My Indian In-Laws are Here!

When a family grows, it usually happens gradually, by one or two people at a time. Maybe it gains a child or a set of in-laws. Under normal circumstances, the family has time to prepare and understand most of the challenges that will come along with the new addition. They buy the things they will need, they arrange the living space, and they mentally prepare for their lifestyle to change. Obviously, there will always be unexpected issues that arise and unforeseen things that need to be adjusted.

The point is that most people don’t wake up one day with five new family members all at once in their house for the very first time.

Most of my husband’s immediate family is here for a visit with us. This includes his parents, one of his sisters, and her husband and son. They are all from India, but the sister and her family currently live in Dubai. Our house went from being evenly divided between Indian and American to having a strong Indian majority.

Luckily, my husband and I have been preparing for this visit for quite a while. We’ve planned our approaches for navigating many cultural differences and methods for how to accommodate this number of people in our two-bedroom house. We’ve even tried to collect some magazines and brochures for the adults and some activities and toys for the child. We’ve also made our master suite a kind of getaway for ourselves when, not if, we need some quiet, alone time.

Our visitors have been here for a week so far and I am just now able to sit down to write about it all. It has all been kind of a blur of cooking, cleaning, organizing, talking, translating, laughing, crying, then cooking and cleaning some more.

One thing that has happened so far is that for a split second, I forgot I was sitting at my dining table in my own home. We were all seven sitting around our dining table eating and everyone else was speaking Bengali. I was listening, trying to pick out some of the words I know, while thinking that I wanted a second helping of the pulao. I wondered for a split second if these people would mind if I ate some more of their food, since I was a guest in their house. I momentarily forgot that it was at my house and I had even cooked the pulao!

I am gathering more of my thoughts and plan on writing some honest posts about what it is like for me, an American, to host all these Indians. We’ll laugh, we’ll cry, and we’ll definitely talk about the food!

6 Benefits of “Inter-” Relationships

What are “inter-” relationships? To me they are interracial, intercultural, international, interfaith, and interesting. I am an advocate for these relationships.

There are very many types of relationships out there, but I’m just going to write about seven benefits I see in being in an “inter-” one.

Background Info:

B and I are from different countries, we have different skin tones, we grew up speaking different languages, we have a significant age gap, and we grew up with different faith traditions. There are more differences between us, but let’s just go with these for now. With so many obvious differences, how do we make it work? That is probably a question many of our family members and friends want to ask us, but don’t feel comfortable enough to ask (at least not yet… ).

Benefit #1: The Food

If you know me, you know how much I enjoy food. It wasn’t really hard for me to choose this benefit as the number one, honestly. I hope that’s not a bad thing… For me, a flavorful, hearty meal with good company can make any bad day better.

If you are in an “inter-” relationship, you probably already know what I’m talking about. You have the food from your specific family, region, country, etc., and your significant other has his. We get to pick the very best, cream of the crop recipes to cook at home and enjoy. We get to introduce new ingredients, spices, and techniques to each other anytime. It keeps things interesting in the kitchen. This may only apply to couples that enjoy cooking and eating together, but I absolutely see the food as a benefit.

Benefit #2: Personal Growth

This may seem vague, but I see personal growth as a major benefit of being in an “inter-” relationship. When I am forced to look at my culture, habits, and ideals from an objective point of view, like when I am explaining them to someone unfamiliar with them, I can see them much more clearly. I can look at some of the things I do automatically without really considering them and see that they need to be evaluated. I can finally start to realize the reasons why I am the person I am. I can look outside myself and see the areas that I need to improve on as a human being. I can see that some of my American/western habits and mindsets need to be re-thought. (And that some of them are perfectly fine, thank you very much…)

Benefit #3: Always Things to Talk About

When B and I are together, there is rarely a dull moment. We come from such different backgrounds that there are many many topics of conversation where we can compare and contrast our experiences. For example, our childhoods were very different. The demographics of the areas we grew up in have drastic differences. We enjoy listening to each others random stories about growing up. It’s fun to try and imagine what it would be like for me if I was in the environment he grew up in.

No offense to all of you people who are married to people just like you, but I think your conversation topics have got to be more limited than ours. Yeah, I said it. I think if a couple grew up in similar areas, with similar lifestyles, it must get super boring eventually. I think that those couple run out of things to talk about way way sooner than couples in “inter-” relationships. Maybe that’s why so many of those couples always feel the need to be out “doing” something, visiting places, or rushing to have kids. Maybe they ran out of things to talk about and didn’t know what to do next… Sorry, not sorry.

