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December 18, 2012

Helping Your American Bride Adjust to Indian Culture

I firmly believe every marriage is a cross-cultural marriage regardless of one’s cultural affiliation. The problems and proposed solutions in this article not only talk to Indians and Americans (or Westerners), but also to any two people caught between cultures and continents trying to get married or preparing to move between countries for love. 

What is the Problem? 
It is a simple problem. When comparing cultures, over generalizations, over simplifications, over idealizations and an over eagerness to forgo one’s cultural and personal identity (especially for the American bride) often set in. Anything taken to one extreme or another is typically not balanced and leads to unmet, unfulfilled and bloated expectations that cannot be met in the long run. 

Though the bride to-be has her own fears of marriage and cultural adjustment, the excitement of all that is India and the love for her to-be seem to cloud the judgment of reality (as is true with anyone in love!). Due to the lofty ideals, often mixed with the cultural baggage of being an independent, confident, cosmopolitan woman, the rugged individualism of her upbringing may set in and not wanting to upset her steadfastness to accept anything Indian in denial of her Americanness, the Indian groom to-be, may think that attitude is enough to get her through. After all, isn’t it this independence, steadfastness, boldness and risk-taking attitude that he fell in love with in the first place? To question that is to question his very love for her. And, to do that would inevitably play into his parent’s and family’s doubts about a long-lasting, strong union.

Of course this is a very simplified look at a multi-layered problem. There are many other ways of looking at and analyzing this problem. This is only one way that I have often seen in my experience in relationship coaching.

Solutions to the Problem
These problems are often unavoidable. They are often part and parcel of long-distance, cross-continental and cross-cultural relationships. Here are a few thoughts I have on reducing these problems and helping to create a better environment for the American girl to adjust to her upcoming new life in India.

Help Her Understand Your Family Dynamics
No two families are the same. Will she have to live with your parents or extended family? Or will you both live apart from your parents? How will your parents be involved? What is your commitment to your parents?

Often if you marry within Indian culture in an arranged marriage, your to-be will seemingly instinctively know these expectations. Remember who you are marrying is NOT Indian and has not grown up in the Indian culture. You must be open and willing to explain and talk and share these things in detail with her to help prepare her for what is to come. This will be in stark contrast to how many Indian males are brought up- as asking and answering questions about family in this way may not have been something you have been exposed to before. Just remember, opening up and sharing will bring her closer to you. Women like to talk and share. It will naturally build your intimacy and trust. She will also have a better base for understanding what to expect as a daughter in law in your house (which IS often different than in the American culture) and as your wife.

Talk About Day to Day Life
What is day to day life like in your house? What are the amenities and comforts in your home? Do you have power cuts? How does this affect daily life? Where do you work? How do you go to work? What do you eat for breakfast and who is responsible for making your breakfast for you? Do you take lunch to work? Who is responsible for making your lunch? What are the typical foods you eat for all these meals? How many dishes do you expect to have in a meal? Has she eaten this food before? How will she learn Indian cooking? Will you be wiling to eat American food? How do your food habits differ (vegetarianism, for example)?

What are the major holidays in your family? What is the role of your to-be wife in maintaining these traditions? Are you willing to adapt to her family traditions? For instance, if you are Hindu and she is Christian, would you and your family be open to celebrating Christmas?

What are the dress codes in your home? What kind of restrictions or rules are put on girls or women in your family? What are the challenges faced by women in your city and culture? How can she cope with that? What are the kinds of things she can do outside the house for fun? How will she fit in and make friends? How will she get around? How easy is it to get around in English? What are her hobbies and interests? Can she continue those living with you in India? She may not be able to work when she arrives, but what are the plans on applying for her spousal visa and PIO card? What will she do in the mean time to fill her days? What is her schedule like in the US? Will she move from leading a busy, outgoing life in the US to a quite, homely life in India? How can she realistically cope with this?

We are not only asking how she will adjust but, what are you and your family willing to do to adjust to her ways? Americans often find marriage to be a two-way street. Women do adjust to their husband’s family, but wives do expect their husbands to accept some of their family traditions and habits as well. There is more of a give and take than in some traditional Indian households where it is expected that the incoming bride adjust to the husband's family fully. Though your American bride may be all gung-ho about doing this, and have enthusiasm for both of you, in the moment when reality strikes in day to day life and the expectation to do this hits her hard, I am sure she will find it hard to completely lose her identity to become ‘Indian.’ Not only is this impossible to expect, but it really cannot happen for a majority of people. Could you fully lose your Indian identity if you had to move to the US? Think about it from that point of view. It helps to build patience, understanding and sympathy.

Get Help
Maybe asking others who have gone through the process of cross-cultural marriage may help bring a perspective to this. Talk to people who have been married recently to those who have been married for decades together.

No two people or two couples are the same, but many will have wisdom and insight that will surely be useful and relevant to you.

Some who have attempted to ask for help from those without the experience report that their advice or help has not been relevant to the situation. In cases like this it may be wise to engage hired, professional help of a professional life coach or therapist with expertise in cross-cultural or marriage relationships. The author of this article, Jennifer Kumar is one such person you can contact for assistance and guidance to help prepare your American fiancée to move to and adjust to Indian culture. There are no guarantees, but engaging experienced help may be a better option than jumping in blindly and hoping for the best.

Related Posts:
Mistakes Made by Foreign Women Marrying Indian Men
Marrying Cross-Culturally is more than a Cross-Cultural Experience  
Does Living Abroad Make Me More Interesting? (Cultured)
How Our Host Culture May Perceive Us

Photo courtesy of chrissam42, creative commons at flickr
Advice fo white women married to Indian men

Authentic Journeys: Bridging Culture on Virtual Teams

We help build effective, culturally competent global teams with focus on the cultures of the USA and India. Jennifer Kumar, Managing Director, an American citizen, has almost 10 years experience living, studying and working (owning a business) in India. Authentic Journeys Consultancy is registered as a Private Limited in India (Kerala) and an LLC in the USA (Salt Lake City, Utah). We provide onsite and live-online instructor-led courses, facilitation and corporate coaching.