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THE VINE EXPATS TELL ALL: MULTICULTURAL RELATIONSHIPS

Learning how to drape a saree, tolerating insane levels of spice, dealing with the in-laws, celebrating all of the different holidays- ever wondered what being married to a local is like? Indian Matchmaking is just half of the story, believe us. The Vine expats share their stories, from the biggest challenges to the biggest joys of multicultural relationships and everything in between! 

 


COUPLE #1


Nicole Yetter

 

GENERAL INFORMATION

How long have you been together? 

My husband and I met in February of 2000 and we started dating in March of that same year. We married 3 years later and we celebrated our 17year anniversary in April.

Are you married, dating, living together in a partnership? 

We are married.

Which community/part of the country are they from? 

My husband is a Telegu guy and grew up for the most part in Hyderabad.

Where are you from? 

I am from Bismarck, ND USA

 

LOVE STORY

How did you meet? 

We met when the organization he was working for needed some consulting work done. I worked for the consulting company.

What did you find difficult to adapt to? What was surprisingly easy?

One of the cultural differences between us in terms of how we both regard family may be the only point that I can think of. I don’t consider my cousins to be sisters or brothers. I don’t look at my aunts as mothers etc. I wouldn’t ever think to invite my second cousins to a big event, like a wedding for example, but I am sure that they will be included in his list.

One of the things I hear from others that they find difficult is language and more specifically how their partner may speak in their native language with others when they are in groups potentially ignoring their significant other. I have never had an issue with this so for me that has been easy.

What are some of the challenges of being in a multicultural relationship? What are some of the biggest joys?

I think any kind of long-term relationship can have its challenges. Some of the challenges that I faced related to multicultural relationships specifically would most likely be related to family and food.

We have had problems with family, and more specifically with my mother-in-law. She is a very orthodox Brahmin and while living with us for four years we had a lot of problems that revolved around our kitchen, food and children. She didn’t want non-veg cooked in the house. I couldn’t even boil eggs. She didn’t want non-veg consumed outside. She didn’t want our children to eat non-veg. It was very difficult to manage and after four years of having her in our home we finally called it quits and moved her back to Hyderabad.

This was very difficult for us. She is a widow and has been alone in her life for so long. I truly felt that we could all stay together and that the arrangement would be beneficial for all of us. I was wrong. Now that my mother-in-law is getting older and showing signs of aging I wish things had turned out differently.

All I ever wanted was to be able to cook eggs in our house and feed our children non-veg outside judgment free. The fact that we were not able to come together to make our extended family living situation work has really affected me and our marriage was tested because of it.

Some of the joys would also be food related. I have learned how to cook many south Indian dishes and can roll out a roti as well as any other lady in the family. I also love trying new Indian foods and even after so many years of living here and thinking that I have tried it all, I still find new things to try all the time. I guess I am a bit of a foodie at heart. I can’t imagine (or maybe I can?) how boring my culinary history would have been if I had never met my husband.

We also have two beautiful children that I consider to be a great joy. Raising children in a multicultural home has benefitted them so much. They truly have the best of both worlds.

How do your families get along? Any funny stories about cultural differences at the beginning when meeting the parents? 

Our families get along fine but we don’t see my side as often as we see his. My parents were open and accepting, actually much more so than I had expected considering that they are very Christian Conservative. His mother was initially not happy with his choice and although she has come to accept me I still don’t think she is very happy with me. Things did get a little better after we had our children.

One funny story – I was first introduced to my husband’s Uncle and Aunt almost 18 years ago during a visit of theirs to the USA. My husband wanted to have them over for dinner. We cooked all day and made an amazing chole with homemade rotis. When they arrived I was super nervous and for some reason I switched around the serving etiquette in my head.

The entire time during the meal I ate with my left hand and served with my right. Which is NOT correct and considering their age and background they could have really been upset. However, they were really cool about it and had initially just thought that I was left-handed.

 

 

PRACTICALITIES

How was your visa process? 

