Monday, July 13, 2015

Culture, Domination and Losing Yourself

I tell everyone, before you get into relationship, you need to be content with who you are and with what you are able to bring to the relationship. You need to know what your own worth is. You need to know that and you need to believe in your own value. That is often easier said than done in any relationship and it's even harder in an intercultural relationship where the lines blur and there's so many new and exciting things to learn.

The Almost Indian Wife posted a blog post just today about this. I really enjoyed reading her thoughts because this is something I had been thinking about for over a week. I was trying to figure out how to address a blog post and from what angle to write it. After reading her post, I found my answers.

This has been a somewhat silent battle between Rohit and I all along, often times it's a completely hidden challenge we're dealing with. I watch other couples talk about aspects of culture every day and I see things that startle me, shock me and even scare me a bit just like Brittany mentions she feels in her post.

I think, for Americans at least, a lot of our problems blending cultures stems from the ideal that Americans have no culture. This statement couldn't be further from the truth! There is a ton of culture in America and a significant amount of diversity here but we're misled from childhood on about what the culture really is. Our TV, our textbooks, our politics and just about everything else thrown at us is centered around turning us into mindless drones fit for modern slavery (which is what working here currently equates to).

Most of us grow up having no idea what our culture even is. Hence we look for something new and exciting to define ourselves. I'm not just talking about me. Look around America. People are all struggling, fighting, waging political wars against each other trying to find their place to fit into this society. We're currently a divided nation and the lines are blurred on where we stand as individuals and as a country.

The lies we are told about our own heritage are outrageous!

Before I got into this intercultural relationship, culture wasn't a thought in my mind. It had very little meaning. All I really knew was that Southern Americans had a much different culture than those outside of the south and those of us in the Bible Belt had a drastically different culture than those outside of it. I learned that moving around as an adult.

Then I fell in love with an Indian.....more specifically, a Punjabi! 

Now I understand so much more about culture. I know his life growing up had similarities to mine, but was also very different. Different in shallow, fleeting ways that shouldn't be enough to cause a rift in a relationship but they do.

He grew up eating with his hands......... So did I. But the meals, the prevalence, the context and the symbolism are very different. All kids eat with their hands but from very early on, I was taught English (Brittish) manners. I learned to use utensils in their proper order (salad fork, dessert spoon, etc.) and how to ensure you didn't wind up with soiled fingers, food under your nails or on your face, etc. I also learned which foods were acceptable to eat with your hands (i.e. finger foods) and which were not.

My husband learned how to pick up rice and make it from the plate to his mouth without making a mess, how to mix foods and spices for proper health and that a bowl of food is to be shared, not taken just for yourself. While none of these are wrong, it leads to some vast differences between us. The consumption of food, a basic need in life, becomes a noticeable difference between us.

Outside of my husband's shyness, this doesn't cause any issues with us. I think that's because he doesn't push me to eat with my hands or make any negative comments about my nit-picky manners and I don't criticize him eating with his hands. In fact, I encourage him. Hubby is very shy, especially in public settings and even in India was nervous about anyone seeing him eat. Here I tell him 'it's America, no one is really concerned with what you're doing and they're not going to stare.' Over time this has helped him quite a bit.

I won't even get started on the food preferences for this post. I'm going to make that a post all in itself!

One aspect of his culture that does divide us, is his party nature. I'll be blunt, I had no idea what I was getting myself into whey I married a Punjabi. I had no idea just how loud, boisterous and lively they could be. I'm a very quiet, reserved, introvert. I have no need to go out and party on a regular basis. I don't need to go dance at weddings, eat chicken with my friends and drink, nor do I care for loud speakers, high volumes on the TV, etc. My husband loves all of these things. It seems to be a fairly common thing amongst Punjabi's to be over-the-top and I'm a down-to-earth kind of girl.

How do we work that out? Well, he goes out with friends and I get to relax at home and watch TV. Still, I get a little frustrated with just how often he feels he needs to go out. Sometimes it would be nice for us to spend some time together and he's just itching to go somewhere and do something. (Did I mention I have a bit of a jealous streak lol.)

There have been many, many times in this relationship and during our conversations that I have seen how overly dominant Indian culture can be. Unlike Americans, Indians seem to be taught their whole lives that their way is the only way, being Indian is the best way no matter what. You need to eat like an Indian, follow Indian rules, etc. We've all seen this. Most of the Indian's I've met will tell you that Indian food is the healthiest in the reality, nothing covered in oil or fried is healthy.

Indians will also tell you that the western world....meaning anywhere that is not India, and most specifically not a moral-less society where women run around naked and people have sex all day. Yet, when I was in India, I saw significantly more nudity than I've seen in my whole life - all was justified by religion. It's okay for a woman or man to strip naked in public because they're going to get into holy water. See-through clothing is totally justified if it is in the form of a kurta in India. It's amazing to me how they can't seem to realize their views are skewed. I won't even touch the sex topic because everyone knows India's population and I see no need to emphasize that they weren't all miraculous births.

I've been very fortunate in that I can see the good and bad in Indian culture. I don't think it's all glitzy and glamorous. I know there's more to it than colorful clothing and singing and dancing. I've happily adopted a few aspects of Indian living - some of them to my husband's dismay! I also think I'm very fortunate that even though my husband still proclaims India's glory from time to time, he also has begun to find aspects of American culture he likes. He has adopted some aspects of American culture and it's made his life happier.

Another point of contention for us is the sense of entitlement Punjabi men seem to have. I'm not only speaking of my husband but of other Punjabi husbands that I know. Many times I've seen them take food from their wives plates without asking, I've seen them change the channels on the TV while someone was watching something without notice, and I've watched them push their wants onto other people as if the other person had no choice. I've also seen countless incidents of them refusing to do something for themselves and expecting that another person will do it for them. This sense of entitlement drives me NUTS!

Going back to the manners I was raised with, you would absolutely never take food off of anyone's plate unless it was offered to you. You never walk into a room and grasp the remote and start changing channels as if you own the TV - even if you do own it. More importantly, you don't ever push someone to do something they don't want to do - like drink alcohol or eat meat when you know it's against their religion. And you absolutely NEVER, EVER, EVER take anyone else's belongings without asking first.

I've run my mouth about things in Indian culture that drove me nuts and then had an eye opening experience that shut me right up. I've learned that things I grew up with are not always the best way, or the best fit for my life. But I still have a long way to go. There are a lot of things I appreciate about my culture that I don't ever intend to let go of. There are also aspects of his culture I encourage him to keep. We each need our own culture.

There should never come a time in any relationship where one partner deems their culture as the overall superior culture. There should never come a time in your relationship where you deem your partner's culture as superior. You should celebrate it, indulge in it, delight in it and then at the end of the day, still be you because that is what is truly beautiful. Take the things in your partners culture that you like and work them into your life to improve it, not as a replacement for your own culture.

You're in a position to blend two cultures and create a new and more fascinating one. Don't waste that opportunity.

How do you blend your cultures?
What part of your spouse's culture do you struggle with?


  1. "Indians will also tell you that the western world....meaning anywhere that is not India, and most specifically not a moral-less society where women run around naked and people have sex all day. Yet, when I was in India, I saw significantly more nudity than I've seen in my whole life - all was justified by religion." - BRILLIANT

  2. Thank you so much for this post. It actually got my Punjabi husband to (mostly) stop changing the TV channel when I'm watching it. It's a miracle.

  3. I love this post so much that I'm going to save it and reread it again.
    Its the story of my life.

  4. I love this post so much that I'm going to save it and reread it again.
    Its the story of my life.