Thursday, December 27, 2012

How Should a Pardesi Act Around Her In-Laws

First off, I'm sorry guys because I have no idea how you should act or which norms may apply to you. This post is aimed mainly at women but you may be able to glean some useful ideas from it.

In India relationships are well defined across the family. Each person or relation has specific roles and guidelines for how to react to each other. There are norms and standards that are well known to desi's that they may not be able to explain to a pardesi. We (as pardesi's) are charting new territory. We're often not expected to behave as desi's, we're mostly forgiven when we don't know or live up to these standards and we're certainly not penalized for missing a formality.

Regardless of all of that, most pardesi's try to figure these standards out and do the best that they can. There's just so much that we don't know. From what I've seen, most pardesi women try to learn these things and then give up frustrated because no one in the family thinks they can understand or either they don't teach them the formalities because 'they're western.'

Whatever the reason, I thought I would help out with a little insight from my own learning. I'm too stubborn to give up and let anyone tell me I'm not Indian and don't need to worry about it.I know I'm not Indian, I don't want to be Indian but there is a certain satisfaction that comes from looking good in front of your family.

Now, I don't endorse or recommend any specific behavior, whether feminist or archaic, but if you want to fit in or gain family acceptance then you will need to take into account your spouses family history, how traditional or modern they are, etc. These tips apply to mostly traditional families but may also come in handy for more modern families. 

Your Spouse's Parents
This one is easy. Greet them with the same respect you were taught as a child. Start out with formalities early in the relationship just as you would meeting anyone for the first time. Say Namaste to Hindu's, Sat Sri Akal to Sikhs, Asalaam Alaikum to Muslims, etc. Your spouse or soon to be spouse will be able to clarify exactly how you should greet them. It should not be expected for you to touch their knees/feet on the first meeting.

You can call them mummy and daddy ji or by other mom/dad type terms in their native language. Discuss this with your desi spouse before addressing them. Many Indian families welcome being called mummy and daddy and see it as a term of endearment and your acceptance of them. (The same applies to calling uncles and auntys by the terms uncle and aunty ji.)

Accept the snacks or chai that is offered to you. In some homes it's customary to refuse them the first time they are offered but you do not have to keep that formality. If you're unable to eat, respectfully decline and let them know why. If you don't want the snacks and chai it is okay to ask for something else like bottled water.

Many Indian FIL's will not sit in the same room as you even after you're married and living in the house. When you sit down, they will get up and leave the room. This is not rude behavior, it's their custom. In the event they stay in the room with you, then carry yourself like a lady and not a tramp. (i.e. don't sit gap-legged, lean over and let your boobs dangle, etc.)

Always dress conservatively. This has nothing to do with archaic values. It's showing that you respect their culture and that you're not some trashy westerner. It's no doubt they've seen western TV and none of it was good. Don't be the stereotype they're used to seeing. At least not in the beginning before you're settled into the family.

Your Spouse's Siblings
You should try to treat your spouses siblings like they are your siblings. His sister is your sister, etc. There will be times you don't get along and you don't agree on things and that's fine. Try to learn to live together anyway.

Don't hang out with opposite sex siblings as if they're your friend. You may get along with them great but it's still frowned upon to go sit in their rooms or be too friendly. Don't go into the room alone with any male family members of the opposite sex.

If you need anything and you cannot get it yourself, don't hesitate to ask your opposite sex sibling to get it for you. This helps strengthen bonds between the two of you.

Your Spouses Extended Family
Greet the extended family just as you would your spouses' parents the first time you met. It's not necessary to touch the feet/knees at this meeting. Be formal in the beginning until you know their habits and preferences. Accept food and drinks that are offered, even if you don't want them. Even if you only take small amounts it's considered acceptable.

If you don't understand everything they're saying it's okay. Ask your spouse for help as needed. The important part to your in-laws is that you make an effort. If your spouse can't help, smile and nod your head like you understand.

