Tuesday, February 11, 2014

They're All Going to Laugh at You

I love looking back and reflecting on the things that have happened in my life, how I reacted to them and how I feel about them now. I'm quite sure this isn't something most people do on the same level that I do but I find that understanding people and learning more about how they operate intrigues me. Truly understanding and being able to both empathize and sympathize with others almost requires that you know and understand yourself well and I rather enjoy learning more about the intricate workings of my mind and life.

A topic has come up between hubby and I that has me reflecting back on my time in India. While I was there and going through the triumphs and struggles I found it difficult to understand many of the feelings I had. So it's been quite inspiring to me to see hubby struggle with some of the same issues because I've gained a perspective from both sides of them now.

The topic at hand now is laughter. While I was in India I often blogged about feeling like a child or incompetent. You can read some of those frustrations here and here. Trying to adjust to changes in India were maddening at the time. I still can feel some of the hurt and frustration even now, 2 years after it all occurred! But back to the topic at hand.

I don't think I ever blogged about it because it seemed trivial but now I'm seeing things differently. While I was going through my struggles I distinctly remember family members laughing at me over many things. How I tried to learn to eat with my hands, how I got too serious while saying a prayer as I entered the Golden Temple for the first time, and other small things I did that they didn't do.

For the Golden Temple visit, they specifically thought it was worth giggling over how serious I took that prayer and I remember feeling baffled by that. Wasn't this India? Wasn't religion a permeating force regardless of what God/Goddess you worshiped? Was I not in a house of religion? I'm not trying to veer too far off topic but I had said that prayer for the future of my married life. I take that subject very seriously and I just couldn't understand why anyone would giggle over prayer being serious. This is one of the incidents I remember my feelings distinctly.

I talked to hubby about most of these incidents later on (after they occurred). His answer was always something along the lines of 'they don't mean it like that." He was implying that though they giggled, it wasn't harmful, malicious, mean-spirited. I wasn't sure how to feel most of the time but often felt like he didn't understand how it made me feel. I half believed him and half felt like he was just covering for them. Not knowing the language though, I was never really sure how to feel about the giggles.

Now hubby is here and he's very sensitive to any kind of attention no matter who it's from. Even in India he was overly-aware of when anyone could potentially look at him and he was always inclined to think any look was negative in nature. Hubby becomes even more self-conscious when he's eating. I'm not sure why. He eats better than many Americans when using a fork/spoon and we have plenty of foods we eat with our hands so IMO, he shouldn't be worried about if anyone is looking. He's not nasty or unskilled. He's perfectly normal - at least to me. (Now might be the best time to mention I care nothing of what random strangers think of me and often don't pay any attention to these things either, which is the exact opposite of hubby.)

Hubby has mentioned to me a few times where he felt strangers were giving him some kind of look that he interpreted as being bad. He's even stopped eating a meal because someone had looked at him. I'm not quite sure of what to do in these instances. Since I don't care what anyone thinks of me, I ignore these things and I have not developed any coping skills for these situations!

Mostly all I do is encourage him to ignore them, remind him they don't pay our bills and thus don't matter, and I tell him point blank how there's nothing wrong with his eating habits. I know I may be blinded by love but I honestly have not seen a single thing wrong with his eating habits! He's not dribbling food, dropping things excessively, missing his mouth, making slopping noises or anything else that would be deemed offensive while eating around other people. His table manners are quite impressive actually. Sometimes I feel like he's more refined at the table than I am hahaha.

More recently we welcomed a new family member into the home. This family member is not used to my husband and probably has very limited experience dealing with anyone who actually grew up in another country. She's also stuck in teacher mode as she's studying to be a teacher. I'm not sure how to explain that other than to say that in most things she does, she talks and acts like she's instructing you in a classroom. most of the time it's not offensive but there have been a few times it's a bit unnerving.

So fast forward to meal time. Every single time hubby sits down with her he insists she's laughing at him. She's super giggly, many times inappropriately. I have no doubt she's looked in his direction and wound up giggling at something or another several times. Once I overheard her make a comment when he didn't know something was beef and almost ordered it off the menu. At that time I commented back to her about how this wasn't customary in Indian culture and he had no way of knowing the item was beef as it wasn't labeled as beef or steak.

Hubby got a little offended and reasonably so. But I think that one comment is what started his hyper-sensitivity to being around her. Her comment was out of a naive and immature assumption that everyone must know all things just as she does. I thought he had let it go but now it seems he didn't.

So fast forward to a month or so later when we had lunch with her again. She was talking to someone and giggling over everything. She's talking to someone else but looking around the table. Hubby drops a piece of fish that flaked off of his fork and she giggled. Clearly this is not anything worth starting a war over right? Wrong. Hubby got deeply offended.

It was in the instance we discussed it that I got some much needed reflection back and a much better understanding of what was actually happening. Now, I know my family member is not going around and starting some huge drama about 'omg, did you see him drop the fish, he's so stupid!' It wasn't that seriously. She may not have even been laughing at him and even if she was, I can't find any way this could have been malicious. The person she was talking to really likes hubby and dropping a piece of fish off his fork would not be something she could destroy hubby's respectable image with.