Benefit #4: More Holidays and Festivals

When you are in an “inter-” relationship, you have some amazing options in life. Every culture has its holidays and festivals that help make it unique. B and I can choose to celebrate the holidays and festivals that actually mean something to us. We have the opportunity to bring the best traditions from our individual lives, leave the ones that don’t mean anything to us personally, and create new combinations that mean the most to us. This freedom surprisingly has helped us connect more to our respective cultures and traditions.

Benefit #5: Interesting Wardrobe Additions

Since I am an American married to an Indian, I’ve gotten to know the world’s most multifunctional garment, the sari. B has been introduced to the world of camouflage and cowboy boots, interestingly enough. Being with someone from a different part of the world allows you to embrace some ethnic objects that you would not have been exposed to otherwise. I wear saris every now and then and B always appreciates my efforts to help remind him of home. Wearing saris helps me to be mindful of B’s mother and other family members and I try my best to send good thoughts their way. I feel like I’m a little more connected with them when I wear my saris. Last time B and I were with my parents, my dad half jokingly mentioned wanting to get B in a pair of overalls.

Benefit #6: Much Bigger Comfort Zones

This probably is the most valuable benefit for me. (It’s hard to choose though.) As a direct result of being in a “inter-” relationship, I am a much more comfortable person. I have become much more comfortable with myself and who I am as an individual. This is because in order to clearly communicate my wants, feelings, etc. with my partner who is very different from me, I have to really get in touch with the real core of myself. I have to also become comfortable with B’s culture and where his thoughts and feelings come from. I’m not saying that I’m perfect at it, but I’m at least much more inclined, when faced with a conflict, to try and understand where it comes from rather than feel frustrated or run from it.

Also, being in an “inter-” marriage has lovingly nudged our respective family members to increase the size of their comfort zones, in varying degrees. My family has embraced B and understands that our life as a couple is and will always be different from what my life was “pre-B”. B’s family embraced me when I was visiting them and continues to embrace me as their daughter-in-law when we talk.

Throughout our dating and so far in our marriage, we have addressed many of these differences and will likely do so forever. The different cultures we grew up in have helped make us who we are and will always be significant parts of us as individuals. We’ve matured enough in life to accept our pasts and not try and run from them or hide them.

Together, B and I have grown so so much over the last 2.5-3 years of knowing each other. I personally am very interested to see where our “inter-” life takes us.

Cheers, ya’ll!

It’s a Busy Time for Us

Hello out there! It’s been quite a while, you guys. This post is more of an update post than a multicultural issue.

I’ve been contemplating what to post next for quite a while now, but haven’t been able to nail any whole ideas down. My focus recently has been more on the “marriage” and “job” aspects of my life than on the “multicultural” aspect. We’ve been growing as a couple quite a lot over the last while and I haven’t really taken the time to reflect on it and put anything into a post.

The biggest thing going on for us right now is B’s green card application process. We have gotten the paperwork almost completed and plan on mailing it in this coming up week. Why did we wait so long after being married to apply for his green card, you ask? Well, because that was not on our list of top priorities. When we got married, our reason for getting married was so we could be married… not so we could use our marriage to help get B permanent resident status. Is that surprising to you? It is to certain people for sure.

When we talk with people, whether it’s friends, new acquaintances, or coworkers, about the fact that I’m an American and he’s an Indian, people always seem to expect that we would have immediately applied for his green card after being married. Like they think that’s just the way it works. You meet someone from another country, you fall in love, you get married, you apply for their green card. Whatever.

Some people also seem to be a little suspicious of our motives for getting married, like they think they know anything about us. It makes me angry that anyone would assume they know anything about our motives for getting married. Are two people from the same country ever questioned about their motives for getting married? No one from the US would question a fellow American couple, “But why did you choose to marry an American?” Can’t we just be married because we love each other and could not picture living life without the other one? Geez. It’s like people automatically feel like they have the right to butt into our private life just because we were born in two different spots on the globe.

The other thing going on for me personally is trying to decide what steps to take next, job-wise. I’ve enjoyed working at my current job and I really believe in what the organization is doing. The only problem is that I have a degree in something pretty different than what my job is. I want to find some way to get into more things that line up with my creative, visually-oriented skill set and interests. I’d also like to volunteer at the place where I currently work because it’s a nonprofit. I’ve been researching what kinds of jobs are available in my area that would be a better fit for me. I’ve been getting my website and portfolio ready to show again. Hopefully something good will work out!

