I want to look at two words, two words with similarities and differences, adjust and adapt. Let’s start with the obvious, they both begin with A and end with T. Enough with the similarities, let’s look at the differences!
The official definitions:
Adjust (verb): to alter something in order to achieve the desired fit, appearance, or result.
Adapt (verb): to make something suitable for a new use or purpose.
Through my blog I have come to know many Western women who have married into an Indian family and something I have noticed is that most of us have a passionate disdain for the word ‘adjust’. You may be confused as to why, so let me explain…
Many of us are told that once we adjust, everything will be easy. Once we adjust, everything will click into place, we just have to adjust. It’s really as simple as that, isn’t it? We just have to change a fundamental part of who we are to “achieve the desired fit”. One Western woman who lives in a joint Indian family told me that if she heard the word ‘adjust’ one more time she would do something unthinkable resulting in a crime scene.
Very often women are expected to not only ‘adjust’ their physical appearance, but pretty much their whole lives. Live with their in-laws, cook only Indian food, convert to another religion etc. When you first become a part of a new culture, you may happily slide into this new role, you do it for love. Slowly but quite surely, if it’s only you doing the adjusting, a new and ugly feeling starts to fester in the pit of your stomach, that feeling is resentment.
This is why I prefer the word ‘adapt’ when talking about becoming part of a new culture, you don’t try to change yourself to fit into established norms, you make them suitable for you. Adapting to a culture is a natural process, adjusting feels forced and unauthentic.
We should try to add your own culture to the mix, you are now in a multicultural family after all. Respect the values and customs of the new culture whilst maintaining respect for your own. This also applies to Indian’s joining a new Indian family, the culture of India is so diverse, I am sure that in many cases Indian girls are expected to adjust just as much as we non-Indian’s are. In India a marriage is usually not only between two people, but two families and every family is different.
There are things about Indian culture I adore and have fully and willingly integrated into my life, but there are also things that just don’t fit with me and I am not prepared to change myself (adjust) to “achieve the desired fit”. The key to successfully adapting to multicultural life is an open and two way communication. I have found greater harmony in my Indian family life by talking about my culture with my mother-in-law and explaining why I do certain things. In return, she does the same. We understand each other more now because we can see the mechanisms behind our actions, which gives us the freedom to be true to ourselves.
A really nice example is that when I first moved to India, everyone laughed at me for saying “thank you”. I am talking hysterical laughter that made me feel really uncomfortable and insecure. Still, I continued to be thankful, I simply could not stop something I had been told to do ever since I could speak. After a lengthy discussion about gratitude and how we understand it in the West, to my surprise and without expectation, my mother-in-law now says “thank you” to everyone! She says thank you to our driver, the maids, vegetable wallas, shopkeepers and to me. The concept of ‘thank you’ is so different in India and it’s explained nicely in this article.
So, let’s stop adjusting ourselves and start adapting, learning, respecting and communicating. You may find yourself growing a new sense of self once you become a part of a new culture, but don’t sacrifice who you are and the things you hold dear about your own culture in the process. Let’s celebrate the best of both worlds.
Another two words for us to consider are sacrifice vs. compromise.