Adjust or Adapt? Becoming a Member of an Indian Family

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.

***

Check out my Instagram and Facebook pages for daily updates and discussions!

Advertisements

58 thoughts on “Adjust or Adapt? Becoming a Member of an Indian Family

  1. English is not my first language, so I never really thought about it. Thank you for pointing it out. I hear it very of ten that i have to “adjust” and now I will ban this word in this household!

    Like

  2. Great article, although I’m not sure whether I agree with the way that you used the wordGreat article, although I’m not sure whether I agree with the way that you used the word “adapt” in the article. To me, adapt relates to the Darwinian theory of evolution, which explains that all organisms respond to a change in their environment by changing themselves. Therefore to me, adaptation is a stronger word than adjustment, it involves a greater change. Of course, you can argue that we can adapt ourselves, or we can adapt the environment, but I believe that we “adapt” in the article. To me, adapt relates to the Darwinian theory of evolution, which explains that all organisms respond to a change in their environment by changing themselves. Therefore to me, adaptation is a stronger word than adjustment, it involves a greater change. Of course, you can argue that we can adapt ourselves, or we can adapt the environment, similarly we can adjust ourselves or something else to suit our needs. Anyway, I agree that we need a bit of both in new situations. I can see that you’re adapting very well to your new environment, but at the same time you’re also being yourself and don’t want to change the fundamental parts of who you are and how you were raised, and that’s amazing 🙂

    Like

    • Haha I wrote some sentences a couple of times, but hope that you’ll get the meaning. That’s what happens when you write on a mobile phone ;(

      Like

    • Hey Kali!
      I guess it depends on your relationship with the word. Darwinian theory makes me think of the word “evolve” more that “adapt”. Adaption is not only about the person (or animal if we are Darwin :P), it’s also about the external world (i.e. communicating with your new family about your culture). Thank you so much for your insight 😀
      Take caree

      Like

  3. I can’t even imagine moving from my hometown in India, to another place in India. I love where I live, the way I live. And that’s why, when I stumbled upon your blog, I really wanted to know, how can anyone leave everything behind and settle in a total foreign atmosphere. Because, forgive me but, I thought u were out of your mind.

    M sorry if I hurt your feelings saying so but I had 2 reasons to think so. One, I just mentioned and the second is the reason u moved, ‘Marriage’. Marriage in India is more complicated than any investment banker and has more terms and conditions than any investment policy. And so i said to myself, “poor girl has no idea what she’s jumping into”.

    Now let me explain why foreigners marrying an Indian is a big deal( though I don’t need to cause now you’ve experienced all of it). Take my example. Being an Indian, if I were to marry another Indian without social similarities like cast, religion, state etc.( yes, excetra), my family would never accept me and my spouse. Can’t even imagine a scenario if I married a ‘foreigner’. On top of that, u are a girl. Marriage in India for a girl is most probably the biggest step they’d ever take. All the ‘adjustments’ and ‘compromises’ to be made are her responsibilities. I know it’s a sad thing and very cruel too.

    So if your mother-in-law discusses with u and accepts some of your traditions no matter how small like saying ‘thank you’, u are luckier than millions of Indian bride.

    Sorry if I have offended you or anyone. It was not my intention.

    P.S- Happy bonding with your in-laws

    Like

    • I’m really glad you feel so secure in your environment, this is a true blessing!
      My western view is a lot less complicated than an Indian marriage, obviously I learnt that the hard way- but I have adapted well and am enjoying my life!

      Take care

      Like

      • It’s so good to hear that u are starting to enjoy dear… Best of luck for the rest of adventures that life has in store for u.. And yes, don’t b miser, share it with us.

        Like

    • In my Indian family, very true to it’s ways in a smaller Indian city, there have been by now a lot of marriages out of community/religion/ country- what have you. Some going back 70 years or more.
      Not only that, among the neighbours who came from different religions & castes, there were all sorts of varied marriages taking place, including many arranged ones between different religions.
      Am glad to say that no one made much of a fuss about them, and everyone was welcomed everywhere.
      So there are many places in India, even smaller ones, where quite a few people are open & accepting.

      Like

  4. I think that this is so true. And, honestly, after being in a relationship over a decade and being a part of MANY groups… I see the warning signs of when women are forcing themselves to ADJUST and not finding a way to adapt.

    Those women a few years later (or less!) end up exploding. It doesn’t end well ladies… so, please, if someone says “hey, they need to give a little as well” or something it isn’t because we’re racist against our husband’s culture, it is because we’ve seen it many times where the wife/girlfriend changes EVERYTHING and then is disappointed to the point of sadness and crazed depression when things “still didn’t go well” … You are still you!