It was fine. My only recommendation is to always bring every document and multiple copies of each. I have come to understand that there will always be something or maybe even multiple things that are not on the ‘required document’ list that will need to be submitted.

My husband opted to give up his green card after we moved to India. This has made things a little more difficult for us in terms of us traveling together. He always has to make certain his visas are valid for when we want to travel anywhere. Part of me wishes he still had it but I understand the reasons as why he gave it up. It is too difficult to maintain the requirements when living full time outside of the USA.

How do you deal with being away from one or both families?

This is hard for me but I have come to understand too that even if we lived in the USA, we would still be nowhere near my family. And as our visits back to North Dakota are usually so much longer than anything I would do if we were living in the USA I feel that my family has been able to spend as much quality time with our kids as they would have if we were not here.

 

TIPS

Any tips for other young couples starting off their multicultural relationship? Anything you wish you knew about living/being married into Indian culture?

My husband and I have never really had a problem with finances, at least not in a way that I have seen many multicultural relationships struggle with.  My husband has never been interested in supporting his family, of course he would support his mom if it was necessary but that hasn’t ever been an issue. 

I know many couples that struggle with this though. Many Indian partners will feel some sort of obligation to pay for everything within their immediate and even sometimes extended family. I have heard of newly married Indians purchasing new vehicles and vacations for family and therefore not able to give the same to their spouses. This is something that the couple should have discussed before marriage. Does your Indian partner currently support their family? Chances are that will NOT change, even when they start their own family.  So in my opinion, an understanding should be there before taking the relationship to the next level as I have seen this impact many marriages in a negative way. 

 


COUPLE #2


Anonymous

 

GENERAL INFORMATION

How long have you been together? 

We’ve been together 8 years, 6 years married.

Are you married, dating, living together in a partnership? 

Married, with a 5-year-old son.

Which community/part of the country are they from? 

Husband is from Bangalore.

Where are you from? 

I’m half Dutch/half English – I grew up in Holland.

 

LOVE STORY

How did you meet? 

We met at a Thai boxing school in Thailand!

What did you find difficult to adapt to? What was surprisingly easy?

Difficult – The spice! Spicy food everywhere – even spicy tomato soup and pepper on a cut apple 😀 And whatever my husband told me was not spicy was still spicy.​ Also, a lack of infrastructure in India, making it hard to go for a walk/cycle in any safe kind of way. In the relationship, the hardest parts are understanding that there’s a cultural nuance which is hard to absorb as an adult – that despite tons of reminding, is hard to get ingrained as an adult and can upset the other – for example, not crossing legs, taking money with the left hand in India, compared with not leaving the table before others are finished in Europe! Simple things can cause upset when no one means to cause it. Also, understanding money/finance as a wider family engagement in India (involving in-laws/extended family) vs. seeing money as a nuclear family issue in Europe.

Surprisingly easy has been just living in India – being accepted into Hindu rituals and celebrations when I’m not a Hindu and have not converted to be one. The driving has not been as challenging as I thought, making myself understood while out and about in India has not been as hard as I thought. I feel much safer than I thought! While I found it hard to adapt to working in India initially, I feel this has been one of my biggest joys too – I find little of the back-stabbing, gossip and moaning which used to be ever-present in my European offices. There’s a huge energy and positivity around working here and a passion and lack of fear to try things, which is energizing! 

What are some of the challenges of being in a multicultural relationship? What are some of the biggest joys?

I think I captured some of the challenges above – the different expectations of how families operate – the absolute central focus of extended family in Indian life is both a joy and a challenge! The biggest joys are the range of festivals we celebrate, from Holi to Christmas to Diwali to Easter, the amazing opportunity for all of us to travel and experience different ways of life, to learn that there’s more to the world than my corner of Europe and to really experience it, the languages my son is learning, the weather we get to enjoy.

How do your families get along? Any funny stories about cultural differences at the beginning when meeting the parents? 

Our parents get on really well! Both our Dads share a love of astrology and just the general bonding of sharing a grandson. Our mothers email each other and birthday greetings are always shared. They’ve met each other a few times, both in Holland and in India and enjoyed spending time together! The food either side is always a hilarious challenge – from nothing spicy in Holland to everything spicy in India 😀

 

PRACTICALITIES

How was your visa process? 

