Category Archives: Cultural Adjustments

Indian Hospitality

So from my time spent living in India (almost 3 yrs), and being married to an Indian for almost 4 years, I’ve learned that hospitality is a big thing in India. We recently had Indian guests over, and even with all my “experience” there are still things I forget – or at least which I have to remind myself of.
Here are a few things on my list, maybe you guys will have more to add…
  1. Always offer – no actually insist - on offering your guests a drink (a cold drink or hot tea/coffee – depending on the time of day). We had sparkling pink lemonade with our Indian guests today. But many Indians like chai in the morning and at mid-afternoon tea time as well.
  2. Your Indian guests may not like much ice – especially if the drink is already cold, so it’s better to ask.
  3. Have some snacks on hand to offer your guests. Today I was caught off guard – we’ve been trying to eat healthier, and so I’ve been buying less “snacky” foods. I had to really dig (when reminded by my husband!) to find something appropriate. What did I end up serving? I found some Trader Joe’s Oriental Rice Crackers, and some digestive biscuits, and some spicy peanuts. Whew, I pulled that one off!
  4. Presentation is important – don’t serve the drinks in recycled plastic 7-11 cups! Dust off your nicer cups and it is considered polite to serve drinks (even just one drink) on a tray of some sort. Don’t ask me why – but in almost every house I’ve ever been to (as a guest) I have always be served drinks from a tray…
  5. If you’re serving food, it is better for the hostess to wait until everyone has been served. In some houses the hostess won’t eat at all until everyone has eaten.
  6. You should insist that your guests have more to eat – even go so far as to serve more on their plate – even if they say no. You have to give a very forceful no if you really are full – otherwise everyone will just assume you’re being polite!
  7. When you go to someone’s house and eat, be sure to take very little at first – so that you’ll have enough room to have seconds – that is a compliment to the hostess – otherwise they’ll think you don’t like the food or it’s too spicy or something.
  8. Try to always have something on hand in case unexpected guests show up – depending on the time, you might need to invite them to stay for dinner - better add some more water to the dahl!
In my intercultural marriage, I’ve had to remind myself to be a better hostess. My husband is big-hearted and will invite anyone and everyone home – at any hour of the day. So when I cook I always plan to make enough in case someone stops by… cause you just never know! And anyway, we like leftovers. I think I’m gonna stock up on some more of those oriental rice crackers, they last for quite a while and they were a big hit today. I don’t think any of our guests had had them before. At least that’s one feather in my hostess’s cap!

Growing Up in Two Cultures

I came across an article that was published a few months ago called,Kids from Silicon Valley astride two cultures: India and CaliforniaBy John Boudreau. The video above goes along with the article (you have to wait for the ad to play at the beginning). I found the article & video very thought provoking.

To summarize: There have been scores of families of Indian origin who have returned to India for their jobs, and have brought along their “American” kids. (For the most part, they aren’t biracial, but they are bicultural). Anybody would feel totally lost if uprooted into a new culture, but most of these kids have shown an ability to appreciate the advantages that their new situation has to offer (even if they still have some complaints about how strict school in India is, or being separated from their friends). Many of them keep in touch with friends from America and plan occasional summer visits and look forward to attending college here.

From the article…
“I am almost certain that every student in this school will have an international career,” he (principal Matthew Sullivan) said. “They will have no fear of the unknown. They will know how to adjust.”

“It changes your perspective on life,” said Katya Elfrink, who along with her two sons came to Bangalore about two years ago with her husband, Cisco Executive Vice President Wim Elfrink.

My husband and I have already been in similar situations, both living in the other culture for extended periods of time. I know that we will continue to have one foot planted on either side of the ocean in the future. I wonder how growing up in two cultures will affect our future kids? I hope that I can reinforce the positive things and shield them from the negative. From my own experience, I can say that being in an intercultural relationship (no matter where you live) opens up your eyes to a bigger world, and lots of different world-views. There are quite a few articles and books published on “Third Culture Kids.” I’ll save my thoughts on that for another post. But I think for the most part these kids have an advantage in life – sometimes they learn to appreciate it early and other times they realize it much later in life.

…Any thoughts?