    You can’t please everyone and there are times that your perfection will be so great that they really just can’t handle it and they’ll still find something that is wrong. Seriously… BE HAPPY, adapt, but don’t “adjust”.

    My mom used to say “someone needs an attitude adjustment” when a sibling was in a sour mood. Yeah… adjustment isn’t the same as adapting. There’s nothing wrong with you – you don’t need adjustment!

    Like

    • Dear Amanda,
      Thank you for your comment!

      I have seen quite a few of those explosions to, which led me to really think about this and write this post. I have had a couple of them myself when I first came to India!

      “There’s nothing wrong with you – you don’t need adjustment!”

      So true!!

      I hope you are well! ❤ xx

      Like

  5. Wow.. Even though one knows the difference between the two words – how often do we use them incorrectly. Funny! I moved to London from India around 3 years back, I didn’t have to adjust but had to adapt to the new culture, environment, people, climate, country. Now that you’ve said it, ‘adjust’ rather feels discouraging than ‘adapt’ (Or is it only me?).

    Love your blog. x

    Like

  6. Super interesting! I never really though about the difference of those two concepts and they truly are different. At first I would think they are interchangeable. I love that your MIL now says thank you! I kept saying thank you in India everywhere too but I didn’t get those reactions, but I do wonder what they thought after reading your experience.
    I always say that I do no like change, but I adapt well to it.

    Like

    • Hey Mani,
      I think that when you are part of an Indian family, they can be open with you, which is lovely and I think the reason for the laughter. It wasn’t ever mean’t in a horrible way, just made me feel insecure!
      I hope you and your hubby are well, visit India again soon!! xx

      Like

  7. Well, Indian men have to a different adjustment. You know Indian man’s membership is renewed after marriage. You re-enter the family as a new member. Earlier, you are a son now you are a son and a husband. You suddenly become responsible which means that you are taken seriously (most unmarried people are not taken seriously in India), but at the same time your integrity is doubtful. It is assumed that once you are married your powers of comprehension are lost or at best they are muddled, and you are under somebody’s influence, depending upon whom you are talking to. Outwardly, it the same house and family but then it becomes a house within a house and family within a family. Two opposing forts with guns trained at each other. You are split into two, like Clark Kent and Superman. It is as if you are reborn and redefining your relationships. What is incredibly more difficult is to re-establish relationship with your near and dear ones. Do you really need to do that?? perplexing question.

    At least with women, the expectations are more or less clear, there are tonnes of what to expect at your inlaws place, legends/folk tales/personal experiences etc., not justifying it one bit. With men what are you expected to do after marriage and how is all very fuzzy. Friends are of no use since they understand only the physical aspect of marriage. Most men naively assume that just because they are loved and accepted by their family members their spouses are also going to be loved/accepted. It comes as a rude surprise to them that it is not so natural. By they time they understand they are caught in cross fire and seriously wounded.

    Then, it does not help matters that for many Indian men it is the first serious interaction with the opposite sex. Women that too with a different upbringing to yours is like someone from Mars. Then there is physical intimacy, not just Indian women but men too are awkward about it. From the outside it seems like men are having it good when from inside it is a bewildering feeling “what did just hit me??”.

    One is the physical/emotional aspect between husband wife (which in itself is so confusing) and the other is what your are expected as a married member for the family/society. Figuring out both at the same time is bloody difficult.

    Well no offence to anybody, I have just articulated what most men feel.

    Like

    • Hey Friend,

      Thank you for this insight. Indian family dynamics really are so complicated. I know something about what you said about Clark Kent and Superman. I guess this is one negative aspect of joint family life 😦

      I am assuming you are now well adapted now Friend Bhaiya 😀

      Take care,
      Lauren

      Like

  8. I really admire your courage. I can’t imagine trying to adapt to a culture and a country so different from my own. I’ve now moved to the UK from Canada (they are probably two of the most similar countries in the world) and I have trouble getting used to the little differences. I think you’re doing an amazing job and I’m happy that your family there is making an effort to adapt to some of your culture as well 🙂

    Like

    • Thank you so much dear!
      I hope that you are enjoying the positive sides to British culture and lots of beans on toast!
      I think it’s really hard to change your surrounded, even if the cultures are perceived to be similar, there is still a lot of settling in that needs to be done! 🙂

