Being accepted by family in an intercultural relationship

Sorry for my lack of posts recently, I have been sick and just getting myself back on track.

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about what Rabindra’s family will think of me when I finally get the chance to meet them. Next year, I will formally be introduced to his family as Rabindra’s partner and ‘future wife’ so the family can officially accept me and I’m really scared about it!! Haha.

The reaction from his family to our relationship so far has been positive. We’ve exchanged gifts, photos, phone calls and there’s been no negative comments. I’ve heard of some horror stories about threats of suicide and disownment by Indian and Nepali parents so the fact that we’ve experienced nothing of a sort is great news!

But until they meet me in person, they can’t officially accept me (similarly if I was overseas my parents would be unable to give me their full blessings unless they had met Rabindra in person).

Most of his friends say I will be fine as they are a fairly modern family even though his family live in a village. But the fact is I am a white girl and in Nepal, marrying outside the caste, let alone a foreigner, is a big deal.

However, Rabindra has told me the main thing they will be concerned with me is: (a) having a good education (tick), (b) genuinely caring for and loving Rabindra (tick) and (c) still getting to see their son and be in touch with us even though we are overseas (tick- I am very supportive of him maintaining his cultural and family ties and I plan to travel with him back to Nepal fairly often).

A lot of my family and friends probably don’t understand the importance of being accepted into a family in south-east Asia. It’s not the same as it in Western relationships where introducing your partner to your family is not considered a big thing.

In Australia people normally introduce their boyfriend/girlfriend to their parents and extended family quite easily, and it’s not uncommon for sons and daughters to have 4-5 partners in their lifetime and their parents meet them all!

Yet in Nepal, who you marry is a MASSIVE thing. The family’s reputation is on the line. The family unit is an entire way of life. How a family is viewed in society is paramount because of how closely people live in the community. Comments about “that boy married a bad girl and look at the parents…” is common.

Girlfriend/boyfriend relationships are common but are usually kept in secret from the family. Parents rarely know about their son’s or daughter’s relationships until the time they are planning the wedding.

Because divorce rates in Nepal are so low and divorce is generally frowned upon, Nepalese people usually only want to introduce their life partner to the family.

So, suffice to say, the pressure is on. I’m a little paranoid and below are the things I am thinking about so any advice would be great!!

What is the main thing they will worry about with me being a foreigner?

What tips do you have for meeting the parents? How should I greet them?

Is there anything that seems perfectly normal in our culture that is seen as very bad in theirs that I should avoid?

Will they care about what I look like?

How do you get over the language barrier? What kind of things can you do to impress them?

What issues have you had to face with the in-laws in your intercultural relationship?

This entry was posted in Cross-cultural, Culture, Differences, Family, Intercultural, Intercultural Relationship, Love, Nepal and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

23 Responses to Being accepted by family in an intercultural relationship

  1. Grace says:

    Hey there,

    You are right in being anxious – but it is a good sign that when the time comes you will have done enough to make yourself prepared.

    I will give a few generalisations, as that is all I can really give having in laws that were beyond happy to have me as I am…

    The fear factor lies in a few things. One, they will lose their son – or their son will lose his culture and heritage (which you have covered).
    Another worry is that you won’t compromise enough to keep their son happy or that you don’t value marriage enough and will leave him (again – you know what is coming and have it covered).
    The final worry that I will mention is that they won’t get to talk to you enough, see you enough or really have you as their daughter.
    It is up to you if you stay here or there, if they come visit you, you learn Nepali etc.
    Indian parents (and I am sure Nepali too) want to be involved in their son’s life and when he marries they see it as them gaining a daughter.

    Appearance does matter, they want someone beautiful for their son – but they would never disregard you for that.
    When you meet them you should dress modestly (of course no cleavage, but something that I found odd is that they prefer full length pants – not 3/4 or skirts etc), I also wouldn’t recommend piling on the make up either (not that you would) and everyone loves long, healthy hair!

    Speak to R about how to greet them, what is customary or acceptable in his family – as it changes and he will know what is normal and not normal in his home!
    Small gifts always go down well (I know you will also cover that one too)…

    I was completely exhausted when I met V’s parents – filming Vishav seeing them for the first time in 3.5 years and I was very shy!

    The next day Vishav went out and when I had his parents alone I plainly told them my reason for coming, my intentions for their son and preempted any questions I thought might come my way.

