cooker. Add the turmeric and salt.

Pressure cook the dal for about 10 minutes when it starts to whistle. Then, take it off the heat and let it cool down for 20 minutes (keep lid closed).


Open up the pressure cooker, stir and mash the dal while you bring it to a boil. You can add a few more cups of water at this point.

In a separate small omelette pan, heat up the oil and then pour in the mustard seeds.

When the mustard seeds start to crackle, add the dried red chilli, asefoetida, cumin, and curry leaves and saute for 5-10 seconds.


Then add the chopped garlic and saute until lightly browned - be careful that it doesn't burn. 


Immediately pour the tempering into the boiling dal and mix. 


Let it boil for a few minutes, and then put in 1/2 cup of fresh coriander leaves. Boil for an additional 5 minutes and then turn it off.

And voila!

This dish goes well as a soup, or with rice, or roti.

It goes with many vegetable dishes, including Aloo Jeera, Carrots Poriyal, Punjabi Beetroot, Beans Poriyal, Bindi fry, or Tinda fry.


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Sunday, June 21, 2015

A Year in Fatherhood

Today is Father's Day and I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge all the wonderfully present and loving dads out there - especially dear husband-ji.

Fatherhood nowadays is much more about being emotionally present than it was in the decades past, where being a dad meant just supporting your family financially and doing nothing else. Now dads are really coming into their own and getting slowly encouraged by society to be just as nurturing as mothers - that they can cook family dinners, style their daughter's hair, and take the kids out on fun outings. All around me, I see the essence of fatherhood being redefined by emotionally strong and sensitive men.

There is nothing quite like having a child of your own that can soften a man's heart. Many fathers especially can feel like a nurturing gene was unlocked when you have a mini-version of yourself nuzzling up next to you for guidance and love.

This past year, husband-ji has really come into his own as a dad, with a new confidence. He has been having a lot of fun talking with Maya and enjoying all the funny things she says. He helps me out a lot by getting up early to make Maya dosas and tea for us, as well as starting dinner if he gets home before me. He eagerly awaits his one day off to spend time with Maya by himself and doing fun outings. I'll never forget the day he called me at work and told me proudly that he was the first one to get Maya to pee on the toilet! It has been a joy seeing him take delight in raising our daughter and I'm really looking forward to the upcoming years all together.


Here are some of my favorite father/daughter pics from the last year...


Father's Day 2014 was spent babywearing in transit at the Frankfurt airport...


No evening is complete until riding daddy like a horsey....


Even when he's trying to sleep....


We never really let him sleep though...


Or let him watch tv without the animals...


Daddy doesn't know how to braid but he does do a badass ponytail...


And always makes sure to dress me like a pretty little princess....


Everyone knows I have the coolest, most stylish daddy...


Who has lots of "drawings" on his arms...


And when we visit him at work, we always let him know who's the real boss...


Daddy always mashes the curry and rice into those perfect bite-sized balls...


And it's so much fun sharing treats with Daddy...


Daddy always takes me on fun outings with my friends...


And helps me collect shells on the beach....


Or shopping for groceries at the store...


And the farmer's market too...


Daddy's the only one who can build my toy sets...


And read me my bedtime stories in a funny voice...


There's no place more comfortable to sleep than daddy's hairy chest...


And his scruffy moustache kisses are simply the best...


Even if they tickle sometimes...


My daddy's just the best....


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Saturday, June 20, 2015

My Intercultural Love: Jasmine & Hitomi


Jasmine is a fellow Canadian girl and writes a fascinating blog about discovering Japanese culture through her long-distance relationship with her handsome Japanese hunk!


Introduction....
My name is Jasmine. I'm a 21 year old French-Canadian woman (which means I come from Canada, but in a province where the native tongue is French). I'm dating a Japanese man from Chiba. I'm also a quarter French from my father's side. I originally come from Québec City, and now I currently live in Saitama, Japan. In Canada, my family has a beagle, called Billy, and also a horse I've known all my life, called Rosée.

Three words that describe you...
I would say loyal, crazy and positive!

