Saturday, March 19, 2016

My Intercultural Love: Amir & Bibi

Bibi is one of my favorite commenters and I was so happy when she told me she started an Indian cooking blog!

A warm hello to all of Alex's readers! My name is Bibi Maizoon, I am a white, American woman of Protestant upbringing and Anglo-Saxon and Dutch descent originally from the San Francisco bay area. I now live with my Kashmiri Indian Muslim husband and our small family with a veritable zoo of pets in Nepal.

Three words that describe you...Adventurous, fun, and spiritual.

Favorite childhood memory...Getting dressed up as a little girl to go shopping in downtown San Francisco with my mom. In the early 70's one would still have to be properly attired to go shopping at upscale stores, donning leisure wear such as yoga pants and flip flops would get you disapproving glances if not escorted out of the establishment. My hair would be set on giant rollers and my bangs taped to my forehead in preparation the night before. My outfit would always be white gloves, patent leather Mary Jane shoes, white bobby socks, a frilly frock, and a heavy wool coat because it's always chilly by the bay. Oh, the glamour and excitement of tall buildings and the elegant offerings of the posh department stores! My favorite was the now defunct "City of Paris," a seven story wonder where all things French and fabulous were available from an authentic patisserie to the latest in haute couture.

Where/how do you feel most inspired?I dream of living by the ocean but my home and inspiration is the Himalayas. So I cook. I love using all the beautiful Himalayan produce in my dishes on my new cooking blog "Keep Calm & Curry On." Cooking is such a lovely way to explore cultures too.

Where/how did you meet your spouse?I met my husband on a "soul searching" trek in Nepal. I stumbled into his little shop off the trail, we had a four hour conversation, a dinner date, and exchanged emails. The rest was as they say, "history."

How long have you been together?Fourteen wonderful years.

What qualities do you admire in your spouse?He has this incredible ability to make everyone like him, a fantastically warm heart, is an absolutely hopeless romantic, and despite having no university training he has an innate business skill that is just mind blowing. He went off to another country and started his own successful business at 18 years old, what can I say? He is also the most spiritually advanced man I have ever met. What's not to love?

Favorite memory together as a couple...Our two week honeymoon tour of Delhi and Agra. We arrived in Agra in the late afternoon, after a miserably hot, loud, and dusty journey. The Indian sunset turned the brilliant white marble of the Taj Mahal to a gloriously gorgeous dusky rose color. The entire Taj was this surreally saturated, in this glowing, warm pink for about two hours which then transformed to a glistening, silvery, ice palace by moonlight. I have never seen anything manmade so incredibly beautiful. (If you haven't seen the sun setting on the Taj Mahal nor seen it by the light of a full moon, you simply must!) We spent a couple days in Agra doing the usual touristy stuff. We tried to go to Jaipur but failed to find any sort of transportation. So we rode the great Indian railways back to Delhi and visited all the famous places of India's capital like Nizahmuddin Dargah, the Red Fort, Humayun's tomb, Qutb Minar, Jama Masjid, Lodi Gardens, and feasted at all the finest restaurants of India's capital. We had a marvelous time!

What did you know about your spouse's culture prior to your relationship?Not much. I think most when most Americans hear the word "Kashmir" they think of a sweater, not a region or ethnicity.

How did you tell your friends/family about your intercultural relationship?
I quit my job, put my house on the market for sale and began selling all my belongings. Most of my acquaintances, family, and friends thought I was absolutely nuts. A few true friends were supportive of my decision.

How has your relationship enlightened your life? How has it changed you & your outlook on life?
I now know how it feels to be loved simply for existing. I never even thought such a thing was possible before I met my husband. And that makes all things possible!

Who proposed and how?
My husband proposed to me by email. After one date, a four hour conversation, and exchanging 3 emails.

Describe your wedding...Our wedding was a rather dismal ceremony in the lobby of a cheap hotel in Jammu. A very young Imam properly performed all that was required for the "nikah" (Muslim marriage contract). An Indian lawyer and two paid Muslim witnesses were the only guests in attendance.

What does being married mean to you?Being loved for simply existing. Sharing the life of the most incredible person I've ever had the pleasure of knowing.

What are your dreams for your future together as a married couple?My husband's business is his life's work. Owning your own business is definitely a lifestyle. He wants to expand his business. Whether he's willing to put up with the headache of having multiple locations and dealing with the constant hassles of managing more employees we don't know yet. I've already had my career and will support him in whatever he wishes to do. I hope we grow old together and retire someplace by the ocean. I'm a California girl, I'll freeze if I have to spend a winter in Kashmir.