    The language barrier takes time to work around – luckily everyone speaks english except V’s Mum being a housewife is very weak in speaking.
    We used body language, pointed, laughed when we got it right (or wrong) and sought Vishav or someone else when necessary.

    I have picked up some Punjabi and I can tell you that everyone I met LOVED IT when I spoke in Punjabi or told them things I knew…


    Which months are you guys thinking of going in?

    • Have no idea when we are going yet- won’t be until the second half of the year though…
      thanks for the tips, the long hair thing is something i never thought of, lucky i have that on my side, seems like other comments on here second that too!

  2. ullu says:

    Oh, your situation sound far better than mine.. In my fiance’s hometown his cousin said that mom had said that aunty had heard that people are talking bad about his mom cos her OLDEST son is with some WHITE girl.. Rumours are very big thing, at least in my fiance’s hometown. Before my mother-in-law was so angry but now I think she is tired of that. I hope it gets better..

    Once I sent card to her and when she got it she called to my fiance and asked “what in earth I’m supposed to do with this?!” Sounds nice.. 😉

    So please I would also need advice how to be accepted to their family. 🙂

    • Oh no Ullu that’s not good. I can send you a private email if you like? I hope you also get some tips from the others on here. My situation does sound better but I also think no matter what, some extended family members are going to say something about our relationship. I really believe you can improve your relationship with your mother-in-law so if you wanna chat, let me know

  3. americanepali says:

    What is the main thing they will worry about with me being a foreigner?

    As Grace noted, I think you know the things they are most concerned about, and you have those things covered. I found that P’s family was more nervous about our relationship before meeting me because they were imagining the American women from movies or tv, once they saw I wasn’t a soap opera character they realized their initial fears were unfounded.

    What tips do you have for meeting the parents? How should I greet them?

    I think you definitely should get advice from Rabindra about what he thinks his family would find most respectful. Some people, when showing a lot of respect, touch the feet of their elders. This is pretty traditional, and I wondered whether or not I should have done this the first time I met P’s family. Ultimately I didn’t, because I wasn’t sure if they were expecting me to, and I didn’t want to make an awkward situation if they weren’t, and I think it was an okay decision. That first meeting I was alone (P was back in the US) and I was terrified of making a bad impression. But I smiled a lot, ate the food offered to me, and was enthusiastic to sit and listen to stories or look through pictures, and this seemed to make people happy. Being yourself is also important!

    Is there anything that seems perfectly normal in our culture that is seen as very bad in theirs that I should avoid?

    Eating with left hand. Accidentally touching someone with your feet (if you do this– like accidentally bumping someone’s knee with your foot, lightly touch their knee with your right hand, then touch your hand to your forehead as a gesture to “excuse” the action), or pointing your feet at someone. Feet are pretty taboo.

    Will they care about what I look like?

    If anything, they will probably care more about how you dress. They have “inside” clothes and “outside” clothes. Make sure you bring nicer things to wear “outside” the house– nice shoes, full pants, maybe a duppatta to wear around your neck/chest. The first time I went I definitely dressed too informally– I wasn’t wearing revealing clothes, just clothes that didn’t look how they expected. I had spent several months in India as a student previously, so I had mostly Indian clothes, but I thought they might find that weird, so I brought a lot of long Indian skirts, and thick stockings (since it was December), and even though I really thought about what clothes to bring and wear (I left the rest of my stuff in India), these clothes seemed weird to them, and the ultimately insisted on buying me clothes, which was also awkward.

    I second the comment from Grace about long hair. I always had chin length hair, and every time they see me they comment about how my hair is so short. If you have short hair it is fine, but if you have longer hair, I’m sure they would love it.

    How do you get over the language barrier? What kind of things can you do to impress them?

    Offering to help in the kitchen. Even if you are just helping to cut vegetables, or standing nearby to watch cooking techniques, I think this activity helps to show your interest, and bond with his mother whose probably most comfortable in the kitchen.

    What issues have you had to face with the in-laws in your intercultural relationship?

    Communication is tough. P’s dad speaks pretty good English, and talks to P almost everyday, but I have trouble communicating with him. I don’t know what to talk about, and I feel too shy, so often I don’t ask to get on the phone or Skype and say hi. I think this makes his dad feel sad. I need to get better at that. I also need to be more patient. I know that the Nepali way takes more time, but sometimes it is really frustrating to be left in the dark about things– right now I’m in the midst of wedding details, and I wish I could have a more frank conversation with them about it.