Favorite childhood memory...
Oh, I have so many of them, it's really hard to choose! I have a wonderful family, so my childhood was like a breeze to me. I would say my favorite childhood memories are just playing with my siblings (two brothers, one sister, all elder to me), either by constructing igloos in winter, playing hide and seek on the land (we have a farm, so it is an amazing playground), creating new games, or just sliding down the stairs with a mattress inside the house! We did the most awesome (and at times dangerous) things together. I wouldn't exchange my family for the world!

Where/how do you feel most inspired?
I would say the perfect inspiration would be a warm and humid day in the Summer and you can smell that a huge storm is coming soon. Then the storm finally arrives and the rain just pours outside like crazy. You get back inside your house, while seeing and hearing mother nature's power around you. For some reason, I really love those moments and feel inspired by them.


Where/how did you meet your partner?
I met Hitomi in Japan, a little bit over two years ago. I was 19 years old at that time, and decided that it would be awesome to explore Japan for 3 months by myself, before starting University. I found some host families on internet, the first one being in the city of Chiba, a prefecture near Tokyo. My host mother had a friend, who was also a host mother, and that person had a French woman as a babysitter in her house. That French woman then took me to her favorite bar where she befriended some Japanese people. My boyfriend was there! That's how we met!

How long have you been together?
We've just passed the 2 years mark! Still a young couple!

What qualities do you admire in your partner?
I like that he is so down to earth, because I'm a head-in-the-cloud kind of person, and it really helps me to have someone logical, organized, capable and wise beside me. He is the one who organizes our trips and dates, while asking for my opinion. It's good for me, because I have a hard time organizing things!

I also like that he is not afraid of commitment and he's very serious about everything he does - when he says he'll do something, he will do it, no matter what. His promises are never a joke! I admire that a lot.

Favorite memory together as a couple...
I think that's as hard as the question about my childhood! I'm tempted to say: our first kiss, or the first time he said "I love you", or the first time I tried a kimono with him (a traditional Japanese clothing), because I cherish those memories deeply, but who doesn't cherish that kind of memories? So instead, I'll talk about one of those normal days where we just went bowling, then went to the movie theater to watched a (very bad) movie while eating nachos and popcorn, and after that went to a store similar to Ikea and tried all the most expensive couches and beds we could find, both knowing that we would probably never buy any of them in our entire lifetime. Even if it was a rainy day, we had so much fun! I think we should always cherish those kind of memories - those times where nothing extraordinary happened, but you were simply happy.


What did you know about your spouse's culture prior to your relationship?
Going to Japan was a plan I had had for many years, as I started reading manga when I was young and got interested in the culture afterwards. I can't say I knew everything, because that's still not the case, but I wasn't completely foreign to the culture either. Also, before going to Japan, I of course researched about cultural faux-pas and what to expect there. But because our cultures are so different, I did – and still do -- cultural mistakes. That's the beauty of traveling!

How did you tell your friends/family about your intercultural relationship? 
When I came back to Canada after my 3 month trip to Japan, my family noticed that I was still skyping everyday with a Japanese male friend. They just put two and two together! They didn't say anything until I was ready to tell them. I had a hard time with that, because at that moment, I didn't want to be in a long distance relationship. It was a lot harder to accept that situation for me - than for my family. They just approved of whatever makes me happy, but I must admit I felt like they were a bit doubtful that a long distance relationship would work. Some of my friends would say "aren't you afraid he'll cheat on you?" before even asking what his name is! Most of the people around me probably thought our relationship would never last...but here we are, two years later and still together! Now, my mother always asks how Hitomi is doing and if he's doing well with learning French, or how they can help him when he'll come to live in Canada next year, etc. My family is very helpful.

The only thing I didn't like was the surprising racism in my extended family. My cousins made a lot of fun of my boyfriend behind his back (when they hadn't met him yet), saying all kinds of stereotypes we all know about Asians. It was quite awful at that time. It made me realize I couldn't get along with everyone, even if I had grown up with them, which was very sad. I almost had a fight with my cousin's boyfriend. But after I told them I really didn't like their behaviour, and after they met him in person, they stopped saying mean things. I like to see this as a benefit for them - maybe it expanded their views and made them a bit more open-minded to have a cousin who dates an Asian.