You can friend them on Facebook but don't post random craziness they won't understand. It doesn't take much to make a scandal. Many pardesi's choose to have a separate Facebook account just for their in-laws. This greatly reduces any problems you face from gossip, losing respect over something meaningless and random, etc.

Regardless of who you are around, remember your manners. Use the same ones you would with your family or for anyone in your culture. You don't have to stay somewhere you are uncomfortable, even if your spouse tries to tell you so. Your spouse knows how Indians should act in Indian culture but you have the advantage of "not knowing" those standards. If you mess them up or break a rule you are much more easily forgiven. Take advantage of being a pardesi who isn't supposed to know when you need to.

Don't sweat the small stuff. The worst they will do is ask you to do it their way the next time.

What are some tips you would share with other pardesi's about how to act around their in-laws?
How do you act with your spouses family?
Share with us what works and what doesn't in your family. 


  1. It also depend greatly on your Mother in law, because as a DIL you go down in the women's heirarchy, not the men's one. A pleasant eager to help you MIL is going to make fitting in far easier.

    In my case I have a MIL from hell, I've been put on some kind of redemption program by her since I got married, and we are glad to not live with my in-laws for that reason. I tried to be as respectful as possible to all her customs in the begining, I no longer try as hard, the rest of the family has no issue with it, she still does, but she also always had.
    Around my FIL and DIL both hubby and I bend to the hierarchy and are far more formal to his sibbling that we both would otherwise and they are as formal in return, but the instant the parents aren't around and all the formal prestence just goes out of the window and we all act as equals and loosen up.

  2. I guess - despite the problems MIL, SIL and I had because of
    personality, less cultural, clashes - I had luck.

    The family is pretty modern, there is a good amount of foreigners, there is no real hierarchy and within the family nucleus there is close to no gender differentiation. There is certainly too much hugging and touching going on for my taste. But gods be thanked no feet touching, etc.

    The first time I went to see fiancĂ©´s family I actually passed out in his bed, being then observed by fiancĂ©´s brother and wife. Not very lady-like. I just hope I didn´t snore.

    I had to smile at the "Always dress conservatively" bit, since I was more often than not dressed in a tank top and when living there in shorts. So was SIL - and MIL was mostly running around in her night gown. Also there was this time she caught us while having sex (joint families are a dream, aren´t they?) but never uttered a. And MIL at least seemed ok with my tattoos plastered all over my body. Actually showing them of to a friend of hers.

    SIL blocked me from fb, I can post as much crazyness as I want:)

    Pretty sure if Aditya´s family would have been any different our relationship might have never ended in our engagement.

    Your article reminded me that I am actually blessed not having to deal with all the rules you mentioned. Thanks!

  3. This is great advice. You do your part, that's what matters. Unfortunately being nice and formal doesn't work with everyone. That's another great point to realize, some people you just can't win over and that's okay too. Thanks for your input!

  4. Lol, not all families are traditional. Northern cities seem to be more traditional oriented though.

    I have to laugh about you passing out in the bed. I did the same thing not long after arrival in India and woke up embarrassed to find that I not only had been snoring but apparently half the family had came into the room to socialize around me. Lovely right? Lol. The lack of privacy is very hard to deal with.

  5. You experienced one of the fears I have. My in-laws walking into the room while we're having sex. My boyfriend thinks it won't ever happen but my god. Living in a joint household? I won't be happy if it did happen...utterly embarrassed in fact. and he'll laugh at my embarrassment-.-

  6. Get door locks and use them. Most of the doors have them, occasionally they fail but it does give you some peace of mind.

  7. yah but what if we forget to lock it?

  8. In our defense: we were in the middle of renovating the apartment and therefore our door didn´t have a lock. Also knocking at the door didn´t seem to have come to my MILs mind. Afterwards she was only mumbling in Hindi for a few minutes "I didn´t think they´re in. Lord Krishna I really didn´t think they are in." I found that hilarious!


    I must confess that it wasn´t as bad as I always expected it would. But my MIL is in things like that more modern and I could imagine that in another family it could have produced quite a stir.

    Agreed: Joint Family is a special living arrangement I personally would not want to try again...