The most frequently asked question that I receive has to be about how to make a good impression with the Indian in laws. Which I can't blame anyone for asking as the stereotypical Indian mother and father is enough to scare anyone. We have all heard about the stereotypical Indian parent who is tough as nails and pushes their children to be the best, therefore only the best is good enough for their children. Which includes who their children dates and/ or marries. Usually it is expected that their children are to marry someone who is of the same or higher caste and is of a good Indian up bringing. This stereotype is what scares most of us who happen to be in an interracial relationship with an Indian and are completely aware that they are not from a good Indian household.
Though not to fear as most would tell you, they are generally just as worried as you are. The stereotype of us westerners is just as bad. Many Indian parents worry that their son or daughter will marry outside the culture and forget about their heritage. The Westerner is seen to be someone who has no cultural values, drinks incessantly, smokes, is promiscuous and has no idea how to care for a household. This stereotype is what sparks their concerns, believing that their son or daughter won't be loved or cared for as much as someone from the Indian Culture would be able to.
They believe that ultimately an interracial relationship will only end in divorce anyway which will tarnish their family name. Not to mention since the eldest son usually lives with their parents and cares for them after marriage, marrying outside the culture also means they then have to fend for themselves. Family is a very important part of their culture and this may not be as important to someone who is from another culture.
Therefore as you can see usually the stereotypes from both sides of the fence tend to be wrong in most cases and gives most of us undue stress in meeting the in laws. Then throw into the mix the language barrier for some whose parents may not actually speak English. Or the matter of learning an entirely different culture and all their traditions and beliefs. It can all be rather unnerving especially when you know just how important it is to both you and your partner that you make a good impression.
But don't let all this worry you when meeting your in laws for the first time. As with meeting anyone for the first time, finding out a bit about them before you meet, showing interest in who they are and being courteous, all go a long way to making a good impression.
If you think about a time when you did some research into who a person was before meeting them. Then showed interest in who they were, all while being courteous and friendly. I bet that scenario went a lot smoother than other times when you may have not put in any effort and couldn't really be bothered feigning an interest in who a person is.
Though unfortunately no matter how much you try, sometimes people just are difficult and don't want to know you. If your in laws happen to be the stereotypical Indian parent, then you can only persevere and not give up hope that one day you can forge a relationship.
So how can you make a good impression with your Indian In Laws? Below are my top 10 tips to make a good first impression with your Indian In Laws. Now as most of us know India is made of so many different faiths, that the culture varies between states and family's.
Although these tips apply in general terms to most faiths across India, specific information that I note are in reference to the Punjabi Culture. For instance eating with your cutlery would be seen as polite in the Punjabi Culture but it would be disrespectful to certain South Indian cultures as they eat with their hands. So for those who aren't dating a Punjabi Indian, take with you only those points that apply to your partners culture.
For those who missed reading my story of meeting the in laws for the first time you can read it here, Meeting The Punjabi In Laws.
Here are 10 TIPS To Make A Good FIRST Impression With Your Indian In Laws
1. Learn Their Language
This is a simple enough gesture to show interest in your in laws culture by learning even just a few basic words or phrases. Even just greeting them by saying satsriakal goes a long way to making a good first impression. Concurrently you would hold your hands together in the prayer position and bow your head.
You don't need to be fluent in their language, just practise a few common words or phrases. After you greet them why not ask how they are. Perhaps have a few of the common responses prepared so that you can then answer when they then ask you.
2.SHOW RESPECT TO YOUR ELDERS
In addition to greeting them in their language you can go one step further by greeting them in the traditional way of showing respect for elders in their culture. This is tradition is known as 'pairi hath pauna' or 'pairi pauna'. Once you greet your elder you are to then touch their feet.
This tradition is a way of showing respect to elders and sharing a connection together. Although it is tradition to physically touch their feet, many will simply make the motion of reaching to their feet or knees with one or both arms. Then you are to touch your forehead and chest with one hand. Learn more about How To Greet People When In Punjab.
Though with modern times it may not be used as commonly with some families. So check with your partner how you should greet his/her parents.
