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On an Intercultural Marriage

June 7, 2010

I’ve recently started to read some blogs of other white women married to Indian men. The majority of these are living in India currently, though not all. I started looking for these sites shortly after marriage because I am terrified of my in-laws and I wanted some insight into how to deal with them and also because I wanted to learn about problems that might arise in our marriage before they did. Maybe, probably, almost certainly the last reason is because I wanted to feel like I wasn’t the only woman crazy enough to do this.
But the funniest part so far is that what I’ve learned is that the majority of our fights already have been cultural clashes. OK, that’s not exactly revelatory, right? Right. The revelatory part is that I didn’t know it most of the time, until reading what these other women were saying- especially the ones living in India.
Classic example: Our Indian wedding. As in the one he refuses to plan. As in the one that he refuses to do anything for until (insert current excuse) works itself out. Turns out that’s normal. Only I had no idea. I assumed it was because he is stressed out about the idea (which may still be the case) and was putting off the planning because of that. I would get frustrated, and and try to pin him down, and reason with him on these issues. Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t.
The thing is when any person has something so drilled into them by a culture they grew up in, you (anyone) don’t understand why you are doing something a certain way half the time. Sometimes when we are having a disagreement about something I’ll ask him if he feels a certain way because that’s how it is India. Sometimes I’ll realize that I feel so strongly about something because of how it’s done in Texas. Sometimes it’s just a problem among the two of us, but more often than not it’s because of culture differences. More often than I ever realized until I started reading these other stories.
I’ll never forget the moment it really hit me that we are going to have a lot of these culture clashes. It was about a month after we married. We were having a pretty big fight. I have no idea what it was about. Suddenly out of the blue he yells “I don’t think your family likes me!”

I was immediately silenced. Shocked. Where did this come from? My parents have their reservations about our marriage but they like him a lot. And I feel like they’ve been very accepting of him, and he has agreed in the past. They always ask about him when I talk to them, and my grandparents call for “Starling and Baba” now, not just me. Why would he say this? What more does he want from them? I was so irritated.

“What are you talking about? You know they like you.” I replied, infuriated with what I perceived was him being super high maintenance.
“Well then how come they never congratulated me on our marriage? And how come they never want to talk to me on the phone?” Again, silence from my end. Shock, and a lot of confusion. Huh? I recovered from my shocked silence.

“Of course they congratulated us.”

“No,” he said most definitively. “They never said anything to me.”

“Well, they said it to me and I told you they said it. What else do you want?”

“Why didn’t they want to speak to me on the phone?”

“Why would they want to speak to you?” It was at this point that I lost all anger and realized that this conversation was going somewhere very specific, but I was still reeling from confusion and couldn’t make heads or tails of what answer he was looking for. I was trying to remember specifics about what happened shortly after our marriage. And then I thought about his families response as well.

And it then occurred to me that I had spoken to each and every family member after the wedding and they all congratulated me on our marriage. They had spent 20 minutes on an international call passing the phone around to every member currently in the room. I had assumed at the time that they did that to assure me that they accepted our marriage and me into the family- that they had done that for my benefit. Hell, even my sister-in-laws husband had congratulated me. This should have been my first clue that it wasn’t about or for me.

(But you know how brides can be.)

I figured out why he was so mad. It’s true that my family didn’t do that. And I realized that his family did that because it was the cultural norm. And because my family didn’t do that, he had been slighted. Even though none of us knew that. He didn’t know that it was a cultural norm because it was his cultural norm. I tried explaining to him that in American families, my family can say congratulations to me for the both of us, and that is enough. First, he refused to believe this. He continued to insist that they probably didn’t really like him. After a while, when I started listing all the family that had called since then, and how they all asked after him, he started to see what I was talking about.

Finally, the next morning, I called my mom, told her what happened, and asked her to please call him on his cell phone. That it would go a long way. She did happily, but laughed with me about how these small differences can become a big thing.

I think there will be many of these misunderstandings. I wish that weren’t true, because ordinarily we fight so little. Both of us are such reasonable people most of the time… But these are the specific challenges facing our relationship, and they are totally worth going through.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. June 8, 2010 6:30 pm

    Very interesting! I'm glad you guys are working this stuff out, and I'm glad you've found some resources to help you on this journey.And I'm glad you're blogging again.

  2. March 12, 2011 4:45 am

    Wow! Reading this post is an awakening. Really, cultural differences is very challenging in marriage. Little things can grow big without the other party being aware of it, and you can read a lot of blogs and books about edited by Texpat to orient you but nothing really prepares you for the reality of it once you’re in the real thing. The good thing about your marriage is that you have both your families supporting you. Good communication, understanding, patience and tolerance are the key elements needed to make such marriage work,

    • March 23, 2011 11:25 am

      Glenn, thanks for your comment. I edited out the link, because I don’t like links in my comments. I intend to visit both the site mentioned in the comment and your own blog (linked in your name). If I like the original link, I’ll put another comment on the post. I appreciate you coming by, and hope you stop by again.

  3. January 11, 2014 2:24 am

    It’s a beautiful blog you have… and a wonderful passage you have shared… I wish you all the best of luck… keep lovin… ^_^

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