Monday, November 11, 2013

Foreigner Shock

**The below post is merely a reflection based on some self-introspection I've been doing lately. It's written from a matter-of-fact viewpoint and mostly without emotion. I'm not hurting, it's not meant to be negative toward India or mean-spirited. This is simply something I've been realizing through the progression of the previous year of my life.

I've been reading over many of the blogs I have written, both already published and those waiting to be published here and it's just dawned on me what I'm really feeling in many of them.

In my culture (and likely most of the US), I learned that I can earn respect based on my actions in life. My actions are a testament to who I am. If I do honorable things, people will get the impression I am honorable. So if I work hard, do my job well, then work will think I'm a good employee. If I take care of my role in the family, I will be seen as a productive family member.

This has not been the case with my Indian in-laws. Regardless of what you do, your worth seems only as good as the neighbors think it is. So despite all I have done for my husband and this family, the first time an American (because this is not a white/black/brown issue) does something unfavorable, I am again thrust to the bottom of the spectrum as if I never earned my place in the family because I might be like that one American they heard something negative about.

I've seen this time and time again in my life. I've heard other pardesi women get frustrated by all of a sudden being judged unfairly by the impression their family gets from some other random 'westerner.'

It's maddening.

Throughout my relationship I have learned that many Indian relationships are very shallow. Yes, if you're blood related you automatically are entitled to certain rights but beyond that, the relationship is completely shallow. Even among blood relatives respect is an action, not a feeling like we are taught here in America. You are respected only if you meet certain criteria. You must be an elder or in a position of authority. You're often not respected at all for your actions and being less than honorable doesn't cause you to lose the obligatory respect like it would in America. (By "obligatory" I mean the knee touching, verbal formalities.)

This is something I find difficult to adjust to. My whole life I've defined myself by how good I can be at my job. I'm quite competitive. When I worked customer service I made it a point to perfect my skills and within 6 months of being with the company I had made it to #1 out of 500 employees on the floor. They ranked us based entirely on performance. I had dethroned another girl who had kept the #1 position for almost a year. That's how I operate in the professional field.

When it came to fitting into my Indian family, I did the same. I have been going over some things that I did during the relationship and I can assure you I went overboard. That's my style. I'm going to be posting some of these things here in the near future so you can see them. I set out at the beginning of this relationship to make myself so much a part of this family they couldn't deny me. At the time, I had no idea what Indian families were like and I expected them to be (at least emotionally) like any other family.

So imagine my surprise when things didn't work out that way. My in-laws love me and they make sure I know it. But I'm seeing that my worth is based solely on what I've done or not done in that particular moment of time. Some aspects of the relationship could easily be ended by one wrong move. It feels shallow and fleeting. I'm not blood. I will never have that right. The respect I get will always be based on simply my age and my title in the family. It will likely never be anything more to many of my Indian relatives.

I must resign myself to never being the aunty that my niece looks up to for real-world advice in her time of need. No one will come to me for help with things because they know I'm good at something. I'll always be just the DIL whose knee they must touch if they are younger or lower on the hierarchy tree.The bhabi they must say hello to in passing. The foreigner they can tout that they know/are related to when it suits them. I really love my Indian family and friends, I hope someday to be able to feel a stronger connection and like I'm more than just the choti bahu.

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