The last thing I’ll write about today is how my relationship with my parents has been changing. Since I just turned 24 (!) and I’ve been married for over a year, I’ve been having more of an adult relationship with my parents and it is pretty fun. My mom and I have had some conversations on topics we had not had before. And we’ve been realizing even more that we can be pretty good friends. We’re able to relate to each other in new ways these days and I’m loving it. It’s the same with my dad. It’s a genuinely fun time in my life in those regards.

So basically, real life has caught up with me recently. I’ve been growing up and embracing real adult life, slowly but surely. I’m being challenged and encouraged and I’m growing a lot. I’m thankful for all the people who are in my life and thankful also for the ones who have left. Now is the time I’m focusing on getting to where I need to be, on many different levels.

And since I logged in today and looked at my archives on my sidebar, I realized this blog is a whole year old! It does not seem like it’s been a year since I started sharing my thoughts on what it’s like to be in a multicultural life! Thanks to all of you readers who have told me how much you enjoy my posts. I’m happy to have the opportunity to share my life with you and (hopefully) inspire you to step outside your comfort zone!

A Victory from a Cultural Growth Standpoint

This post requires a little background information.

I am originally from a small, conservative, rural town where people tend to generally stick with people who are like themselves. This means that white people stick with other white people, and any other type of people stick with the same. It’s just the way things have been for a really long time and people in that community are sometimes slow to accept change and step outside their comfort zones. I’m not saying anything bad about anyone in particular, just making a generalization based on the fact that I grew up there for 17-ish years. I know this scenario to be true for a lot of people.

I am a white American girl married to a brown Indian man. He’s not white or anywhere close to it. In fact, there are plenty of people of African descent who have lighter skin than he does. My parents and my brother did not get to choose who I brought into the family. They did not ask for any other color to be added to their family tree. They did not ask to be expected to learn a little about a culture originating half a world away. But this is their reality now. And I’m very proud of them for accepting us as a couple and treating B just like a family member. B has been “redneckified” (as my brother says) on many different occasions, whether it was shooting shotguns in the yard, running across hay bales, or whatever activities were included in our visits to my parents’ house.

All this to say that my parents and brother have gone above and beyond and have proven themselves to be better people than a lot of their peers. I secretly hoped that me marrying B would help them get a little more comfortable with other cultures and a little more culturally aware. (I hope you guys aren’t offended…!) I felt the need to help them expand their horizons a little, simply because I have learned a lot by doing so myself.

My brother (J) and B have gotten along really well since before B and I got married. J recently went off to college, two states away from me, and I have only been able to talk on the phone with him twice since he left. One of those times was yesterday. We talked about how he’s adjusting, what’s going on with his classes so far, etc. At the end of our conversation, he told me that there is an Indian in his program. This was a bit unexpected for both of us since J’s program is not one you would typically expect Indians to be in. J told me this guy wore a turban and had a beard, so I explained to him that the guy could be a follower of the Sikh religion and told him why Sikhs usually have beards and turbans. He said that made sense. Then he said this:

“I may go up and talk to him next time I see him and tell him my brother-in-law is Indian, too.”

It’s difficult for me to explain all that I feel about this statement, but suffice it to say that I am proud to see this type of response from my brother. I’m happy for him to feel comfortable enough to approach someone different from himself with the intention to find some common ground and have a conversation. It makes me feel that having brought someone different into the family may be encouraging the type of growth I hoped it would. Obviously I’ll always hope for more growth and awareness as time goes by, but this little tidbit encouraged me immensely. I’m always up for helping people become comfortable with other types of people, and this is one good thing that can come out of multicultural marriage.

Accepting that there are different kinds of people and realizing it’s okay is essential to thrive in today’s world. The fact that people from over 25 different countries all over the globe are seeing a blog written by one little American girl living in South Carolina says so much about globalization. People can’t just live in their little comfortable bubbles anymore. I’m very happy that my family lives their lives these days with more cultural awareness than they did before. Getting out of your comfort zone is essential for growth, whether you step out on your own, or if you are pushed out. 🙂

How We Adventure

When someone says the word “adventure”, most people would probably think it means going somewhere new and doing some exciting, and perhaps dangerous, activities you maybe thought you would never do. I believe that everyone has their own personal definition of an adventure. For some people, an adventure could be traveling to a new country or going skydiving. For others, it could be simply going for a walk in their city and exploring the sights.