Indian Birthday Party

Friday night, we were invited to a surprise birthday party for one of our close Indian friends. We had a wonderful time, but I couldn’t help but observe some things that I thought would be interesting blog material…
  1. IST (Indian Standard Time/Indian Stretchable Time): Invitations sent out said the party was starting at 7 pm… got a call a couple of hours before the party saying it had been pushed back to 7:30. It was all good, we had to drive across the Canadian border, since the party was in Vancouver, so that gave us more time to get there. We figured the party wouldn’t start on time anyway, so we arrived at 7:45 (maybe even a little closer to 8), and you guessed it – we were the first guests to arrive! Thankfully the next guests arrived about 10 minutes after we did. But the birthday boy didn’t arrive until 9.
  2. Food: We weren’t told ahead of time whether we would be having dinner or just snacks. Our guess was that there would be dinner – because most Indians eat dinner late (between 8-10 pm) and what is an Indian party without food? My husband was concerned, because he was starving, but I felt sure they would have dinner. So we took a gamble and went with empty stomachs… and we were happy we did! There was a full Indian dinner – totally fabulous – veg & non-veg.
  3. Guests: All Indian, aside from me (American) and one girl from Thailand. I don’t mind being the only white person at a gathering, especially when I’m not singled out. Often times in India I would be offered a spoon or fork when everyone else was eating with their hands – which at first was a nice gesture – but eventually I just wished I could blend in better! Thankfully, we know these friends really well and they always tell me I’m “like an Indian in disguise.” I choose to take that as a compliment.
  4. Conversation: We got lots of questions from guests who we were just meeting for the first time. They wanted to know how we met, where we’re from, etc. A couple of the guys were talking to my husband and found out they had been in North America for approximately the same amount of time. They were like, “Man, how did you get such a great American accent so soon?” I have to laugh at that one… my husband does not have an American accent…nor does he try to fake one. He grew up in an English speaking home and studied in English schools. If anything he sounds more British than American. But I think because he’s married to a white American girl, and because he does speak English very well, these guys assumed that his accent has morphed in just a few short years.
  5. Birthday Cake: If you’ve been to an Indian birthday party before, you might have seen the birthday boy or girl cut the cake and feed it to their family (much like a bride and groom do at an American wedding). This party was no different, the birthday boy fed his wife first, then went around the room and fed all of us a bite (from the same piece of cake – with his hands)! It was….interesting. We did sing “Happy Birthday” but only after the candles were blown out and the cake was cut.
  6. Customs: In India, on a birthday, usually the birthday boy/girl is expected to “treat” his friends. In school, you might provide cake/candy for your classmates or when you get older you might be expected to pay for your guest’s dinner on your birthday.
Regardless of cultural differences, we had a great time with great friends. Indians are known for their hospitality and I hope that I can learn that art and apply it to my own intercultural marriage.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wishing everyone a happy Thanksgiving today! This time last year, my husband and I were in India, for a 3 week visit. Since Turkeys are not readily available in India, we decided to be a bit unorthodox and celebrate Thanksgiving dinner at Subway – eating Turkey subs!
We took the whole family – parents, siblings, nieces, nephews, uncles, aunties, and even a few friends. I told the story of the origin of Thanksgiving and why we celebrate it. One auntie couldn’t understand why we had to eat Turkey – so she got an “Indian-ized” veggie sub. If you’ve never been to Subway in India, check out the photo above for some of the local flavors. Turkey or no turkey, we made some great memories that we still cherish and talk about today.
Well, back to the present – I better get my Tandoori Turkey into the oven – or we’ll be celebrating at Subway again this year!

Outsourced: The Movie

I recently watched the DVD “Outsourced.” It is a movie about a guy who is a manager in a call center in the USA, but his department gets outsourced to India and in order to keep his job, he has to go to India to train the workers at the new call center. At first everything goes wrong – from “Delhi-belly” to cows wandering into the office, until he finally realizes that he has to stop resisting India. When he learns to “go with the flow” and try to learn about and appreciate the culture, things go much better for him.
Along the way, he falls for one of the Indian girls who works for him. While many things in the movie were quite true to life, the relationship went far too quickly, and I felt it was quite unrealistic. Other than that I found the movie to be quite enjoyable and fun to watch! Check out the official Outsourced website for more information & watch the trailer right here:

Understanding Indian English

If you are in an Indian intercultural relationship, or if you have plans to visit India anytime soon, you might expect that you can communicate effectively by just knowing English. That might be true – but only up to a point. There are a few differences, especially if you speak American English. Because of it’s history as a British colony, India has retained the British use of many English words. In addition to British words, there are some Indian expressions that are unique to India.

In the beginning of our marriage, I found myself having to “translate” for my husband at times. Now, he has learned most of the American words for things, but on occasion I still have to poke him in the ribs when our friends look a little perplexed at something he’s just said! Of course, when we’re in India, he gets his turn to make fun of me too!

I thought it would be fun to make a list of a few of these words. The Indian use of the word is on the left, and the American meaning is on the right. If you have any words to add, please leave a comment!