I came on an employment visa when I first came to India as otherwise I couldn’t work as you can only apply for an OCI after 2 years of marriage. The spousal visa doesn’t allow you to work. It was a 3-week wait but no issues. FRRO registration was always a challenge and rules/requirements are not always clear but turning up and sorting out the issues was always easiest for me; expect to have to go back with more documents/to get things signed etc. After two years I applied for an OCI for myself and my son and we’ve had no issues with this though receiving my OCI took much longer than my son’s – and remember, you need your husband’s name in your passport to apply for an OCI – mine was rejected initially as I didn’t have this so I had to renew my passport first. 

How do you deal with being away from one or both families?

Before COVID-19, we made sure we always visit my home twice a year. I made it quite clear that we would need to spend money from our budget for flights home every year. India’s not always people’s first choice to visit and while my family have found it hard to come over (for multiple reasons), I’ve had many friends visit which has been wonderful. We make sure we Skype a lot and are always home for a long Christmas vacation. We send lots of videos and photos home and make sure my son knows about his other grandparents and we speak about them a lot. My husband also does this and uses Dutch words and phrases to remind our son he’s not only from India but Europe too!

 

TIPS

Any tips for other young couples starting off their multicultural relationship? Anything you wish you knew about living/being married into Indian culture?

Don’t be scared of living in India. It’s an amazing and enriching experience, which many foreigners do. There’s a huge community in Bangalore of those who come here for a few years and those who are here for a longer duration as they’ve married into Indian families so a huge support network too. Try and set some baseline ‘rules’ about things with each other but be flexible and realize there are many things which you won’t know or understand until you get here. Be kind to each other and understand that you’ve not had the same upbringing, which means you don’t always share the same values or outlook on things. ENJOY the differences, try and learn and understand and also teach what you know. Enjoy the kindness and welcoming nature of India, Indians, and their overwhelming desire to feed you and nurture you. Learn from the different ways of working in India – that not everything has to be perfect all the time and that beautiful things happen when you just plunge into things unplanned!

 


COUPLE #3


Tena Pick

 

GENERAL INFORMATION

How long have you been together? 

Josh and I have been together for almost 9 years, married for 7, with our first baby on the way.

Are you married, dating, living together in a partnership? 

Married, but have lived together before getting married- which was a huge shock for his family!

Which community/part of the country are they from? 

Josh comes from a Tamil Protestant family, was born and lived most of his life in Dubai.

Where are you from? 

I’m Croatian, lived in Croatia until I moved to London for grad school before living in Dubai for six years and finally ending up in Bangalore.

 

LOVE STORY

How did you meet? 

We went to grad school in London together! We were one of the few smokers (we both quit in the meantime) and spent our cigarette breaks together. It moved pretty quickly from that to living together.

What did you find difficult to adapt to? What was surprisingly easy?

His family is huge. There are like 40 cousins on both sides and even after nine years I have to ask sometimes who is who and how are they related to us. I on the other hand have two cousins and no siblings and even those two cousins I see once a year for Christmas. However, I am very close to my parents, probably more so than Josh is to his family. I was really not used to massive family meals, cousin Whatsapp groups etc.

Josh’s family is also very religious, and I am not at all, quite the opposite.  I do think it was quite hard for his mom, in the beginning, to realize we will not be raising our baby religiously or that I never go to church or participate in family prayers before dinners. However, she has always been very respectful of my boundaries as much as I have been of her religion.

We have both been welcomed in each other’s families with open arms, so I think I can say that we both adjusted to some small cultural differences pretty easily. We never lived with either family and setting those boundaries definitely helped. Even the move to India went really smoothly because I have already spent six years getting to know all the little “quirks” that might be challenging in the beginning. It definitely helps that Josh has lived abroad for large chunks of his life- he is a lot more worldly than I am 😀

What are some of the challenges of being in a multicultural relationship? What are some of the biggest joys?