How has your relationship enlightened your life? How has it changed you & your outlook on life?
Because Hitomi and I come from very different backgrounds, I have the opportunity to see things in a new light. It makes me a more "complete" human being; a better version of myself. I learn a lot from him, mainly because we have vastly different personalities and way of thinking. I also like to see my own country from a different angle - some things I used to think were universal are questioned by Hitomi, because he's not Canadian. It then makes me see my culture with new eyes. That's very enlightening.

What's the best marital advice that you received from elder family/friends?
I would say the best marital/relationship advice I've received is from my parents. They always told me that even through the hardest times when you have doubts about your relationship, even when your children are going through an ungrateful age - the most important thing is to be a team with your partner. They said it's especially important when having children, being able to support each other in the education. So for me, a relationship shouldn't only be about passion, physical attraction and shared interests, but about two independent individuals who complete each other and somehow, together, make a wonderful team who will be able to survive through whatever life will throw at them.


What positive cultural values do you bring to your relationship (from your own culture)?
In Québec, it's important to voice our affection and show it to the people we love by hugging and kissing them on the cheeks. It's something that is very uncommon in Japan - they normally don't hug, and the parents very rarely tell their children they love them (and vice-versa). I think it's a good thing for Hitomi to experience that kind of family atmosphere and to learn how to voice your feelings without feeling embarrassed about it.

Also, money is a lot less important in Canada than it is in Japan. I don't care if my boyfriend makes a lot of money or not, because we are a team and I don't want to wait for him at home all the time while he has to "bring in the money", which is the tradition in Japan. One time, over the phone, Hitomi told me that he should study English even harder, because he wanted to become a Manager at his job. I told him it was great if he had that ambition because it sounded fun, and he said "no, it's boring and it's a lot of work....but it pays more. I do that for us, for our future together." I was shocked. I right away told him to forget about it, right at this second, if it was the only reason. I told him I didn't want a partner who is never home because he's doing overtime at a job he dislikes. I want to spend quality time with him as much as possible, and even more if we have children someday. I want them to see their father, not the color of the money he brings back!

He was really relieved when I explained that to him. It was a very important moment for both of us, because our cultures are fundamentally different in that regard. Now, I guess he doesn't think like that anymore, because he is leaving his job (after working there for almost ten years) in two months and is coming for an adventure for one year to join me in Canada next year. It's amazing how much his perspective changed on that.

What do you do to keep your relationship alive? What kinds of things do you do to connect with your partner?
As I said, we are still a very young couple, so I know the older couples probably have much better advices regarding this. But still, I can say that being spontaneous is the key! It's easy to fall in a routine – which can be good too! But if you feel tired of it, go on a date or, even better, on a trip together, without planning anything.

Also, not everyone speaks the same love language - some people might feel connected to their spouse by talking with them and quality time; others might like receiving gifts; or compliments. You should make an effort to not only know the language of love of your partner, but also try to "speak it".

In what ways have you adopted aspects of your spouse's culture?
I probably adopted aspects of the Japanese culture a lot more than I realize, but I noticed I'm a lot more considerate of how other people feel around me, especially if I make a decision that concerns them in some ways. I will apologize a lot more for something that isn't even my fault to begin with, and I'm a lot more polite to the figure of authority (even if I still have a hard them with authority from time to time!).

I also don't justify myself anymore when I can't do something or go somewhere. At first, it was a weird thing to notice how the Japanese rarely explain why they are not coming to a certain party or why they decided to do something a certain way. In Canada, we feel like we always need to explain ourselves, even if by that you have to lie! Now, I just say I can't go, and that's it. It used to annoy me, but now I use it a lot! 

Has your family adopted aspects of your spouse's culture?
Not really. They have met only once, for a week, so no, they didn't change their behavior just yet.


