Saturday, March 12, 2016

My Intercultural Love: Nancy & Sumanth

Hello everyone! I'm Nancy Viswanathan and I'm an American of European descent currently living in Madison, WI with my Kannada-Tamil husband, Sumanth. He is originally from the beautiful city of Ooty in Tamilnadu, South India. I served in the U.S. Army for 10 years and Sumanth works as a Project Manager in IT. We now own an Indian fusion restaurant together.

Three words that describe you...
Venturesome, Determined, and Intrepid.

Favorite childhood memory...
I remember reading a lot of National Geographic books and magazines and thinking how much I wanted to explore these places. I started studying other cultures of the world, so in a way I was sort of destined to marry someone from a culture other than my own.

Where/how do you feel most inspired?
When I'm out traveling with Sumanth. We love experiencing new places and ideas and then incorporating them into our lifestyle. When we learn together, we feel we are truly living together.

Where/how did you meet your spouse?
We met in college in Minneapolis 3 years ago. I always noticed him and we would chat occasionally. I was very drawn to him because he seemed genuinely polite, was very cute, and had a confidence about him that somehow intertwined with his initial shyness. It took him a year to finally ask me out and I'm so thrilled he did.

How long have you been together?
Two years, with one as a married couple.

What qualities do you admire in your spouse?
Sumanth is an extremely smart and motivated person. He never lets anything stop him from achieving his goals. At the same time, he is eager to assist others with anything they need. He has a heart of gold and everyone who meets him just falls in love with him.

Favorite memory together as a couple...
Both of us would say it was our first date. We met for brunch and he ended up pouring salt in his coffee instead of sugar because he was so nervous! He created a clever story about how he actually liked salt in his coffee and it’s been an ongoing joke since. ☺ I was staying with my grandmother that weekend and she insisted on meeting him. She adored him and told everyone in the family about her approval. We then spent a beautiful day hiking and getting to know each other. At the end of the day, I called my sister and said, “If I ever get married, it will be to THIS man!

What did you know about your spouse's culture prior to your relationship?
I was under the impression that I knew a lot, but it turns out I hardly knew anything. I ate in Indian restaurants quite a bit and knew that arranged marriages still existed, but I didn't realize just how extensive the culture was.

How did you tell your friends/family about your intercultural relationship?
Sumanth got to meet a few of my family members on our first date, so it didn't take long for the word to get out amongst my family that I was dating him. My family and friends are all very open-minded and adventurous, so it came as no shock. Other members have also married into foreign cultures due to our mutual love for world travel, so my family has become very colorful and exotic.

How has your relationship enlightened your life? How has it changed you & your outlook on life?
Before meeting Sumanth, I was viewed by people as independent and stubborn. I liked to do things my way and it caused me to have a fear of commitment. Although I feel I was happy, I lacked direction, purpose, and that feeling of belonging to something bigger than myself. Being with Sumanth has given me a feeling of self-worth and I now have a clear vision of the future with this incredibly supportive man by my side.

Who proposed and how?
There was no formal proposal, at least not in the way we think of in the US. Sumanth casually mentioned the idea of marriage a few months into our relationship, and before long, we were making wedding preparations. Neither one of us had ever expected to get married...until we met each other.

Describe your wedding...
Like many other intercultural couples, we had two. The first was a low-key American ceremony at a park where my sister legal married us, complete with a potluck and beer keg. The second was a traditional South Indian Hindu ceremony in Ooty with all its rituals, customs and colors.

What does being married mean to you?
It’s been all about give and take - a learning process that includes compromise, understanding, and in some cases, simply agreeing to disagree. We don’t always have to be interested in the same things, but we should be interested in how the other person feels. We’re in this journey together and all family, friends and everyone we meet are included.

What are your dreams for your future together as a married couple?
Sumanth and I have a bucket list that is quite vast and we continuously strive to accomplish each goal. We want to have successful investments, travel the world, help others in need, and be surrounded by people that also have strong passions in life. We never want any opportunity to pass us by when we can use it to make a difference.

What's the best marital advice that you received from elder family/friends?
Someone once said that when it comes to communication, what we interpret might not be exactly what was intended. This has been especially accurate for us as we often struggle to understand each other. Our wording and meanings can be very different, so we have had to dedicate a lot of time explaining the “why” behind the “why.”

What positive cultural values do you bring to your relationship?
As an American, I have a strong sense of individuality. We are taught to be who we are and to never compromise what we believe in. Sumanth struggled to find his identity for a while as he was taught to be one way and only one way. I was encouraged to never depend on anyone and to always fight hard for my accomplishments. I also have a casual and laid-back attitude that Sumanth has gotten used to. He’s from a culture that is so formal and by the book that he can be afraid to loosen up sometimes.