    • C, i loved your helpful and thoughtful reply. This really helps me. Especially the advice about eating with left hand and the feet thing. Also, I had no idea that having lovely long hair was better. Yeh for one thing! jokes. By the way, what kind of clothes did they want you to wear? Did they buy saris for you or other types of clothes?

  4. Ally says:

    This is such a hard one but it sounds like your boyfriends family are already well on their way to accepting you which is great.
    I met my partners family almost twenty years ago & a lot has changed since then in terms of social conventions ect but I think it really depends on the individual family, so maybe some of this won’t be relevant to rabindras family.
    Try not to show physical affection particularly in public but also in front of R’s family.
    Not everyone may agree with my next recomendation, don’t drink to much alcohol. Attitudes have definately changed towards women drinking in public but even today I still find Nepali people particulary older people being impressed by the fact that I drink rarely which makes me think it’s still a little bit of a taboo.
    I coulnt agree more about the whole Feet thing. When you stay in a Nepali home you’ll usually be given a pair of chappals/thongs to wear usually you will wast them in the common areas of the house but not bedrooms or often the lounge/sitting room & never outside.

  5. Ally says:

    This can be such a hard one, but it sounds like your boyfriends family are well on their way to accepting you, which is wonderful, a lot will depend on how traditional/conservative Rabindras family is, but here are some of the things I’ve learnt over the years.
    Nepali couples rarely show physical affection around others, not even
    holding hands, so when your around elders you need to be on your guard. Not everyone will agree with my next point.
    I don’t drink much i just have very little tolerence for alcohol.
    Atitudes to women drinking have definately changed over the last ten years but i still find a lot of nepalis are very impressed by this even in Australia which makes me think that it is still a bit of a taboo & also a commonly
    held misconception about western women or maybe it’s just us Aussies.
    I couldn’t agree more about being careful about your feet, there are Lot of rules. When you stay in a Nepali home you’ll be given a pair of chappals/thongs to wear, these are not to be worn outside of the house just the common areas but not the bedrooms or lounge room. I like to call this the “chappal shuffle” it’s a running joke in my family that after almost twenty years I still can’t get this right, I frequently will walk into a room realize I’ve done the wrong thing and have to run back out, it’s my comedy routine.
    Another one I have had trouble with over the years is, when you have your period stay away from the kitchen & depending on how conservative the family is the dining room.
    I love to cook especially Nepali food so I love to help out in the kitchen which is a great way to get to know the women of the family because that’s where they are most of the time. Once though some of the neighbours were very critical of my SIL saying it wasn’t right to expect a guest to help her with the cooking, which I thought was ridiculous because i’m not a guest but a member of the family just one who happen to be a gori.
    Another thing I am mindfull off is how I spend money when I’m in Nepal my Nepali family are not rich but for us coming from a western country
    everything seems so cheap & there is a lot to spend your money on in Kathmandu if you go out and spend the average Nepali monthly wage everyday you risk making your family feel a little uncomfortable.
    Hope some of this was useful.

    • Hi Ally 🙂 i do agree with you about the alcohol thing, i know there’s not a problem here in Australia with it but really it’s just a general sign of respect not to drink around them, just like not showing affection in public. I also like your tips about being aware of how to spend money…

  6. Also, just to add, one of the big perceptions about white girls from those in south-east asia is that white women get bored and divorce easily. That’s another thing Rabindra said his family would probably think unless they met me. Ahh so far from the truth…

    I’m also a very girly person and my friend told me they will love all of my clothes, bags, shoes and accessories over there because most of it’s very girly. I do wear alot of skirts though (not short but knee length) …but it does sound like i should be wearing pants most of the time

    • americanepali says:

      I thinks skirts are fine if they are longer (probably longer than knee length). I think my problem was choosing to wear skirts in December (even though December for me in the Kathmandu valley is quite warm during the day compared to winter in northern US). When they bought me clothes they actually bought me jeans (which I never wear), a sweater and a scarf and they had me wear this every day when I went outside of the house. I’m not sure what it is like in the villages, but I think urban families might find it amusing if you wear saris on a daily basis, since it seems to me a lot of the youth wear western clothes generally (or at least jeans with a short kurta for girls) and wear more South Asian clothes for parties (weddings, etc).