What's the best marital advice that you received from elder family/friends?
The best marital advice we received as a couple was from my Kashmiri father in law. My husband had insisted we elope and the Kashmiri gossip mill was starting to churn out horrific tales about his son's new wife. I insisted we meet my husband's father together and in person. My husband was visibly shaking during the entire conversation. I introduced myself and chatted with my new father in law for about an hour. We spoke of verses from the Bible and Quran, my schooling, my deceased parents, and world politics. After that my Kashmiri father in law turned to my husband, stuck his right index finger in his face and said, "Why are these people saying all these bad things about her? They are all lies. She is good, keep her. If you ever leave her, YOU WILL BE IN HELL FOREVER!" And then my frail, elderly father in law rolled over and took a nap. The angelic look of relief on my husband's face was priceless. Now when dear husband starts acting up I just remind him of his father's little lecture.

What positive cultural values do you bring to your relationship?Reason, grounding, and sanity. When the overly emotional Desi histrionics start up my white Anglo-Saxon Protestant stoicism kicks in. Always remember, it's not about controlling your emotions - it's about not letting your emotions control you. If you never figure this out you'll live your life on a miserable, non-stop, roller coaster ride of emotions that will not end well.

What do you do to keep your relationship alive? What kinds of things do you do to connect with your spouse?One thing my husband and I really enjoy doing together is hosting dinner parties. I'm the chef, he's the maƮtre'D, and the rest of the family are the servers. We even have our living room arranged such that with the removal of the coffee table and an ottoman we can easily accommodate up to 20 people. (I'll be sharing my tips for hosting fabulous dinner parties on my new cooking bog, "Keep Calm & Curry On.") Other than that, about every three months or so we take a little 2-3 day mini vacation to somewhere nice. I wish we could travel more, but that's part of the lifestyle of the self employed.

In what ways have you adopted aspects of your spouse's culture?I wear Indian clothing always, I wear my make up in 1950's Bollywood glamour styles, I cook Indian food, I run on Indian time, I am fascinated by Sufi Islam, I randomly capitalize things, and I occasionally lapse into Hinglish.

Has your family adopted aspects of your spouse's culture?My family is not interested in traveling outside of the United States nor learning about other cultures. They are like that only.

What aspects of your spouse's culture do you find difficult to embrace?The lack of critical thinking, the emphasis on assigning blame rather than problem solving, thinking problems that will go away by not acknowledging them, and the mindless parroting that passes for knowledge even at university level.

Name some cultural faux-pas that you have unknowingly committed...Not serving mutton at a meal for my Kashmiri in laws. Chicken and fish are like vegetables in Kashmiri culture, you have not been fed properly unless there's at least a half kilo of mutton on your plate. The utmost in Kashmiri hospitality is to offer your guest as much mutton as possible, even if they are vegetarian!

What was the most challenging time in your intercultural relationship?I think the first 2 years of marriage are the most difficult for everyone. Our first two years were made even more difficult by my husband's older sister and her brood of monsters. For some reason my husband's older sister decided she and her children were to be the ones to choose his wife. They launched a Desi-style tantrum of monumental proportions against my husband and I. Their campaign of lies and slander got so bad we had to cut them out of our life completely. I later found out his sister and her family have pulled this nonsense with all the other sister in laws, at weddings, and even started feuds at funerals.

What's the best and the worst part of being in an intercultural relationship?The best part of being in an intercultural relationship is that you learn something new everyday. Which usually means that you learn something new about yourself every day, and that is true spiritual growth.
The worst part would probably be if you were the sort of person who needed a steady routine and constant affirmation to feel secure. Thankfully, I am not like that only.

What do you think are the biggest misconceptions that people have about intercultural relationships?
That people who are in intercultural relationships married out of their own culture in desperation. That for some reason we couldn't find someone in our own culture that would marry us due to some defect so we've had to lower our standards and marry into another ethnicity, culture, or religion. I get that from Indians and Americans. I've heard Indians imply that I've somehow demeaned myself by marrying an Indian. I've heard Americans imply that there's something wrong with me because I they assume I couldn't get a white Christian man to marry me. 

What are the biggest misconceptions about white American women in South Asia?
In general, South Asians tend to think all white women were rich, educated, nymphomaniac porn stars who can't cook and neglect their children (or refuse to breed entirely). I had no idea that South Asians felt that white women's fair skin was the epitome of beauty either.