Indian culture, especially when you live in India, can be very overwhelming and overpowering.  It is easy to lose your sense of cultural identity, especially when you are the only person who speaks the language or does some things specific to your background. It is very important to have a partner who listens and is willing to put in as much work as you do. Also, Indian culture in general is very family-oriented, more so than most of us are used to. You have to be clear on what your boundaries are and what you are okay with. For instance, living with the in-laws might be expected. Are you okay with that? How will you deal with finance? Religion and languages when and if you decide to have kids? All of these things should be discussed in advance.

The biggest joy is the food! And the clothes! Indian families show their love through food and boy does my mother in law love me! Jokes aside, it is a beautiful thing to get to experience and immerse yourself in a completely different culture. There is so much to learn and experience and if you keep an open mind and heart every day is an adventure. I also got the best brother and sister in law anyone could ask for! Also, since our family network is so big, there is always someone who can help you with anything from doctors to last minute accommodation. This level of accepting you with open arms is hard to find in most Western cultures!

How do your families get along? Any funny stories about cultural differences at the beginning when meeting the parents? 

Well, the big problem is my parents love Josh more than they love me and Josh loves them more than he loves me! They get along like a house of fire since the first time they met! I was talking to my mom about my trip to Zagreb and she was planning all these restaurant meals and what not until she heard it was only me coming… Then all of a sudden plans changed to eating at home! I love how they get along and even message each other separately on Whatsapp. My parents visit once a year and Josh’s mom and sister came to Croatia a few times as well and they loved it! I know not all parents like India but we are lucky that mine do! My mom loves the spicy food and my mother in law always makes her favorite chicken drumsticks and tries her best to tone down the spice levels for my dad. Needless to say, her non-spicy is death to my dad! My dad and Josh’s brother call each other chaddi buddies- meaning friends that are so close they would exchange underwear!

 

PRACTICALITIES

How was your visa process? 

I made a terrible mistake of waiting to apply for my OCI in India; I should have done it in Dubai. Like any other process, it requires patience! It was super frustrating to wait for my OCI for almost a year because that meant I couldn’t legally work. We have decided the baby will have a Croatian passport and OCI and hopefully that won’t take that long!

How do you deal with being away from one or both families?

I am very close to my parents, but in the pre-COVID world the distance was never a problem. I usually spend all of August in Croatia and we alternate Christmases between our families. My mom is retired so she spends 2-3 weeks in Bangalore when she comes to visit and my dad comes for one week every year. We also do one trip together alone somewhere each year. Now, it sucks. We make do with Whatsapp, Skype etc. but it is really sad that my parents are missing out on so much during my first (and only) pregnancy. Hopefully my mom will be able to come in November when the baby is due! Expat life always seems like it’s all fun and games, but it comes with massive sacrifices and being away from your family during important times is the hardest one.

 

TIPS

Any tips for other young couples starting off their multicultural relationship? Anything you wish you knew about living/being married into Indian culture?

Honesty, communication and flexibility are key! It is easy to forget to talk about some key things when you are in the throes of new love and passion but if you are serious about making it work, do the work. No one wants to talk about religion or finance at the beginning of any long-term relationship, but when you add different cultural backgrounds and expectations in the mix, it becomes even more important to do so.

Keep an open mind. This is what distinguishes happy expats from unhappy ones anyhow in my opinion, but even more so when you are the expat living with a local. Not every day is smooth sailing, but every day is an adventure and an opportunity to learn something new. I am so happy that my baby will get the best of both worlds and truly be a global citizen!

 


COUPLE #4


Tiggy Allen

 

GENERAL INFORMATION

How long have you been together? 

Together since 2015, married since July 2019.

Are you married, dating, living together in a partnership? 

Married for 11 months now! Living together on our own now, after a couple of years living with Jacob’s family. 

Which community/part of the country are they from? 

Jacob is Syrian Christian, from South Kerala.

Where are you from? 

St Albans, Hertfordshire, UK – I came to Bangalore for 3 months to volunteer, 5 years later I’m still here!

