Friday, May 25, 2012

My American Family vs. My Indian In-Laws

I do a LOT of thinking here in India. I also do a lot of reading and socializing but regardless of all that, I'm quite sure I spend more time thinking here than I did at home.

During some of my conversations with hubby lately to make sure I leave here with a clear conscience and with peace I made some revelations. This comparison is not about who is better. Just a realistic approach to why Indian values should not shoved at anyone and touted as better. They are simply different.

I don't come from an extremely close American family and I don't live in an extremely close Indian family. The things I speak of are completely cultural differences between the two families.

Let's start with money. 
My mother does not work outside of the home. She does have foster kids and the understanding was that she was doing most of the work with them and that is her contribution to the household. It didn't work out to be all in her favor though. My step-father controls the money, rarely gives her spending money without a big discussion and then it's a blank check with a spending limit. BUT all her needs are cared for and she's mostly content with that arrangement. She does miss work and has picked up a few jobs and tricks to earn her own money that he doesn't control.

My MIL does not work outside of the home. FIL gives her an allowance monthly and otherwise controls and pays for any and all things in the household. MIL has no income of her own and her contribution to the household is through service - laundry, dishes, cooking, etc.

Anyone staying in my mothers home is treated like royalty. She cooks (unless it's me because I take over the's my thing), cleans, does laundry, supplies entertainment, etc. Before she cooks anything, she will ask you what you want and how you want it prepared. Everything is custom made. She will never touch your belongings unless it's to clean under them and then she puts them back in the exact same place. If there's something you want or need, she gets it for you happily and never once complains. If you want to do something on your own, you're free to but she doesn't ask you to or expect you to. While you are staying, she prepares a special place for you to put your things so you can feel at home.

My MIL treats guests in a similar manner. EXCEPT, I've noticed there's a lot of bribery that goes on. For example, she'll want her legs massaged in exchange for a special meal. She uses laundry as an excuse to be involved in everything, search through your stuff, etc. Not just mine. When she prepares food, she does whatever she wants. If you ask for something special, she may or may not comply depending on what she thinks is best or easiest for her. My MIL expects you to share her space an no special consideration is given to where your things will go while you're here. Everything is shared and (apparently) it's offensive to ask for your own space.

Common Courtesy
My entire American family, foster sisters included, will happily step back out of your way if you need a space in the house. This includes the kitchen if you decide you want to cook, the bathroom if you're going to shower, etc. If you need to go somewhere, they either get ready right away or plan for when you need to be there. You can set this up weeks or months in advance and know it will happen exactly as planned.

My Indian family will jump into the kitchen or bathroom ahead of you. I can only assume their premise is that they won't be long or they need to get in there first before you take up the time they had determined they wanted to be in there. Chachi's family will even call each other into the bathroom stall as they're leaving to make sure they get their place and no one else gets ahead of them. If you need to go somewhere you have to keep asking repeatedly, sometimes for days or weeks before they decide to start getting ready. You're almost always late for anything scheduled - which is why things are rarely scheduled here.

There is almost no drama in my American family. My mother doesn't repeat things that are told to her. She doesn't delve into everyone's personal life and she respects decisions others make regardless of whether or not she agrees with them.

My Indian family is all about drama. If there's not enough drama or tension going on, they create some. Anything that is going on in the house is spread throughout the neighborhood. They also regularly engage in routine gossip about other neighborhood members. Your decisions are not respected unless it's what the family tells you they want you to do in most cases.

My American family routinely donates to charity causes. At the very least they take all of their old clothing to the Goodwill stores. Items gathered for charity are bagged up and no one touches them. My family is actively involved in community functions, planning and executing events for non-family members with absolutely no profit being made. They donate their time to the upkeep of their church including secretarial work and yard maintenance.

My Indian family occasionally donates to the maid and annually makes a dressing for Lord Hanuman. When things are prepared to give to the maid, the family members first pick through them to make sure nothing new or useful to them is given to her. Things the family no longer uses are stored endlessly, some for decades after their last use.


  1. Oh yes, I noticed this thing with what goes to the maid! I had neighbours in Bangalore when we moved to Navi Mumbai who questionned as of why we were giving such nice stuff as out terrace bench to her! Well we didn't need it, and it was still in good condition not to become trash, and she had a use for it.
    I had several people tell me they found annoying to have so much kids toy their kids were not using but were too nice to donate to the maid! If one don't need it, and complain about the space it takes then it must go, I can understand not wanting to throw away a toy in the trash, but then they seem to act like the maid should only be donated trash...this is so wrong to me. I actually feel very bad giving my maid used and damaged stuff. On occasion I threw it in the dustbin only to have my maid fish it out horrified for me to throw it out. So now I put the things that are still nice in a bag and give it to her, and the stuff I deem not nice and am not sure if she wants, I store it under the sink in the kitchen and ask her if she wants to keep it or not, most of the time she keeps it and take it along with the recyclables whn she has enough to fill a bag.
    Right now I have an old fancy kurta outfit I'll never be able to fit in ever again, an old shirt and some of my daugter's old clothes ready to give her in a bag, and I threw a bottle of perfume in, because I don't like the smell of it anymore, but it is still nice and half full.