3. Show AN Interest In Their Culture
By learning their language you have already shown an interest in learning about their culture. Though you can go that one step further and learn about other aspects of their culture. If you are going to meet your in laws over a nice dinner and your partner is dressing in traditional attire. Why not also dress in traditional attire and show your willingness to participate in their culture.
Or if you are visiting their home or vice versa, why not ask your mother in law to teach you how to cook her favourite traditional sweet if the setting is appropriate to do so. If it isn't you can always ask her to share her recipe so that you may go home and cook it. Then the next time you both meet you have something to bond over. It is such a rich and diverse culture that there are so many aspects of their culture that you could learn.
4. Withhold Any Bad Habits
When you first meet your partners parents or family, you don't want to give them the impression that you are the stereotypical Westerner. So until you actually know them better and know what they find offensive, hold back on drinking alcohol or if your partner says it is okay, maybe just stop at one glass. Don't be excusing yourself from the dinner table so that you can go outdoors for a smoke every ten minutes. They will know that you have been smoking as the odour will cling to you. Hold back on the profanities and anything that might be construed as offensive.
As when meeting anyone for the first time there are certain topics of discussion that are recommended to be avoided to keep the calm and so that you don't offend anyone. These topics are money, politics and faith. However being curious about their lifestyle as a Sikh and asking questions out of interest is okay. It's more about not being offensive or starting a heated debate that ends in someone walking out. For instance disrespecting their faith as you don't agree with it. Or asking about how much money they have as they must be rich since they drive around luxury cars.
5. Learn About Their Interests Before You Meet
Why not ask your partner what his/her parents are interested in so that you can do a little research into their interests. This not only shows interest in who they are but gives you something in common to talk about so that you can avoid long awkward silences. This only really applies to those in laws who can speak English.
It can be as simple as watching their favourite Bollywood Movie and taking note of a couple of scenes that you enjoyed. Then talking about those scenes with them when you meet. Your father in law might be into cricket, actually he will most certainly be into cricket. So you could watch a match if it is cricket season, or find out the scores of their last season and how his favourite team faired. Little gestures like this go a long way to showing someone that you care.
6. Bring A Gift
This one may or may not be a good idea, depending on your partners parents and their beliefs. So check with your partner first if giving a gift will be offensive or if it is expected. This is because traditions vary depending on demographics and personal beliefs.
When buying gifts, as a rule of thumb it is always better to buy a thoughtful gift rather than a frivolous or worse yet cheap and tacky gift. Such as making a photo book to tell the story of how you and your partner met and your first year together. Which is what I gifted my in laws when I met them for the first time when I traveled to India.
Or it can be a simple gift to fit the occasion such as bringing them a box of sweets if you are meeting at their home for a cup of tea. Or a diwa if you are celebrating Diwali with your family for the first time. Depending on the occasion will depend on what you decide to gift.
Read more about Buying Gifts For Your Indian In Laws.
7. Wear Modest Clothing
If you're meeting your in laws for the first time it probably isn't a good idea to wear your favourite mini dress that bares way too much skin. The saying, dress for the occasion definitely applies to meeting your partners parents. If your partner is dressing in traditional attire and has suggested you do so as well then you are already wearing modest attire. If you need help understanding the fashion then read The Many Fashions Of Punjabi Women: Your Ultimate Guide.
However if you aren't wearing traditional attire then it is best to dress as you would when visiting your Grandma. So opt for clothing that doesn't bare your cleavage, midriff, bum or too much leg. If you are unsure then always err on the side of more is more. More clothing that is and less skin. But that doesn't mean you can't dress fashionably just because you can't show any skin.
Whilst you should wear modest clothing you should also wear clothes that they won't find offensive. Such as avoiding your goth attire you wear to rock concerts. Or your cowboy attire you wear to the rodeo.
8. Be Polite & Respectful
This one goes without saying as it is just expected that you bring your manners with you when meeting someone for the first time. Especially if you are hoping to make a good impression on them. So make sure that you remember to say please and thank you.
Though manners isn't just about saying please and thank you. It is also about treating them with respect and not being rude. Such as how you address your in laws.