What aspects of your spouse's culture do you find difficult to embrace?
Oh, there are so many of them! The most difficult thing would be embracing the fact that I'll always be a foreigner in Japan, no matter how much of the language I speak, how long I lived there, or how much I consider myself as Japanese. It's never going to happen! I'll always get stared at everyday, I'll always be stopped by strangers who try to talk to me in English on the streets, and I'll probably always have a hard time making Japanese friends. There's something in the Japanese culture that makes it hard for an "outsider" to become an "insider". This is something that is hard to live with, as Canada is known for being a very welcoming country concerning immigrants.

Another thing that I have a hard time understanding is the work culture in Japan. Being forced to go to dinner with colleagues or staying at your job for some extra hours because your boss himself hasn't left yet just make me want to rebel even more! I don't like the huge pressure on fitting in the crowd in Japan, and the difficulty of saying "no" when something goes against your wishes or values. Also, men and women are not equal at all on that aspect of society. It's hard for a women to leave a job because of children and then coming back to the workforce. You either stay at that job and hire a super expensive nanny, or become a housewife. It is quite unfair!

Name some cultural faux-pas that you have unknowingly committed...
So many of them! I've cleaned my teeth with a toothpick without hiding my mouth with my hand. I've talked on the phone on the train, and ate in the street during walking. I revealed my weight to my boyfriend (he was VERY surprised, as he told me no Japanese girls would ever say how much they weight to their boyfriend). I've ate snacks during class in University (totally permitted in Canada, but rude in Japan). I've left rice in my bowl. There's probably a lot more, but I forget!

What was the most challenging time in your intercultural relationship?
I would say that it was – and still is – when we try to explain something to each other on a deeper level. Because my native tongue is French and Hitomi's native tongue is Japanese, we usually try to bridge that language barrier by speaking English, Japanese and recently, French. But sometimes, no matter how hard we try, there's things that are left unsaid or misunderstood because my level of Japanese and his level of English are just not good enough. We might get tired. We also might be annoyed. But all in all, it's something that can only get better and better with time and hard work, so we continue to give our best. It's not impossible to date in your second language. I would be lying if I said it's not challenging, though!

What's the best and the worst part of being in an intercultural relationship?
The best part is definitely having two cultures in one relationship. It really makes you rethink about what you always took for granted. Things that I thought everyone did turned out to be very Canadian, and being with Hitomi helps me to become a better person. I dare thinking it's the same way around!

For the worst part, I think it lies in the formalities/administrative problems. Deciding where we'll live, the nationality of the children, what kind of wedding, your legal rights in a foreign country, etc. They can make your life a bit more complicated than if you're partner is the same nationality as you are.


What do you think are the biggest misconceptions that people have about intercultural relationships?
That the cultural differences are a really big problem. In reality, I think those differences are mostly fun to experience. If you are both good at communication, and you don't get offended easily, then I don't see why cultural differences should be a huge problem.

What are the biggest misconceptions about Canadian women?
I would say the biggest misconception about Canadian women (or Western women in general) in Japan is that we all have a very very high sex drive and we are "easy". I'm not sure why so many Japanese people think that about Western women, but I think it might have to do with the fact that talking about sex is still a bit taboo in Asia, especially for women. In Canada, we make jokes and talk about it quite openly, so that might be why Japanese think of us as promiscuous.

Have you come across people who disapprove of your intercultural union? If so, how do you deal with them?
Fortunately enough, I can't remember a time when someone was disapproving of our relationship face-to-face with us. Hitomi's parents have always been very welcoming to me and I've never had a single problem with them or his friends. Same for my family, except the problems I mentioned above with my extended family. Apart from the people saying "she's way out of his league" (and other kind of disgusting comments), we've been left alone.

The only time someone was disapproving of us was on internet - on my blog. That person said I was just an attention-seeker and that I was a threat against the white race because if I ever have children with Hitomi, our kids will never look white. Surprisingly enough, it didn't make me sad at all. There are so many people in this world, at least one person will always be against whatever you are doing. Having a blog unfortunately comes with that kind of attention.