  2. For most Indians, and that was my husband included, it takes a trip outside India to really experience and appreciate the differences in culture and behaviour.   No matter how much explaining I did to him about the differences, he still got an eye opener when he came to Australia. And he's been changed ever since, and wonders amongst other things why India can't be more orderly and respectful like in the west.

  3. Hi ! I have been reading your blog for last 2-3 days now and found it as interesting as disturbing. I really like the way you have been able to express your feelings and the difficulties you are continuously facing while adjusting to changed environment/culture shock. On the other hand, it feels like you are being exposed to some torture(mental ), knowingly or unknowingly. Does your husband know all about this? One thing stands out though--your tireless love towards your husband for whom you are ready to take all these challenges..:):).
    Keep going, American Punjabi PI!
    All the best!

  4. Oh this is a really insightful post, seems like Indian families are very trashy indeed. Reading all the gori blogs I would never want to come to India and I even don't feel like meeting up with my bfs family except for his parents and siblings. Even that makes me a little nervous because we never know how they might turn out to be. God knows what I'd do if they turned out to be like your in-laws.Even though my bf has spent most of his adult life in Britain I hope that my bf isn't carrying on these usual Indian traits with him, I haven't known him for very long to be sure.
    From all that I have read about Indians, it seems like they aren't very nice people to be around and as a society in general, no wonder they have limited social circles when living abroad.

  5. I know it's a cultural difference but I don't understand it. If I don't want it, I don't care who has it and I don't feel there's anyone out there who's not good enough to get it. Here in the US we drop things off at a special store (either Goodwill or a thrift store, etc.) and anyone can buy it at cheap prices and the money goes to charity. We also give things to our friends, family, etc or donate them to those who don't have them or need them. It's not a big deal who gets them because we view all people as equal in this regard. I think is example that happened in India is a remnant of the caste or heirarchy systems.

  6. I know Rohit needs to see. You really can't understand something well until you experience it.

  7. Thank you for your comment. It's really heart touching to me. You're right. I do experience mental torture. None of it is inflicted maliciously, or at least I don't feel that it is. It's a matter of cultural differences.

    Hubby doesn't really understand it. He has no real experience outside of India or his city. It's only after our marriage that he began to travel other cities and see that even the rest of India is not like his home town. There's just been so much violence there in the past that people can't let go of that some of this crazyness still happens. We have a lot of conversations about it all and he's learning. If it wasn't for his willingness to work with me on adjusting and finding a way to survive that life, I wouldn't have made it. He's truly an amazing person. When I think about all he's grown up with and how hes' willing to put most of it aside and learn new ways from me it just melts my heart. That's why I try not to have a huge argument to get my way, I work with him peacefully until he's mentally ready to face the challenge of breaking tradition. It's not easy for him either, so I try not to be too hard on him (though I know I'm already a pain in the ass lol).

    Thanks for your well wishes!

  8. There are huge cultural differences between Indians and Americans. What I'm learning is that it's because we are taught so differently about many things and tend to reject new ways (except for technology and branded clothes lol). I really don't want to sway you to make any decisions about any Indian(s) based on my experience. I write so that you can have an example and idea of the things that you may face.

    My Indian in-laws are very nice, they are good to me in some ways. It's just that there are many of these things that I was taught are wrong. I can't force myself to bend my standards to get used to the behavior.

    Just like any family anywhere in the world though, we have our good moments. Think about this liike a family reunion where you run into all the relatives you can't help but gossip about because you can't believe what they've done now.

    I'm quite sure they feel the same about me. Even the good things are sometimes unbelievable from both sides. I know one main thing for us is how many comments I get on how 'an Indian woman would have been more trouble.' Those comments come from the family and the neighbors. I also get comments about my shopping habits and how much I go out that are more negative. So my in-laws are experiencing some culture shock adjusting to me. I just can't write about it because I can't speak their language well enough for an interview and I know I don't share their thoughts.

    Please, don't make a decision about your in-laws before meeting them. Just prepare yourself for all the differences you will see and try to dismiss the ones you can tolerate.

    Thanks for your comment. I really love to hear other's views. Together, as a massive pardesi network, we can do great things and help each other through the best and worst of times!

  9. Whats ur story :):) ? How did u guys meet? with all these differences and all... :) 

  10. We me online first. Had no intention of even developing a relationship. We were simply killing time, playing games and such. Then after about 6-8 months we got into some conversation I don't remember very well and I told him I was coming to India (jokingly) and he took me seriously so then I had to or otherwise look like a liar lol. I did not want that label so we started talking about the trip and our conversations got more personal and things just progressed. When I came to India we got engaged lol. He says I tricked him into falling in love with me but I think it was all his fault hahaha.