Dear South Asia,
The white women I know in California all wish to be tanned and glowing. I've not met any porn stars, white or otherwise so I doubt their prevalence. I have also met quite a few white women who were neither rich nor educated. As a white American woman I can tell you that cooking is one of my passions, I hate housework, I love doing 'kid' things like games, crafts, sports, and what have you. I'll just leave the issue of white women's libido alone, I like having a bit of an "air of mystery" about me!

Have you come across people who disapprove of your intercultural union? If so, how do you deal with them?

It's certainly no secret that anti-Muslim sentiment is at an all time high worldwide. To be a Muslim from a hotly contested region like Kashmir is a double whammy. I've gotten anti-Muslim flak from Americans and Indians. For the most part I ignore it. I just figure if someone wants to make an ass of themselves by putting their ignorance, bigotry, and hatefulness on display - let them! They'll suffer the consequences of their behaviors sooner or later. I simply can't be bothered. My life is just too WONDERFUL!

Take-away advice for other intercultural couples...
After 14 years of being in an intercultural relationship the most important tip I can give to other couples is: DO NOT TAKE IT PERSONALLY. When someone attacks you, or perhaps your spouse or in laws do something you find insulting, 99.999 times out of 100 it is not about you. Either some hidden agenda is at play or what they've done or said is perfectly acceptable in their culture. Do not make the mistake of assuming everyone thinks just as you do. As long as you and your spouse's values are aligned and you are committed to each other your relationship will survive whatever life throws your way. Look at us, we've survived Desi in laws and two major earthquakes here in Nepal!



  1. What a lovely couple. Very rarely do i get to read about Muslims in intercultural relationships.
    "It's certainly no secret that anti-Muslim sentiment is at an all time high worldwide."
    I always thought it was a lot prevalent in the west but just reading news about India has taught me a LOT. Its very interesting how the entire subcontinent that is India Pak Bangladesh keep clashing all the time, whether its politics if not cricket. Sri Lanka isn't spared either but Interestingly Nepal is. Completely.
    Also i think i have an idea as to why people think living in Nepal is a kind of picnic for life. Boy, I certainly don't envy you guys living there and not just because of the recent earthquakes. :-)

  2. I loved reading this. I only discovered Bibi's blog three months ago and her fabulous writing, great recipes and thoughtful comments mean that she already feels like a friend. Lovely to find out more about her. x

  3. How nice to read about Bibi. Lots of good advice there too !

  4. What an interesting story! I can weirdly relate to some of it. My husband and I encountered A LOT of opposition when we got together and it lasted for years. The opposition turned into silence eventually. Our relationship was absolutely strong enough to survive all of that. It caused a lot of pain for a lot of people but I had to follow my heart and if people weren't supportive well what can I do?
    I like how his father in law like Bibi at the beginning in spite of all the backbiting.
    I'm definitely checking out Bibi's blog. I also like her writing style so far. :)

  5. It's Bibi here!

    Anonymous - Thank you! Unfortunately Nepal is not spared the wrath of international Desi conflicts, it simply isn't reported upon, check this wikipedia article on the recent border blockade between India & Nepal
    I'm not looking for picnics, I want adventure!

    Vix- We've never met but we have so much in common I feel we've been friends forever. Stay fabulous as you are dahling! xox

    Anonymous- Thank you for your kind comment!

    Mani- So sorry to hear of the opposition to your marriage too. So glad to meet you & discover your incredible blog! What a fascinating life you have & so talented as a writer & photographer too. I'm certainly going to be following your blog!

  6. I totally love Bibi's sense of humour... She must be really thick skinned to keep up with the anti white propaganda... and yes, we Indians can get really narrow minded at times! :) It was lovely reading through it and definitely left me with a smile... May He preserve your marriage and keep you happy always... :)

    1. Hi Rafeeda,
      I'm so glad I made you smile! Thank you so much for your lovely sentiments too.

      To Alex,
      I'd like to thank you for posting my interview on your fabulous blog, it truly has been a pleasure and an honor! I look forward to working with you on future projects.


  7. Bibi has been a regular commenter on my blog as well, and I love reading her cooking blog. This interview is awesome by the way. I love knowing a bit more about you girl! And thanks for letting me know it went live when you commented on my blog today :-) I have been trying to catch up on all the blogs these past few days.

    1. Hi Cyn,
      I love reading your blog too! Keep up the good work!

  8. What a wonderful love story. I only wish that I could see you guys faces that way I can relate more. Thank you for sharing your story


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