      Like

  9. I totally agree it is important to respect your new Indian family’s culture but keep a hold on your own and try and communicate how you are to help them understand you. I think this extends out of the family also and into the society where you live and work. I remember big feelings of resentment when at work I was told not to mention I was a single parent and to lie and say I was married when I moved into my housing society when in my own country no one gives a hoot about such things! The friends, work colleagues and neighbours I did become close to, while some initially judged me based on Indian morals in regards to my situation, in the end came to accept me for who I was and I hope learnt something about feminism and respect for hardworking single parents and not judging people on mistakes they have made in the past and excluding them from society based on that. On the other hand I have nothing but respect for the strong morals and close families of Indian society and feel that the West can learn a lot and would do well to resurrect some of these principles! We can all learn from each other and take the best of both cultures – both at home in the family and in society as a whole. 🙂

    Like

  10. Hi,i just wanted to share my story.I met this Indian at net,we liked each other so after a year of chatting i went to visit him.First meeting was like a dream.I am older than him and he told me from beginning about prepared wedding.So i had to decide,leave him or go on without future.I chose second option.He is strict to his tradition and since im old enough i dont wanna him stay without kids.I just wanted to share my story maybe cause inside me there is a hope about a common future.

    Like

  11. some of the things i do agree with and some i don’t. It seems from Lauren’s post that she does not need to adjust but her Indian -in-laws need to adjust accroding to her.Thats quite simply put very hypocritical. I think we shouldn’t be rigid about not adjusting or adapting. Adjusting doesn’t mean destroying your identity, infact you grow. Quite often with hindsight we realise that good we adjusted, we learnt what otherwise we may have never done if we were so rigid. Of course it is a two way process but when you marry into a family and move seven seas you should have thought that it would be easier for you to adjust and adpat rather than whole bunch of the family adjusting according to Lauren. We have to accept those traditions, customs, many of them very logical and good and some idiosyncratic nuances that are not so good. That happens in every part of the world.
    Secondly saying sorry, thank you and just being overly polite is all ok but in some part of the world you dont have to say all that to mean it. It shows up on your facial expressions, your conduct, your body language and your thought process. You say all that but wthout verbalising it.

    Like

    • Hey Ivopal,

      I reread my post to look for a hint of hypocrisy because it is in fact one of my pet peeves. I think you have misunderstood something here. When I say stay true to yourself, I am not expecting that you make your inlaws follow your culture. Definitely not. That is why I have emphasised respect and communication. To understand a cultural behaviour, doesn’t mean you have to follow it. I am definitely not rigid when it comes to culture, if you read some of my other posts you will see I have gone to great lengths to understand Indian culture and have welcomed many things into my life, things that have made me a happier person.

      My husband fell in love with me, not the person that I would become after moving to India. I don’t know where you read that I expected my husband’s family to change… I just talk to them about my culture so they can understand ME, not change themselves according to me! Two very different things!

      Also, I have explained in this post that it is the Western view of gratitude, Indian’s have a different way of showing it. I didn’t ask or expect my mother-in-law to start saying thank you, she started doing it on her own. Just as I have started to do many Indian cultural customs. Indian culture has helped me grow, but I am not prepared to change who I am in the process neither do I want my in-laws to change themselves. I just want us to understand each other and respect each other’s culture- we are family now.

      Like

  12. I am an Indian living in US. And, here when I say “Thank you” to my Indian friends, their immediate response is “Thank you? Are you upset with me?”. Even though I got used to Thank everyone for everything according to the local culture, I still have to be careful on when I should thank my Indian friends. 🙂

    And, BTW, I was reading a BBC Magazine article on “Myths about Japan”, which lead me to google on Myths about India. That took me to Mariellen Ward’s blog and from there I ended up here. Two great finds that evoked nostalgia. I will follow both your blogs. Good Luck being a desi bahu!!

    Like

    • Thank you so much for reading, Vijay!
      Yes, ‘thank you’ really is a totally different concept here! (I hope you were not upset that I thanked you :P)

      Thank you so much again! Take caree

      Like

  13. Superb post Lauren. I am glad that you are doing well and have adapted to life in India. Trust me – It is no mean achievement.It is a brutal place for someone from the western world to get adjusted to.
    You have been far more considerate about the Indian culture than it deserves in my view. It is sad that in spite of that , you have to explain yourselves to Indians who have probably never left their narrow lanes.
    I am an Indian and I can be more blunt – Society in India is essentially tribal , agricultural and a rural especially places like Nagpur which is one of the most conservative places in India , compared to metros like Mumbai , which is more liberal , cosmopolitan and I dare say civilised) . It is changing though not sure at what pace.
    So in this rural culture (even if those people moved to cities) , there is no concept of politeness and courtesy towards strangers. People you care for or regard are your family, extended family , caste members and family friends. You are supposed to be close to them and there is no concept of courtesy within family – only entitlement (based on age or relationship). As you mentioned and also in the article you referenced , the term “dhanyawaad” is really meant for someone who has gone out of the way to help you when he was not obliged to (that is the person is typically not one of your family or friends)
    It is no wonder why Indians have so little civic sense and concern for their fellow citizens who are not in their circle If you visit a home in India , it is usually neat and well maintained but if you step outside , I need not tell you how it is .
    So anyways , be yourselves , do not be (or sound) defensive or apologetic. You come more civilised land (I differentiate civility and culture. Indians are very cultured but less civilised) and there is no reason to not be yourselves and go out of the way to explain yourself to everyone and anyone.
    Take care