 

LOVE STORY

How did you meet? 

We met via my colleague at the charity I was working with, and ended up doing a project together, during which we started dating.

What did you find difficult to adapt to? What was surprisingly easy?

My first experience of India was as a 19 year old university student when I spent 6 weeks in rural Uttar Pradesh working on a Rights to Information project. This was a huge culture shock, and quite a challenging time – one of the villages we stayed in didn’t have a toilet, and the majority of women I met lived in purdah. Then, when I moved to Bangalore, I lived in a girls home for 4 months in a village on the outskirts, eating with my hands on the floor, with very basic living accommodation – another change and more to adapt to.

Compared to that, my city life in Bangalore is very easy, as it is so metropolitan. In general, living in India is an assault on the senses, particularly when driving, so I use headphones when I’m walking around and make sure my house is a quiet, green, clean and haven-like space to come home to. I found that food took a while, as I was used to such a variety. Now I know more about different regional cuisines I’m really enjoying cooking and recognising more subtle differences in flavor. Plus, my spice tolerance keeps rising with exposure. Also, Jacob’s family is very relaxed, and they are great guides to cultural insight, so that helps.

What are some of the challenges of being in a multicultural relationship? What are some of the biggest joys?

You can’t make as many assumptions about what your partner has experienced, as you don’t have so much of a shared upbringing or culture.. But I find this much more fun! You’re always learning something new about that person because there’s so much more to know.. Tiny things like counting on your fingers is done differently in India to the UK (they count each section of each finger, up to 30) so you have a lot to discover. Plus, close exposure to another culture helps you to understand yours more objectively, because you have to communicate it to your partner – you realise what is good or not so good very quickly. For instance, British people aren’t very expressive, which is something I’ve had to change to thrive living in India!

How do your families get along? Any funny stories about cultural differences at the beginning when meeting the parents? 

They met for the first time in January and got along very well. No real cultural differences, more a shared love of me and Jacob and happiness that we’ve married I think! Since then, we’ve been doing video calls, which has been really fun, and kept everyone connected.

 

PRACTICALITIES

How was your visa process? 

I am currently on a spouse visa, so unable to work yet. All fine so far, just want to be able to apply for an OCI next year to make things easier!

The visa regulations in the UK don’t make it easy. For Jacob to get residency, we would have to live there for 5 years continuously, only leaving for a maximum of 4 weeks a year. If someone was sick or we had to come back here for a few months, it would negate all the previous time. So whilst we may move to the UK at some point, it’s never going to be easy to go between the two countries, and depending on where we end up, at least one of us will always miss our family! 

How do you deal with being away from one or both families?

I miss my family and friends a lot… In the first few years, I’d go home twice a year, which is a lot of travel! Now, with COVID, I don’t know when we can go back again which is quite stressful. But I video call them often.. And Jacob is amazing at sending them photos of our life here which makes it all much easier, and they love it. We see Jacob’s family a lot as they are largely in Bangalore or South India, which is lovely. 

 

TIPS

Any tips for other young couples starting off their multicultural relationship? Anything you wish you knew about living/being married into Indian culture?

Indian culture has so many different meanings – it is huge, complex and varies from family to family and town to town. In that way, it is hard to generalize or give concrete tips… Within your relationship, my general feeling is that if your partner’s core values are the same as yours, you’re on the right track! This is why we are writing this article I think – to share the differences and variety in intercultural/racial relationships. Even all of our accounts vary widely.

Personally, I’ve found Jacob’s family very easy to integrate with, and lived with them for 2 years before we moved into our own place. I’ve found that they are more involved or concerned with some things, and less with others, and Jacob has found the same with my family. Both our families have certain traditions, which we both adapt to, but as we are both from Christian communities (my parents are non-practicing though) there aren’t massive religious differences.

Your life won’t look like you thought it would – you’ll spend more time in another country, you’ll both have to compromise about where you live and to other cultural practices, but it is all worth it for the right partner. I guess as a rule just make sure you know your boundaries, be open and curious – and all will be well.