      I totally forgot about the period thing! When I was there I was nervous they would find out when I had my period and they would make me sit alone and eat in another room and not let me into the kitchen. Luckily they didn’t know, and since I was there a month they must assumed it happened at some point, but I was happy they didn’t bring it up. I would have been mortified if the entire extended family knew I had my period and treated me differently because of it. Perhaps again for the younger generation they are more lax about things, but I know P’s mom is doesn’t cook or touch the family’s food when she has hers.

      I also second (third?) the alcohol thing. There seems to be a double standard… when you are abroad, even in the company of your in-laws, it doesn’t seem to be such a big deal to have a glass of wine here or there, but I get the sense that drinking in front of them back in Nepal isn’t very kosher.

      And lastly… you NEED to learn the phrase “malai poogiyo.” This means “I’m full.” People will probably ignore you the first few times you say it and still add food to your plate, but you have to be strong and determined or else they will feed you until you die. Don’t be afraid to cover your plate with your arms (sometimes this is your only option). It’s also good to know “khanna mitho cha” or “khanna dheri mitho cha” (the food is tasty/the food is very tasty), people love to hear that 🙂 Practice eating with your hand before you go, because this skill impresses a lot of people, Nepalis don’t expect white westerners to know how to do this, and it never ceases to get a positive reaction.

      Sorry, I don’t mean to write novellas here all the time, but I love having another Nepali-western blogger to chat with!

  7. Sara says:

    I also have very short hair, but quite frankly it looks best on me (every time I tell A I’m thinking of growing it out, he gives me the “it’s your hair, but you know my vote is short” comment). There were a few awkward comments around whether I’d grow it out or use fake hair for the wedding, but other than that it’s been ok.
    I find that South Asians can also be focused on weight, exercise, and healthy eating (yet push as much food on you as possible — it blows my mind). I’m around a size 16, so it added to my nervousness, and then I was surprised to see that there were several other people in the family who were overweight (yet it was still an issue — again, blows my mind).
    I impress people again and again because I like Indian food. Apparently this is a low bar in his family — I do like it, but I almost never make it, and I definitely can’t do spicy food at all (they usually set some aside for me, then add the hot spices to the rest).
    One thing I find is that A isn’t that great of anticipating these kinds of things, but once I ask about them he can typically give a lot of information. Issues that pertain to women more than men are especially hard for him to anticipate. This difficulty may be in part because he’s American, so he grew up code-switching between what you do with Indians and White people without really thinking about it.

    • hey sara, thanks for your comments, so what about being accepted by his family? any issues?

      • Sara says:

        There were issues with his parents at first, but it’s fairly good now. Extended family hasn’t been an issue, as far as I know. The wedding process was a nasty experience, but the wedding itself was fine, and it’s a relief to have it all over. I talk about the first meeting and the wedding stuff in detail in my blog.

  8. KC says:

    One of these days I will get around to starting my own blog but in the meantime blogs like this (and the comments) are very helpful. Please keep them coming 🙂 I expect I will probably meet Simba’s (yes I call him that) family next year and I know I will be incredibly nervous. I talked to his aunt briefly on Skype and I was stressed out about that! I just want them to like me because I know how important they are to him. His mom is not at all happy about him being with a white christian american girl but I’m hoping she will eventually accept me. Any tips that will help that process are always appreciate. Thanks ladies!

    • Sara says:

      Hi KC! I started just sharing a few tips, but I might copy this as a full post on my blog! This is what I currently understand about South Asian families, based on my husband’s family, my BFF’s family, and other friends. Hope it helps.