Take-away advice for other intercultural couples...
The only thing I'd like to say is be open-minded and be flexible concerning cultural clashes. Although, if something your significant other said or did was against your values, you should really talk about it with him/her. Don't let the cultural differences be an excuse for someone who's treating you badly.


(All photos courtesy of Japan-aholic)
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Friday, June 19, 2015

Ask Firangi Bahu: "Can you wear a bindi with shorts?"


This week's reader question is a common intercultural dilemma....


"Hello Alexandra,

I have been a reader of your blog for quite some time, and I was hoping to ask a question to you and your readers....

I recently married a wonderful man from Kerala, and have been incredibly lucky to have a pretty amazing relationship with my Indian in-laws, my MIL in particular. My MIL asked me to start wearing a small bindi everyday, as it is customary for the married woman in her family to wear them. I have no problem with doing this, as I like the visual connection to my husband and his culture. I am a born and bred American however, and every once in a while I like to wear shorts and sleeveless shirts, and I am worried that it might appear disrespectful to wear a bindi with what might be considered an immodest outfit in India. Am I over-thinking it, or should I avoid wearing a bindi with these summer outfits (i.e. wide strap tank tops and 6" long shorts?)

I would love to get some feedback on this, as my city is experiencing a heat wave!"

--------

What do you think, dear readers?
Do you wear a bindi, or has your Indian family asked you to wear a bindi?
Do you wear the bindi with any outfit or does it only go with more "modest" outfits?
What would YOU do? Would you wear a bindi with shorts? Why or why not?
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Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Maya's 3rd birthday


Last week we celebrated Maya's 3rd birthday and it was one of the most joyous days we have had as parents. From dawn til dusk, it was just filled with happiness! I was literally bursting at the seams with joy and pride for my little girl.


Maya's birthday was quite never-ending this year, as we celebrated it practically all weekend! (Which is pretty much how we like to do everything - non-stop celebration!) On Friday, she had a celebration at school with her friends and ate cupcakes together. On Saturday, we let her open her big birthday gift from us - which was a scooter! And then on Sunday, we had her big birthday bash, followed by a nice quiet birthday dinner at her favorite spot.


We had her birthday party at Granville Island's Kids Only Market, which was perfect for her age range. They had a big 2 story play area, indoor slide, arcade, a private party room, and a party helper (which means I didn't have to clean up!). I'm glad we didn't have it outside because it was way too hot that day! For food, we kept it simple by ordering pizzas, and cut fruits and vegetables with tzaziki and hummus.


We also had a face painter come that I had met at the Farmer's Market the previous weekend, which was a big hit with the kids. Maya got a big yellow bee painted on her face! And she also got her dolly's face painted too! The other kids loved their face paint so much that I heard from their parents later on that they refused to take it off before bed!


Celebrating along with us, we had friends and family - some old and some new. I let Maya invite 5 friends from her school too. We were also blessed because her favorite cousin from Seattle drove all the way up for her party and they had a wonderful time playing together. We felt very special that they did that for us.


The only thing that was missing were both of our parents - my parents are currently in Europe; and my inlaws are in the Caribbean. After last year's joint family vacation, we really missed their presence! Luckily though, some of my aunties were there, in place of our parents'.



For party favors, we got t-shirts made from some of Maya's paintings, and gave one to each of the kids. Husband-ji made "designed by Maya" tags, which was very innovative!


For her birthday cake, we got a custom designed eggless chocolate mousse cake from Ganache Patisserie that had a big mermaid on top. I also got pirate plates and cutlery to go along with it, since that was the only thing at the party store that wasn't Disney themed!



This year, Maya was so aware that it was her birthday. She loved having all of her friends there, and she was singing the happy birthday song to herself - on repeat - all day! And now she proudly announces that she's "three"!


In the evening, we walked (and she scooted) up to her favorite restaurant for dinner - just the 3 of us - where we shared a chocolate milkshake and a chocolate ice cream sundae. 


Every year that she grows older, it just gets more and more fun!

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