The White Punjabi Bride
When Your Indian Friends & Family Don't Speak English Around You
Updated: Dec 14, 2020
Everyone who has married into another culture would have gone through, or is still going through the uncomfortable moment when everyone is speaking their native tongue and you are left feeling like a goose. There are probably even moments when you are left wondering what everyone is laughing about and if it is at you. Although I have been with my partner for almost three years, I am still no better at speaking Punjabi or even understanding the language. Understanding key words and phrases is about as good as my language skills get when it comes to Punjabi. So I am constantly feeling like a goose.
When I lived with my in laws in Punjab almost every second of the day we had friends or family stopping by for a cup of tea and a nice long chat. Those who were from Canada were able to speak English and most surprisingly majority of children were also able to. Only so often would there be relatives visiting from Canada, therefore more often than not I was usually left sitting quietly wondering what everyone was talking about.
In the beginning I was always asked to come and join everyone for a cup of tea given I was the reason why they had made the journey to visit us. I always tried to sit by my husband so that he could at least translate for me, but alas I should have known better that was me being optimistic.
I would be tapping his knee harder and harder trying to get his attention to ask what everyone was laughing hysterically over. Occasionally he would respond and translate for me, however 99% of the time I was left frustrated and wondering what everyone was discussing. No matter how many times I raised it with him and asked him to translate conversations for me when everyone speaks their native tongue, he would usually seem to forget. However most of the time he wouldn't even be around to help translate because typically the men would sit with the men and the women would sit with the women.
Therefore whenever friends and family came to visit, I would usually try to look interested, waiting for the opportune moment to sneak off. Simply because I felt rude sitting there quietly and not participating in the conversation. That may seem rude to some, though when you have visitors popping by for a cup of tea every minute of every day, then you quickly get over it.
Eventually after a few months I wasn't expected to join when we had visitors pop by for tea, as I had met everyone and my in laws knew just how difficult it was for me. Which made it much easier as I could come and join in yet not feel pressured to sit with them the entire time. Though when we made the effort to visit friends or family at their home's, then that was a different story.
But what frustrated me the most was when I would be socialising with my husband and his friends of whom could all speak English, yet would ALWAYS speak Punjabi. This still happens to this very day living back home in Australia. I have always been taught that it is rude to speak another language in front of another person who cannot speak it, when you are able to converse with them in their own language.
Yet no matter how many times I have told my husband that it is rude and makes me feel left out, it still happens more often than not. Simply because they get so caught up in the conversation and forget I am even there. Which can easily happen when you're not the one counting every minute.
So what should you do when your Indian friends and family don't speak English around you? The most obvious is to learn their native language, though that takes time and is not a quick solution. Especially if you are as bad as I am at learning Punjabi. Though I can only hope that your partner is more attentive than mine when it comes to this matter. As it is best to have your partner involve you in conversations by translating whilst you learn the language.
Even if it is only for the start of the conversation and then you excuse yourself during the conversation so as not to be too much of an interference. But more so to give yourself a rest. However if you don't wish to excuse yourself, then involve yourself by looking as though you do understand. Nod when they nod, laugh when they laugh. You may actually get them to start involving you more.
Those who can speak some English are only too willing to try and teach you their language, especially children. Children are only too happy to tutor you and help you learn their language. Those who are old enough can even help you by translating. Which is what I usually ended up doing when I had no one else to translate. Or why not ditch the adults and spend some time with the children.
Indian children are so inquisitive and willing to learn about your culture. You may find that a whole lot more interesting than talking about the price of vegetables at the market. Or laughing at a badly translated Punjabi joke; they just aren't funny once translated. More often than not it was the children I spent most of my time with when we visited friends and family in India.
Though if you don't want to appear rude and you don't have your partner to translate, then you can only really bear with it and appear interested. As I said earlier, nod when they nod, laugh when they laugh and so on. You may not actually know what is being said but at least you will be their favourite daughter/son in law. I would usually do this at the beginning of the conversation and then mid way through excuse myself. You will most likely find that they really don't mind that you excuse yourself if you have at least put in some effort.
But what happens when your friends and family can speak English yet will always speak their own language. This is still a regular occurrence whenever we spend time with my husband's friends. Yet no matter how many times I remind him to please speak English when I am around, they get caught up in the moment. There isn't much you can do about this if you have raised this with your partner as I have. You just have to interject conversation by saying something along the lines of 'sorry I missed that' or 'what was that again' or something similar. Usually someone notices and will make the effort to include you.
It can get frustrating when your friends and family won't or can't speak English around you. Yet try not to let that get your spirits down. They are probably feeling just as anxious as you are because they can't speak English around you.
What do you do when your friends and family don't speak English around you?
Need some more tips then why not head over to The Almost Indian Wife, What Can I Do If They Won't Speak My Language?