I think it’s better to look at life as a daily adventure. In my experience, looking at it this way helps to keep things more interesting. Also, if you can allow yourself to go through your day with a sense of adventure, it’s a completely different mindset than looking at your day as something to just make it through. If you look at it as an adventure, you approach every day with a certain level of curiosity and open-mindedness you probably wouldn’t have otherwise.

I like the idea of adventure so much that it was in one of the “taglines” we used at our wedding. “A short stroll can lead to a big adventure” was the quote that I felt captured the essence of our dating/engagement/wedding story. To anyone who doesn’t know us personally, our “relationship timeline” may have seemed much too fast. Some people thought everything happened too quickly, but we knew what we wanted and went for it. I saw our short time of being together before getting married as the short stroll that was leading to a big adventure. I knew it was leading to a big adventure for a lot of reasons, but mainly because I knew simply being married would be an adventure in itself. I also knew we would be traveling together to India to meet B’s parents and I had never even flown in an airplane! I knew I was getting myself into an adventure and wanted other people to understand that I was not stepping off the cliff into this adventurous life blindly. Being married to someone from a completely different culture is a huge adventure not to be taken lightly or by those who are faint at heart!

We went on our trip to Dubai and India when we had been married for about 5 months, had a blast, and settled back into everyday life when we got back. Since then we have been working on having the best marriage that we can. We look at other couples we know and scrutinize what we can see of their relationships. We try to see what works in marriages and what doesn’t. We gather information and inspiration on how to continuously work at making our relationship the best that we can. One thing that is continually important to us is adventure, but not always in the sense that one might think.

An example of how we adventure on a regular basis is cooking together. We cook a large majority of our dinners at home because we both enjoy home cooked food, it saves money, and we always know what goes into our meals. We almost always decide together what the evening’s dinner menu will be and plan our entree, side dish/dishes, and maybe a dessert. We usually split the work of the chopping and cooking, taking into consideration who is best at or most comfortable with each task.

For example, I DO NOT want to touch raw meat under almost any circumstance if it can be avoided without much inconvenience. I just don’t like it. Fortunately for me, my husband does not mind it. When we are having some kind of meat for dinner, he is usually the one that cleans it, trims off any unwanted meaty bits, and cooks that dish. I am so glad it works out this way! I prefer to take care of the veggie dishes while he cooks the meat dish. Another reason this system works out well for us is that we have two, sometime three different dishes cooking at once so it ends up taking less time than if we were to cook each dish one at a time. This division of labor is our normal cooking routine. But things get crazy on the weekends! …

During the working days, we usually have some type of chicken or egg dish as our protein and a rotation of a few different vegetable side dishes. But our way of adventuring without spending a lot of money or without the stress of planning a short getaway, is cooking a slightly fancier dinner on weekends. Many people may not think of this as an adventure, but that just means that you are a snob who can’t enjoy the simple things in life! Just kidding! …Kinda.

B and I are food lovers. We both enjoy trying new recipes and types of food. If either of us is having a bad day, a good meal is almost guaranteed to make us feel better. There is a chance that our love language is food. The problem with always wanting to try new recipes is that if they go wrong, you still have to eat dinner that night. And when we’ve worked all day and just spent our limited evening time cooking a dish that didn’t work out so well, it’s hard to be motivated to cook a whole new dinner. Granted, most of our new recipes don’t turn out so bad, but the main idea is the same. Our solution to this “problem” is to save our new and adventurous recipes/ingredients for the weekends.

What we like to do is decide what we want to try. It could be recipe that’s new, one that may take a longer time to cook than we can afford on a weeknight, one with an ingredient we aren’t very familiar with, or one with an ingredient that may be too fancy for everyday meals. We wind down after the week/escape from reality by spending more quality time together in the kitchen creating a better/fancier meal to enjoy. We may stay up a little later than normal on a Friday night because of it, but when we don’t have to worry about getting enough sleep to go to work the next morning, it’s a fun time.

This type of adventure is one any couple can go on from the comfort of their home and their local grocery store. The time spent being creative as a team is priceless to us. Working together towards our goal of having a nice, home cooked meal that spices the routine up a bit after a week of being on our own separate schedules helps us focus on our relationship and the start of our weekend “us time”. So next time you feel the need to spice up your relationship, try a new recipe, literally!