Living in another country you tend to adapt to the culture at hand, so much so that you almost lose sight of your own culture and values. It is difficult to maintain a balance of both cultures when many traditions and customs of the Indian Culture are deemed of utmost importance. So how can one respect both cultures? I find myself asking this very question as I am at times left feeling emotionally confused.
Women in Indian society are brought up to be home keepers, they spend their life preparing to become a wife. So you can imagine the day a woman becomes a bride it is a very auspicious occasion not just for the bride but her family. It is a huge relief lifted of the bride's parents once they have married off their daughter. It is the wife who will adjust her life for her newly wedded husband. She will uproot her life and move into her in laws home with her husband. She is now the woman of the house and must attend to the needs of her husband and his family. She must care for his aging parents as they will live out the rest of their life in their home with their eldest son and wife. She will be responsible for ensuring everyone is well fed by preparing and cooking each meal for the day or at any time one should request to be fed; making sure the house is clean and tidy; attending to the daily laundry; most importantly she is expected to have and raise children. So if this is what is expected of an Indian Woman in society you can see how it is easy to allow others to expect that you adapt your culture for their way of life.
The challenge of respecting both cultures I face daily, and am lucky that my family and friends have been excellent at accepting my culture. However there have been times when cultures collide. For instance one evening over dinner with friends, I was given what one would deem a backhanded compliment in my culture. Whereby you are both insulted and complimented at once. I understood that the gesture was meant as a compliment as it was from a friend. However being constantly given an insult with a compliment, although meant with sincerity, tends to bring up a lot of bad emotions. So in a lighthearted manner I attempted to explain that in my culture this is found to be offensive. Just as the compliment was meant in a genuine manner so was my comment. But alas my comment wasn't taken in the same manner. Rather I was shot down with the comment that I am in India not Australia. So does that mean that my culture is no longer relevant just because I am living in another country?
Although in this scenario it turned out that it was just a matter of being lost in translation, it is a question that I find myself asking more and more often. You will come across many moments like these where it turns out that it wasn't just a matter of being lost in translation. You need to make the decision to speak up or let it go. However I don't believe that just because you are in another country that your culture and values are no longer important. The concept of adjusting or adapting to the Indian way of life can be read in this great article by a English Wife Indian Life who faced these same challenges when she first arrived.
There are many aspects of the Indian Culture that I have taken on board with great enthusiasm and there are some that I have not as it is against who I am. Such as being courteous, using the words thank you and please. However as most expats would know, using please and thank you is just not part of the Indian Culture. They only use these words for gestures that are truly above and beyond and the gesture is truly heartfelt. They simply do not use it without sincerity to say thank you for being served a cup of tea. Gratitude for this simple gesture is usually just known; it is expected and there is no need to convey thanks. You can read more about the concept of saying thank you in the Indian way of life here.
I am of the belief that we are now a multicultural family and that both cultures should be respected despite where we live, however that can be easier said than done. My husband and I have had many the discussions about raising a family, if we are given the opportunity, and how to integrate both cultures. I am very much open to teaching them the Punjabi culture as this is a part of who they are. However there is one particular tradition that I do not believe in and that is having our children wear a silver bracelet that announces that you are a Singh of the Sikh Faith. To me, this is forcing a religion upon a child who is not only of a Sikh religion but of two cultures. Why should they wear something that is symbolic of only one culture?
So what does one do when cultures collide? There needs to be a balance between your own values and those of the culture you live in. I continue to face the challenge of respecting the colourful culture that I live amongst and maintaining my values in the process. As one should never sacrifice who they are for a marriage or a lifestyle.
You can read more about my daily life as a foreign bride in Punjab here.