So now I get to see first hand, hubby's family wasn't laughing at me in a harmful way just as this giggle wasn't harmful. It was how I responded to the laughter that defined how I felt about it. Hubby is very sensitive to these things so it makes sense he would take it to heart. As he and I talked about it he was adamant she was making fun of him in a hurtful way. This incident left and impression on his heart the way the Golden Temple incident had left an impression on me.

I had an Aha! moment! A bonding revelation. I got a little carried away and excited as I began to explain this to hubby. I could relate to him and I knew how he felt. Our conversation grew deeper as he was sure no one ever laughed at me and this incident with the fish was horrible and had to be mean-spirited. (He can be a bit dramatic sometimes too.) I think the whole thing left us both with a better understanding of many aspects of our lives.

Of course, I'm always keen on finding ways that my Indian family and my American family are alike. I know a lot of people get fussy about comparing the two but to me this helps normalize life, my feelings, my thoughts, etc. It helps me remove the labels of culture and be more capable of defining those in my life as individuals and it helps me see just how similar we are. I love that! It's never been about who is better or worse for me.

I'm hoping one day that hubby can see this as well. It's astounding how similar his family and mine really are. I continue to be amazed every time I find something small like this that shows me again how humans are all the same and the labels we put on ourselves actually separate us in life. In the mean time, I'm having a lot of fun experiencing these growing and bonding moments with my husband. I'm sure he'll get over the fish thing once he has a minute to really think about just how serious eating fish is (not at all right?).

How about you? Have you ran into any situations where someone giggled at you like you were a child? Or did the giggles make you feel stupid?
How about your spouse? Has this happened to them? Are they self-conscious about their eating or dressing habits?


  1. This reminds me of Harish. . He really cares what people think of him.. and will get very offended if someone says something bad about him or tries to ruin his image. It's not a bad thing or a good thing, it's just another unique part of his personality which I adore.
    I really liked this line: "So now I get to see first hand, hubby's family wasn't laughing at me in a harmful way just as this giggle wasn't harmful. It was how I responded to the laughter that defined how I felt about it." - That reminds me of the time I went to Srirangapatna temple with my parents...I was wearing srichurnam on my forehead & a salwar kameez. While I was inside the temple everyone was staring at me and laughing, some were pointing. I noticed but didn't pay attention, I just had my eyes on God. Anyway my Mum started to get really upset and offended and tried to defend me, but I told her to not take it to heart because first of all we don't know the reason they are laughing, and secondly, it doesn't matter why because I'm just here to pray.

  2. Wow.... I have been going through this EXACT same struggle. My husbands family and their friends giggle at EVERYTHING I do... absolutely everything. It is one reason I have found it so hard to pick up the language because if I attempt to say anything they find it absolutely hilarious and I feel totally self conscious and defeated.

    My husband consoles me in the same way your husband did, I know in my head that there is no nastiness to the laughter but it still leaves me feeling deflated.

    I am just hoping that I can get over the feeling because it is slowly down my progress here (i.e. learning the language and trying new things)

    Great post. I hope you, your husband and family are well x

  3. Every person gone through this type of situation....there is nothing to worry about..but situation change when some of another country person laugh at u (( white ))) more than 200 years british raj..ALL things came back to head (( firangi bharat chodo )) its a point of view from indian...i m not blaming anyone .. if can i ask.. i want to know what u feel when an another country person laugh at u because (( white always believe that they r the superior race i think )))....

  4. I don't think race is a factor so I won't speak for others who may or may not let race become a factor for them.

    I've had people laugh at all sorts of things in my life. I'm the type of person that invites it because I find it amusing most of the time. I do silly things to get laughs and I say silly things, etc. I've never thought of the racial aspect, even when I was in India I didn't think about it being Indians laughing at me. They were just people...other humans. However, I felt an immense pressure to fit in with my new family. I wanted to win their approval, love, respect, etc. So I was definitely more aware of how they reacted to me and I was much more sensitive to their reactions than I've ever been to anyone in my life. As for the neighbors and random people on the street...well, since they don't pay my bills I could care less what they think of me. (Of course, if they had something nice to say, I surely loved it. I'm always up for compliments. :D)

    I don't think of any race as superior. I believe you're referring to a faction of the worlds population called "white supremacists" and I have never been nor never will be a part of that group. They're a hate-based group and they do not represent the majority of America nor any other nation where they maintain a presence.

    I could say the same thing about Indians btw. There are quite a few chest thumping Indians who come to this blog who are overboard on the Jai Hind patriotism and they look down on all things western. There's these type of people in every culture though. It's just a fact of life. You can't change them, you have to just find a way to manage life while they breathe the same air as we do.

  5. Hi Lauren,

    Must be really frustrating when people laugh at your attempts to speak in their language. This is obviously because you are 'Gori' Bahu trying to learn the local language.

    I think it makes a lot of sense to hire a professional tutor, who will be serious about you picking up the new language.

    Have you considered using a learning tool such as Rosetta Stone ?

    Depending upon your current comprehensive skills, you could listen to FM radio.

  6. I have no idea why but when I make a list to go grocery shopping my Indian SIL thinks it is riotously funny.

    ????Anyway here is an interesting opinion on 'thin skinned Indians'-


  7. A grocery list? I don't see the humor either. Love the article. I must share it. :)