  • Auto – Auto Rickshaw
  • Biscuits – Cookies
  • Bunk – Strike, Absent without Permission
  • Cool Drink – Soda
  • Crore – 100 Lakhs – 10 Million (1,00,00,000)
  • Dickie or Boot – Trunk of A Car
  • Dustbin – Trash Can
  • English-Medium –Schools Taught in English
  • Flat – Apartment
  • Flyover – Overpass (Highway)
  • Football – Soccer
  • French Beard – Goatee
  • Fringe – Bangs (Hair)
  • Full Stop – Period (Punctuation)
  • Geezer – Hot Water Heater/Tank
  • Hash Mark – Pound Sign (#)
  • Holiday – Vacation
  • Homely – Someone who is Domesticated
  • Indicator – Blinker/Turn Signal (Car)
  • Lakh – 1,00,000
  • Lift – Elevator
  • Met with an Accident – Had An Accident
  • Nappy/Nappy Pad – Baby’s Diaper
  • Petrol Bunk – Gas Station
  • Queue – Line
  • Ring-Up – To Call Someone
  • Rubber – Eraser
  • To Let/To Hire – To Rent
  • Torch – Flashlight
  • Windscreen – Windshield
  • Zip – Zipper

Meet the Indian In-Laws!

Meeting your future in-laws for the first time can be a nerve-racking experience in and of itself. But what if you throw another culture into the mix? What are some of the do’s and don’ts when meeting your Indian in-laws?

My first time meeting my husband’s parents was no big deal –only because we weren’t even dating then! However, I only met them briefly, and I’m sure I didn’t make a lasting impression at that time. So for take two (Who says you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression?!), I was definitely nervous! Plus to make matters worse, my future husband was not going to be there! This was pretty much the only time I’d get to meet them before we were married. So what’s a girl to do? Dive in headfirst! Here are some tips that might make your meeting successful…

Do: Prepare the parents ahead of time. This applies to both sides. Intercultural relationships are still a scary thing to some parents so if they have time to get used to the idea it can help things go smoothly.

Don’t: Get eloped and inform the parents later. This might work for some people, but especially in an Indian context, the wedding is a major event. Assuming that they accept the relationship, they will most likely want to be involved. In our case, my MIL was super involved; she picked out many things for our wedding and brought them from India.

Do: Discuss with future spouse on what to wear to the first meeting. If in doubt, modesty is the key! My husband recommended I wear a long salwar kameez with a dupatta!

Don’t: Wear shorts, low cut shirts, grungy clothes, or anything else that might be considered immodest!

Do: Try to learn a little about Indian culture ahead of time. Sometimes it is appropriate to touch the feet of elders when you greet them. Find out from your significant other if this is the case in his or her family.

Don’t: Spout off every fact about India that you’ve ever memorized. You might come off sounding like you’re trying to hard or that you think you’re a know-it-all.

Do: Find common ground. Find out something ahead of time that the in-laws are interested in, and study up on the subject. Ask knowledgeable questions and throw in a personal story or two. My MIL is a great cook, and I was interested in learning about Indian cooking, so she was able to give me some tips and recipes. We were able to keep the conversation going!

Don’t: Act uninterested: If you can’t find a single thing to talk about it will be a long evening!

Do: Share your history. Family is important to most Indians & your future in-laws will want to know about your family. It doesn’t mean your family has to be perfect; they’d just love to hear where you came from.

Don’t: Share all of your dirty laundry. While you don’t have to be perfect, the first meeting isn’t always the best place to disclose every detail about your life. Handle other issues after the initial meeting!

My second “first” meeting with my future in-laws went very well. We bonded in a short amount of time and from that evening, I was looking forward to becoming a part of their family. The effort that I put into that initial meeting was well worth it because it set the stage for our future relationship.

Kahani Magazine

If you haven’t heard of Kahani Magazine, you’re missing out! It is a South Asian literary magazine specifically for children. (I enjoy reading it too!) Kahani is the Hindi word for story. It is a great place for South Asian kids to read and tell their stories. It is published 4 times a year and is totally ad-free! I think it would make a great gift for any kids in your family.

From the Kahani website:
Kahani is an award-winning children’s literary magazine illuminating the richness and diversity that South Asian cultures bring to North America. Completely ad-free, full of great stories, art, activities, and fun facts, Kahani is a must have for any family, school, or library seeking to empower and educate global citizens.

Kahani is a quarterly magazine (Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall issues).

For $5 per issue, Kahani packs in a whole lot of value: beautifully illustrated original short stories, a biography series, a math and science page, a column for linguaphiles, book reviews, and even an original cartoon strip! In 28 pages, the magazine showcases the best of South Asia.