 

 


COUPLE #5


Moya Caddy

 

GENERAL INFORMATION

How long have you been together? 

My husband and I have been married for nearly 11 years and together for 12.

Are you married, dating, living together in a partnership? 

Married 

Which community/part of the country are they from? 

My husband’s mother is from Punjab and his Father is from Anglo Indian/Parsi heritage but raised in Bangalore. My husband was born and brought up in Bangalore.

Where are you from? 

England, UK

 

LOVE STORY

How did you meet? 

Not very exciting, unfortunately. Amit and I met in a bar in Goa… After chatting, Amit said he was looking to employ someone from England and after a few drinks I thought I could help! I was staying in Goa at the time and he was in Bangalore. We messaged every day for months. Six months later, I had planned to fly back to England (and leave India for good). I booked my flights via Bangalore with a three-day stopover just to “hang out” with Amit. After three days, Amit and I moved in with each other. Three days turned onto thirteen years!

What did you find difficult to adapt to? What was surprisingly easy?

I had already fallen in love with India and thought I knew quite a lot about the culture but I was SO WRONG. Only after dating and then marrying Amit did I begin to learn about the vast, beautiful, very complicated culture of India. There are so many languages, religions, festivals, traditions, ideas, customs, social behaviours etc… Learning about Indian life and culture is like learning a very complicated new language. It took me quite a long time to adjust. 

What are some of the challenges of being in a multicultural relationship? What are some of the biggest joys?

The biggest challenges we faced were when we first had children. Our cultures are so vastly different and some things I wanted to do my way as “English tradition” and some things he wanted to do his way as “Indian tradition”. There were some customs that I couldn’t understand and it used to annoy me. I thought what is the point in doing this when I don’t believe in it? But then I realised by following some sacred practices, I made my husband and his family happy and it didn’t cause any harm to me or the children. Over time I got used to it and I now take more joy out of the little rituals and customs we follow.

The challenges we faced, in the beginning, are now something I consider as the best part of a multicultural relationship. We now bring our children up with a beautiful mixture of Indian and British culture. We teach them about both of our religions, our cultures and traditions. I love the fact that when anyone asks my children what their nationality is they always reply “half Indian, half English”.

How do your families get along? Any funny stories about cultural differences at the beginning when meeting the parents? 

My parents were super cool. Their philosophy has always been to let me do whatever I want as long as I’m happy. Even though I was young when I came to India and met Amit, I was considered an adult and old enough to make my own decisions. Amit’s family wasn’t so enthusiastic… This is something I came to learn pretty fast – Indian boys (and only sons) are very precious! and they have to have the best. When Amit and I met, I don’t think his parents thought I was the best choice but they have come to realize that they were wrong 🙂

When I first met his parents I spoke to them as I would any adult or peer of mine. I called them by their first names and spoke about our relationship in detail. Big mistake! I learnt that I must not address an elder in India by their first name but by “Aunty” and “Uncle” and I MUST NOT share any details about our relationship or my feelings as that is a bit of a ‘taboo’.

 

PRACTICALITIES

How was your visa process? 

After marriage, I had a PIO for a year and then I was upgraded to an OCI card. This was hard work! Now everything is done online and is very easy but years ago we had to queue for hours and hours, move from counter to counter just to be told to “come back tomorrow”. This could be repeated several times! It was even harder with little babies in tow. I remember hosting a party to celebrate the arrival of our OCI cards!

How do you deal with being away from one or both families?

I live away from my family, which can be hard at times. I am used to it now but do feel guilty that my family, especially my Father doesn’t see the children enough. I thank God for the Internet and video calls.

 

TIPS

Any tips for other young couples starting off their multicultural relationship? Anything you wish you knew about living/being married into Indian culture?

This is a controversial statement and not many people like the word but my advice for anyone entering into a multicultural relationship is to compromise. You must compromise for your partner and they must do the same for you. The key to a successful relationship is give and take and I feel that you need to adapt to situations that might normally make you feel a little uncomfortable in order for the relationship to develop.

 


 

A big thank you to all our couples for sharing their relationships with The Vine!

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