Addressing your in laws by their first name is more often than not a sign of disrespect. As when you were younger in the Western Culture, you would always address adults as Mr Smith or Mrs Smith rather than use their first name. If you are unsure then check with your partner how you should address his/her parents.
Using the word Jii after someones name or title is traditionally a sign of respect. If you don't know their name using Jii alone also shows respect. For example greeting someone you don't know you could say Satsriakal Jii. Or if you know the Punjabi word for their relationship to you, it is okay to refer to them that way. For example as a daughter in law I am known as Bhabi Jii.
Treating someone with respect from the Punjabi Culture, particularly when it comes to elders, also means not publicly displaying affection in front of them. So if you are particularly affectionate with your partner normally, then hold back on the kissing and hand holding.
Your partner will most likely automatically stop showing affection the minute his parents are around anyway. If he hasn't had the conversation with you and you're wondering why he suddenly stopped, then this is why.
9. Don't Take Anything PERSONALLY
When you meet someone from another culture it is very easy to misconstrue what they mean sometimes. As being from two different societies means that sometimes what is said isn't what is meant. Furthermore you both have different cultural norms therefore what might be seen as polite in their culture might be seen as rude in your culture.
The example I always use is when I went to live in India the second time everyone always commented how good I looked now, followed by how fat I used to be. Essentially what is known as a backhanded compliment in my culture where something nice said is accompanied by an insult.
It made me feel uncomfortable as it was an insult to me always hearing that they thought I was a fatty. Although to me it felt like an insult they actually meant it as a compliment. So if something said offends you then try not to take it personally and ask them to clarify what they mean by what is said.
10. Be Yourself
Although it may seem that by doing all these things you aren't being yourself, it doesn't mean you should loose who you are as a person. Given that when you meet most people anyway you are courteous and respectful to them until you know them better. Which is what these hints and tips hope to achieve. So if you do drink and smoke, restraining yourself by not doing these things is just a way to show your respect until you know whether they find it offensive or not.
But despite being courteous you should always stay true to who you are as a person. You shouldn't loose your identity just to impress your in laws. So if you can't stand vindaloo curry you don't have to love it just because it's your father in laws favourite meal. You want to be authentic in who you are as a person, as that is what will make the best impression on them.
THAT CONCLUDES MY TOP TEN TIPS. BUT REMEMBER......
That this is intended as a guidance only. You would have the best knowledge on how to make a good first impression on your in laws so use this as a guidance for your intuition. If you meet your in laws and they are totally laid back and cool with the western way of life, then go with the flow. Your partner knows his/her family best so they are the best source of information. But if your partner is as stubborn as my partner then you can use this guidance to help give you some ideas on how to make a good impression.
I know I have already met many of you who have successfully met their in laws for the first time and have an amazing relationship with them. Then there are some of you I know unfortunately have difficult in laws and are still trying to build a relationship. Either way I would love to hear how your first time meeting your in laws went so be sure to leave your comment below in the comments field.
OTHER GOOD SOURCES ABOUT MEETING THE INDIAN IN LAWS
Read about Amy Burn's experience meeting her Indian Mother In Law for the first time in the article I Knew I Wasn't What My Future Mother In Law Wanted from the Good House Keeping Site. In it she explains how she never had a reason to use the word Caucasian until that night she met her Mother In Law. Then with time eventually bridged the divide between them.
Or another good read is Meeting The In Laws: Bridging The Cultural Divide about a white girl who meets her Pakistani partner's family for the first time. A family who does not approve of their son's interracial relationship and doesn't welcome her with open arms.
For another perspective on ways to make a good impression when meeting your Indian In Laws then be sure to read The Almost Indian Wife's article Interracial Couples: What To Expect When Visiting Your In Laws. Brittany shares her hints and tips based on her experiences meeting her In Laws. This article is useful for those whose In Laws are from South India as the culture can vary quite a bit between Punjab and other states of India.
SO HOW WAS YOUR FIRST MEETING WITH THE IN LAWS?
I'd love to hear from you, so please share with us your first time meeting your in laws. How did you make a good first impression?
Leave your comment below in the comments field. Or I always welcome you to contact me directly.