      One thing that’s helpful to remember about most South Asian families is that family and marriage are HIGHLY valued. This means that generally well-functioning families will not cut ties with a family member or try to “break up” a married couple (caveat: just as in all cultures, not all South Asian families are well-functioning). Typically, they’ll raise hell about a relationship but, if the relationship becomes a marriage, everyone will deal with it with more or less grace and tact. White American (I specify White because it’s what I know best) families, in my opinion, are more likely to cut ties or continue objections after the wedding if they’re unhappy about the relationship.
      Another thing that’s helpful to know is that South Asian parents hold onto the authority hierarchy longer than White American parents do — as long as they’re the parent, you’re the child, and what they say should go, whether you’re 8 or 28 or 48. American parents typically view their job to be raising their children to make the best choices possible, then sitting back and accepting the adult child’s life decisions, unless they’re REALLY bad (like drugs, violence, scammers, etc.). For my family to voice negative opinions of a partner, they would have to REALLY have an issue with the person. Most South Asian parents had arranged marriages, and they don’t really have a schema for the [adult] child having the necessary skills and judgment to choose a marriage partner. They’re used to making the decisions, and they’re not used to “compatibility” and “personal fulfillment” being high on the list. American parents are also used to the partner being much more a part of their child’s life than their own; South Asian parents are used to the partners being a big part of their lives and often living with and caring for them (especially wives).
      Finally, it seems like South Asian parents use manipulation more than White American parents do. They are often indirect about what they want and why they want it, even if it’s something that seems very reasonable. I don’t get it, quite frankly, and none of the Indian Americans I know really get it either. Instead of having an adult-to-adult sit-down where people honestly divulge their concerns and desires, South Asian parents will often give BS reasons and use emotional pleas to get what they want. This approach can make it difficult to know what’s REALLY important to them, especially when you’re trying to balance several people’s wishes. This may relate back to the difference in authority hierarchy (the opinions of the adult child and his/her partner are not considered to have equal weight).
      Finally, when South Asian parents consider themselves to be modern (perhaps especially if they’ve lived in the U.S. or other country for a while), they can be inconsistent between American and South Asian parenting styles. They may have adopted some Western values, but their older South Asian values can still come through, especially in times of stress (like, um, your son bringing a gori home, or planning a wedding for said son and gori). A few examples (Western/South Asian):
      — Adult children should live their own lives (especially if the parents moved to the U.S. or another country without their own parents and had to be more independent than typical South Asian families) VS. Parents can make better decisions for their adult children, and their adult children should listen
      — Weddings should be planned to suit the tastes of the adult children getting married VS. Weddings are about the families coming together, and the adult children do not need to be consulted very often
      — Compatibility and personal fulfillment should be considered in marriage, as it’s really about the individuals’ fit VS. Family reputation, education, SES, and appearance are the best indicators of whether a marriage will work, as it’s really about the families’ fit
      — Judge the individual by his/her values and reputation VS. Judge the individual by his/her family’s values and reputation
      — What matters is whether the partner fits VS. What matters is the partner’s family fits
      — Love matches can be as successful as arranged marriages VS. Love marriages end in divorce
      — Coexistence with people from other cultures is important and good VS. It’s best to stick with those most like us

      For me, this all meant that I have a mix of very good and very bad experiences with my in-laws. They’ve been both more supportive and more critical of our relationship. However, there was a point where they seem to have decided, “OK, if it’s what he’s going to do, we’re sure as hell going to be part of it.” Another piece is just showing that there is compromise and shared values, and it can work…unfortunately, that just takes time.

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  10. luckyfatima says:

    In my ILs family, and in South Asian families in general, the DIL has to adapt herself and try to fit in with the ILs. She carries on her ILs family traditions, not her own. Fitting in and complimenting the family dynamic is important. As a foreigner, I am a huge failure at this. They have their own way of doing things. I tried a lot to blend in at first. Now, I just do my own thing. I am a foreigner and will never blend in, so why bother. I don’t try to rock the boat or anything, but I realized I was knocking myself out for them and it didn’t really matter in the end because essentially I am so different than them, there is nothing to be done about it. They accept my husband and I as a couple (I was not the first foreigner in the family, either), which is the most important thing to me at the end of the day. Good luck to you with your family. I think one should try their utmost to be respectful to culture and tradition, but overtly trying to adapt too much is futile.

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  12. Padmini says:

    I loved reading all of these comments and definitely share those questions. I’ll be meeting my bf’s parents in June of next year and just don’t think I can be prepared enough. My bf’s sister was so welcoming and I just fell in love with her. I was so nervous about meeting her and practiced “tapaii sanga vatayraw kushee laagyo.” for weeks and go to “tapaii sanga vatayray….” but she was so sweet and finished the sentence for me and told me (in english) she was happy to meet me too. I’m praying that after months of practice I don’t goof up with my bf’s parents but I don’t think I could forget “its a pleasure to meet you” in Nepali ever again.

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