What do you do to keep your relationship alive? What kinds of things do you do to connect with your spouse?
We always make time for each other, even if we are bombarded with life’s demands. Sometimes it’s as simple as just lying in bed talking all night, watching a new TV series together or taking a weekend road trip. We find that trying new things together can battle the monotony of our daily duties.

In what ways have you adopted aspects of your spouse's culture?
I used to be an avid coffee drinker, and now I make chai every day. I also have a closet full of traditional Indian clothes, a living room covered in Indian d├ęcor and a kitchen cabinet filled with Indian spices. We also attend Indian events and holidays and invite our non-Indian friends along for the experience. We especially love eating with our hands. Sumanth speaks 6 languages so I've also tried to learn some Tamil and Hindi in order to communicate with his family and friends better.

Has your family adopted aspects of your spouse's culture?
Yes, some of my relatives actually joined us in India for our Hindu wedding and they loved it. It was one of the most unique experiences for them and they’re now incorporating some of the traditions, such as eating the cuisine, wearing the clothes and using some of the terminology. They also find joy in recognizing some of these things when they see it as it now makes sense.

What aspects of your spouse's culture do you find difficult to embrace?
Sometimes I feel the rituals and traditions can get repetitive and lack purpose. I'm a very curious person and I like to have thorough explanations on why things are done a certain way. In my husband’s culture, many things are done simply because they have always been done and no one questions them. I also feel there is absolutely no privacy, although it can be very nice sometimes to have family and friends involved in everyday decisions. 

Name some cultural faux-pas that you have unknowingly committed...
The head bob. Ha ha! Especially when talking with Indians, I tend to start bobbing my head from side to side in order to accentuate my point. I also eaten with my hands in restaurants out of habit. 

What was the most challenging time in your intercultural relationship?
When it came time to reveal my identity to his family. Sumanth had to keep me a secret for a long time and I struggling with the reason why. I didn't realize how hard it could be for an Indian man to tell his family that he is marrying someone outside of their culture. Many families don’t even like them marrying outside their caste. It took his family a long time to accept me, but we took a trip to India we ended up getting along great.

What's the best and the worst part of being in an intercultural relationship?
One of the best is that there is never a dull moment. There is always something new to learn and experiences to grow in. I've also realized how wrong stereotypes can be and I take pride in telling people how things actually are. The worst can be when people make assumptions. They might feel there is a motive behind why two different people are together, such as immigration status, money, attention-seeking, or some strange obsession. One woman asked why I was dating someone with such a different religion, which struck me as odd since we both are open to so many ideas and beliefs. Some people just don’t know how to react so they simply avoid us. 

What do you think are the biggest misconceptions that people have about intercultural relationships?
Some see too many problems down the road and ignorantly decide that the fight will be more work than it’s worth. They also think we are simply going through some phase or rebelling and will come out of it soon once we see reality. Or, my personal favorite, they state every horrible stereotype they have heard about that race or culture in order to see your reaction.

What are the biggest misconceptions about American women? 
Some people view us as being very shallow, naive, and generally unfit as marriage material. I feel the media has a lot to do with this as it has portrayed us as being promiscuous, materialistic, and ignorant, so I completely understand where it comes from.

Have you come across people who disapprove of your intercultural union? 
Sumanth and I have been very fortunate in that we haven’t come across any known negative responses to our relationship and hopefully it will stay that way. We've gotten some questionable stares when travelling in rural areas, but we are usually in the city where diversity is everywhere and actually celebrated. 

Take-away advice for other intercultural couples...
Never forget why you got married in the first place. Always make time for each other. Continue learning and asking questions. Include family in decision-making as much as possible. Try to see things from your partner’s point of view. Never leave issues unresolved. Never argue about the same thing twice – have a solution. Hold each other every day.

Follow Nancy & Sumanth's restaurant on Facebook HERE!



  1. Nancy and Sumanth,

    Congratulations on your marriage and I wish the best of life for both of you. You are both clearly have a bright future ahead. Keep loving each other and reach out to others.


  2. Thank you so much, Melissa. That's very nice of you to say and we really appreciate your support. Stay awesome, girl!


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  4. What a lovely couple!
    I noticed on your FB page you'll be featuring Nepali & Tibetan dishes? Where did you two get the inspiration for that?

  5. Hi Bibi, thanks for reading! Our chefs have learned cuisine from many regions of the world through travel, friends and training. The menu is mostly Indian but we've thrown in some fusion dishes as well. Would love to see you there sometime if you're ever in Madison!

  6. A fellow Minneapolitan!

    Congratulations on the wedding and wishes for a great future!

  7. Nancy and Sumanth!

    Congratulations on your awesome love story, wedding and best wishes for the future.

    Another Tamil guy + American girl couple, hoping to follow in you guys' route :)


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