Intercultural Relationships 101

I was interested in India & other cultures long before I met and married my husband. In fact, in college, I took a class on Intercultural Communication. Little did I know how handy that would come in down the road!
I recently came across my notes from that class.
According to the professor, there are seven types of people who enter intercultural marriages:
  1. Adventurers (daring to be different)
  2. Compensators (looking for their better half)
  3. Escapists (trying to get out of a situation to improve their life)
  4. Mavericks (non-conformists)
  5. Outcasts (nowhere to turn)
  6. Rebels (protesting against something in their culture)
  7. Unstables
The phases of adjustment in intercultural marriages:
  1. Honeymoon phase
  2. Settling-in phase
  3. Resolution phase (solving issues, coming to terms)
The potential pitfalls in intercultural marriages:
  1. Values (what matters: good/bad, right/wrong, true/false)
  2. Food and drink (when to celebrate events, what kind of foods to serve)
  3. Male and female roles (who does what and when)
  4. Time issues (when one is on time, one is not)
  5. Place of residence (where will you live – the foreigner makes more adjustments)
  6. Politics (may not have rights in the foreign culture)
  7. Friends (how will you fit in with their peers)
  8. Finances (who spends the money, who earns it, how much is saved)
  9. In-laws (many cultures the in-laws move in with you)
  10. Social class (can be the biggest conflict in intercultural marriages)
  11. Religion (do you have the same religion already, will you have 2 religions, or will one person choose to convert)
  12. Raising children (many potential conflicts)
  13. Language and communication (do you speak the same language? can you communicate on a fundamental level?)
  14. Dealing with stress
  15. Illness and suffering
Things to consider before marrying someone from another culture:
  1. Laws of the land
  2. Citizenship/Immigration issues
  3. Children’s citizenship
  4. Finances and taxation
  5. Ownership of property
  6. Work permits, legal entitlements, divorce, children’s custody
  7. Women’s rights
  8. Customs and courtesies
  9. Divorce and death
Factors for success:
  1. Good motives for entering into the marriage
  2. Common goals
  3. Sensitivity to each other’s culture
  4. A liking for the other’s culture
  5. Flexibility
  6. Solid, positive self-image
  7. Spirit of adventure
  8. Ability to communicate
  9. Commitment to the relationship
  10. Sense of humor
Ways of managing differences:
  1. Submission (one partner submits to the culture of the other partner)
  2. Compromise (give & take: you loose some things, you gain some things)
  3. Obliteration (erase the old cultures & create a new third culture)
  4. Consensus (agreement, forming a new culture by incorporating the old, win: win)
Things to do to encourage a better intercultural marriage:
  1. Give it time
  2. Make a visit to both family homes for an extended period of time (before marriage if possible)
  3. Socialize with your partner’s friends
  4. Learn their language
  5. Read and learn (newspapers, magazines, books, films, internet, etc.)
  6. Eat & cook each other’s native cuisine
  7. Search out resources (people, history, etc.)
  8. Pre-marital counseling
There is a lot of information packed into the points above. I’d like to hear your take on it. It is interesting to look back on these notes after being in an intercultural marriage for 3 years. I say let the adventure continue! Can you tell where I fall on the “types of people who enter intercultural marriage scale”? :-)

American Pop-culture: Playing Cranium from an International Perspective!

My husband comes from a large city, and attended an international school in India, so he was well exposed to Western culture. However, there were certain things he wasn’t prepared for when he first moved to America. Most were minor adjustments, like driving on the right side of the road (India drives on the left), or using a drive-through bank, or doing shopping at large superstores.

Just when you think you’ve adjusted to the new culture, something unexpected hits. One thing that sticks out was when we were invited over to a friend’s house for a game night. We had two people to a team, and quickly went over the rules of Cranium before diving in. If you’re not familiar with the game, there are four categories, Creative Cat, Star Performer, Word Worm and Data Head. On your turn you draw a card and have to answer a question, solve a puzzle, act out a mime, sing a song, draw a picture, etc.

Some of the questions were right up my husband’s alley, like the math and science questions. But then we found out many of the cards are based on American pop-culture. While India has many American TV shows, they can’t possibly show them all! Many sports, like baseball and American football, are not shown either. So what happens when you come to this question: To win this Humdinger, choose a performer from your team who can get you to guess the song ‘This Land is Your Land’ by humming or whistling. Or this question: What was the dog’s name on the Brady Bunch? Or: After serving as attorney general under President John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy was elected to U.S. senator of what state?

I realize that just because someone is American, they won’t necessarily know the answers to all of the pop-culture questions, but not being from America was a serious disadvantage in this particular game!

Well, the good news is that we still had fun, and just skipped the questions we couldn’t do. My husband was a good sport, and even threw in a few trivia questions about India that none of us could answer!

There are some things about a culture that can only be learned by first-hand experience. When you are the “foreigner” the main thing is to be alert and take in as much as possible. That doesn’t mean you won’t make mistakes or have all of the answers, but the good news is… if you’re in an intercultural relationship, you’ll always have someone to go to for advice or to answer your questions!

If you want to gain an advantage and turn the tables on your non-Indian friends, try to play some of these Indian-themed games with them!

By the way, the Brady’s dog was named Tiger - I’ll let you find out for yourself about Senator Robert F. Kennedy! J