    Like

    • Thanks for sharing this with us, VK. I know your comment is to Lauren, but it’s very interesting for others of us to read as well.

      Like

    • Hey VK,
      Thank you so much for your comment!
      Yes, thank you for saying this, I don’t think many people understand that Nagpur is not like a metro and quite traditional! It is also interesting you say this because my in-laws friends are all, from what I can tell, from the same caste.

      I hope you are well! Take care 🙂

      Like

  14. Pingback: Agony Bhabhi: Can a Western Woman Have a Career in India? - English Wife Indian Life

  15. Pingback: Trouble in Paradise: Financial & Cultural Stress | The Foreign Indian Wife

  16. Pingback: Can a Western Woman Have a Career in India? Agony Bhabhi - English Wife Indian Life

  17. Pingback: Sisterhood of the World Bloggers Award Q&A + My Nominees | Speaking of China

  18. Hi Lauren,
    Your blog is really interesting and inspiring. My husband and I are both from India but have totally different (in fact opposite) cultures, speak different languages and follow different practices. I still have difficulties in accepting few things that Indian women are “supposed to” do. I was supposed to learn his language but no one ever asks my husband to learn mine. We don’t live with our in-laws but still there is a lot of friction in our family. I question the idea that women are supposed to let go of their past culture and even family and to adapt her husband’s family traditions. When a women gets married she sort of loses her family but somehow men still remain with their family. Have you ever wondered that it is not fair and that the husband should also give as much as he expects from his wife?

    Like

    • Thank you sooo much, Shen!
      I have sadly heard that women should let go of their family and past after marriage several times. I know one practice is to change the woman’s name to assist in that process. It’s really not fair. I hope and pray that this soon stops in India and the families of the both husband and wife and seen as equals! I know it is getting better in some places. I really hope that things get better between you all, sending lots of love, I know how it feels. Time and discussion are great healers and resolvers ❤
      xx

      Like

  19. Pingback: Lola's Visit! - English Wife Indian Life

  20. Hi Lauren
    I have been following since long, and ‘thank you’ for the articles… I must say that you are much better bahu than many Indian bahu’s. You are adopting a new culture where as ‘some’ of Indian girls failing to accept even little adjustments in in-laws houses now a days even same from in-laws as well. Well keep going. Thank You

    Like

    • Thank you, Varzil!
      I don’t think I would say I was a better bahu that anyone, everyone is different and no everyone is built for a joint family life 🙂
      I hope you are well!!
      Take caree

      Like

  21. I got married last month on 17th. So today we completed one month. I am Sindhi. I got married into a Marathi family, love marriage. I can so much relate to every word you said. And I like how you emphasized on switching from adjust to adapt. Adjustment rips you off of your very being, changes you into something you weren’t. And it’s painful and mentally scaring.. Fortunately, my in-laws are very good, supportive people. 🙂

    Like

    • Happy One Month anniversery! Wishing you a blessed married life ❤
      Some of my cousin sisters-in-law have married non-Marathi Indian men and have experienced some culture shocks! I hope everything is going well for youuu ❤
      Lots of love xx

      Like

  22. Pingback: Happy New Year! 2016 - English Wife Indian Life

  23. Hi Lauren.
    I have found so much inspiration and help from your stories. This one especially. I’ve been with my man for nearly two years now, and I had concerns of Adjusting to indian cutler if I were to move there. I will not adjust I will adapt. My grandad always used to say to me “Adapt and over come”. So this has touched my heart, I believe your stories will help me through my process. So thankyou in advance 🙂 xxx
    Lauren.

    Like

  24. I really love this post! It is so true. When I lived in India, I cannot tell you how many times I heard the word “adjust”…it’s funny to look back on it now, (in retrospect), but really all the responsibility was on ME to ‘adjust’. Now that you have so eloquently pointed out the difference between the 2 words, I can say I have ‘adapted’ quite nicely. 🙂

    Like

Comments are closed.