Friday, November 18, 2011

What Does it Mean to be Loving?

After the lady at the clinics comments I couldn't help but think about this. The more I thought about it the more I realized how wrong she was. Ya'll know I love to learn the difference between aspects of US culture and Indian culture. So here's my thoughts.

In the US children are openly (including in public) hugged and kissed and held. There are even campaigns promoting "have you hugged your child today?" This is quite common and aunts, uncles, moms, dads, grandparents and godparents alike make a huge fuss over babies and small children. These individuals typically stay involved in the child's life as it is growing up and they become friends and confidants to the child through all of life's struggles. This is where children and teenagers get all their good advice when they are growing up. Well into adulthood the child still gets hugs when they arrive for a visit and before they go and a fuss is still made if the child hasn't called/written/texted/emailed, etc. for any length of time. This amount of time can be as small as a day depending on who the relative is.

When it comes to more distant relatives they still meet up once a year (called a reunion) and they keep in touch over social networking channels. Before social networking people used the phone and relatives DO keep up with each other fairly well. This doesn't mean you're on the phone all the time. I mean that you at least know all the highlights of your cousin's life because if you haven't had the chance to call in a month then your mom or aunt has told you. Everyone keeps each other in touch. When it comes to babies, everyone wants to hold the baby. That long lost friend you haven't seen since high school is still going to make that same big deal about how cute the baby is, and how it looks like it's mother/father and they will ask you questions to catch up on what they missed and then they will exchange numbers.

In India (from what I've seen) the relatives also make a big fuss about the baby. In-laws even help raise the child. It is however rare to see much more than a baby being carried by it's mom or dad. They play with the baby but outward and open affection is rarely seen. However, it is expected that you touch the baby in an affectionate way, like pinching cheeks, when you are introduced (if for example you're a friends wife and you've now run into each other in public) In the home there is not a lot of outward affection between couples, parents and children or relatives in general. Women hug when a relative comes to visit and whether or not the hug last long, is emotional or deep completely depends on the two individuals hugging. I've seen some very shallow and quick hugs and I've seen some hugs where it was clear they were not letting go anytime soon and the emotions ran deep.

In India the relatives also guide the children and teens as they grow, even up until marriage. However, the emotions and the relations are quite different than what you see in the US. Here in India it works more like your aunt calls you, tells you that your cousin is doing something stupid and tells you to call him and instructs you on what advice to give. The aunt that calls is emotional and knows the cousin won't listen (as all kids throughout the world can be quite stubborn on some topics) and since you're closer to his age he may listen to you. So then you reluctantly call (that stubborn attitude thing) and dance around the topic and instead give your own advice. The aunt calls back to make sure you called and you tell her you did. The topic dies down for a few days.

Overall, both cultures are loving but societal norms dictate the differences in how it is displayed. In India, family relations are viewed differently than in the US and some emotions are expected rather than displayed as they would be in the US. By expected I mean that because she is your cousin, you know she loves you and knowing that is enough. It doesn't matter if you haven't seen the cousin in years or never met. She loves you and the relationship is there simply because she is your cousin. And most Indians, because that mindset is there, do tend to feel and act out the same emotions as two cousins who grew up together. When this happens there is some sense of them doing it out of obligation (to me) rather than actual affection but the results are the same. This is no different than in the US when your parents take you to visit an aunt who you never met and you're expected to go play with your cousins and act like you've been friends your whole life.

While I know there are many cultural differences, it still continues to fascinate me how much alike people can be who were raised under completely different circumstances. So next time you're tempted to judge someone based on their nationality, think twice. Getting to know them will certainly surprise you and can even help you get to know yourself better. I'm sure I would never be thinking about these kind of topics if I had never come to India.


  1. Yes it is! Mixing the two worlds has brought about some very good results in this household I know and even the neighbors comment favorably about it. Working together always makes things great!

    I imagine I will be a tougher parent than the westerners you refer to though. I already take over somewhat with my brother's little girl and her and I are quite close. I'm borderline overprotective of her already. I think kids need guidance, not smothering or free reign.

  2. The western way of letting kids find their own answers and learn their own lessons has its downside, just as the Indian way of smothering them with "protection" till well into adulthood does. Most Indian adults, especially men, face a huge battle when they step out to set up their own families, as they are unable to decide if they are husbands first or a son first. Thisis made worse by the fact that Indian families tend to be pseudo-nuclear, with the parents still influencing a grown man's decisions.

    Very well described observation, WB. The bright side of the story is that with this disparity in realtionship dynamics, it is often possible to straddle the best of both worlds and have a harmonious blend of freedom and guidance within the family system.

  3. True, I just thought she was funny. She got on Rohit's nerves with some of her comments and it's just so rare to see him react. He is normally shy but he counteracted her statements and let her know how wrong she was lol. This kind of thing happens a lot here though. They always think Indian is the only and the best way - the pride in this country runs very high.

  4. I wouldn't worry about that lady, White Babhi. It was probably her very clumsy way of saying "I am a nice person you know". Of course people all over the world are affectionate :)

  5. That's a good answer and some good observations. I too am learning about how Indians express love. It is fascinating to see the differences. Physical expressions aren't needed to show love and this is sometimes hard to understand for a westerner like me. I think that both cultures just define what is expected between people who love each other differently.

  6. In Hollywood culture, love is displayed by physical affection, words and grand gestures (kissing, holding hands, screaming "I love you!"). In Bollywood culture, love is displayed with grand gestures, song & dance, etc.

    But in reality, I have noticed that in desi culture, very few couples show their love for each other in public displays of affection. Take for instance my South-Asian parents . . . . When my father passed away, I was taken aback at how devastated my mother was and all the wonderful things she had to say about him. "But you never said 'I love you' to each other" I thought. I never saw them kiss or hold hands (except during airplane landings and taking-off). Because I grew up in the U.S., I looked at the world through Western ideals and I saw their relationship as based on co-dependence, but not love. But when my father passed away, I realized that what they had really was love.

    In the Eastern part of my upbringing, love was shown in actions and sacrifice. By sacrifice I mean things like sacrificing what you want as an individual for doing things that are for the good of the "collective", like the family.

    So to answer the question, I think sacrifice and compromise is what it means to be loving.

  7. You're right, there does seem to be little understanding of the differences between the two cultures amongst Indians. Each culture has it's own unique and special qualities and you really need to stand on both sides of the fence for a while to see how each one of the lives.

  8. I guess US families are pretty much like Swiss families :) And yeah I noticed this difference between indian families and the western pattern I grew up in. What I find a bit isulting is when a desi tells me that westerners have no family values...they just have no idea.

  9. very informative about the US families ... thanks a lot