A-Z of Intercultural Relationships (Pros & Cons)

Want to know more about intercultural relationships? This is my complete, compact A-Z guide, the pros and the cons of falling in love with someone outside of your community, country or colour.

 

Acceptance

The first obstacle you may have to overcome is that your family, and maybe even some of your friends, will not accept your relationship. It may take a while for the people you love to overcome their prejudices or get used to the idea, but have patience.

If your family or friends are struggling to accept your intercultural relationship, read this.

Breaking boundaries

Interracial marriage didn’t become fully legal in America until 1967 and intercommunity marriage in India is still quite rare. When I first came to India, my cousin-sisters-in-law thanked us for breaking the boundaries. They have since married men from different states and castes.

If you are in an intercultural relationship, you may find yourself an inspiration to others like you!

Communication

Every relationship requires quality communication, but when you have cultural differences, communication is even more important. Values and traditions will need explaining, so you can understand why your partner or their family do certain things, and vice versa.

Decisions

An intercultural relationship may force you to come to some tough decisions.

Which country will you live? Which language will you speak? Which religion should you teach your children?

Exciting

Falling in love with someone from another culture has an extra dose of excitement because not only are you discovering another human, you’re discovering a whole new way of life.

Food

The food we eat says a lot about our lifestyle, our heritage, our culture. This could be a revelation to your taste buds, or you could end up eating separate meals at dinner.

Gossip

From “he’s only using her for a green card” to “why is he with her?”. When you enter an intercultural relationship, it will surely set some nasty tongues wagging.

Happiness

If you’re in an intercultural relationship, you put your happiness and love for your partner above the fear of prejudice and cultural conflict. When you combine two cultures, you may have extra things to argue about but with good communication, these things usually are resolvable .

You followed your happy!

Immigration

Immigration may become a huge, life consuming, soul shattering part of your life. It’s getting even harder for those in international long distance relationships to unite with stricter border control.

If you need to bow down to immigration, prepare for your relationship to be thrust under a magnifying glass, every detail dissected. This is not for the faint of heart.

Jokes

You may not share the same sense of humour. My husband definitely doesn’t have a British sense of humour, but we still make each other laugh. We just don’t enjoy the same television shows.

Kids

Multicultural kids are gorgeous (okay, I am bias) and can grow up enjoying the best of both worlds. Diwali and Christmas, for example.

Languages

For some it’s great opportunity to learn another language, others come up against a frustrating language barrier.

Language barriers are toxic to relationships. You and your partner may communicate well, there more often a barrier between you and their family. This can cause conflict and misunderstandings, which can result in problems in your relationship.

Misunderstandings

Language barriers and cultural differences can lead to a myriad of misunderstandings. Speaking a common language doesn’t mean the language barrier doesn’t affect you. If something is translated literally, it can result in misunderstandings. For example, if Marathi is translated word for word into English, it can mean something different.

Nonsense

There are some traditions, habits, or values that may feel like nonsense to you. However much your partner has tried to explain them. Sometimes you are just not going to “get it” and respect that it’s gone over your head.

Open Mind

Not only do intercultural relationships blaze the trail for others who fall in love, you also help educate people who hold negative stereotypes. An intercultural relationship is a symbol of the progress we have made.

Connecting two cultures in a way they wouldn’t have otherwise. Two families come together who otherwise would never have met. With exposure and education, stereotypes and prejudices slowly slip away.

Personal Growth

When you find yourself immersed in another culture, you are thrown out of your comfort zone and into a situation where things are done differently. If you stick around for long enough, your ideas of what is right and wrong are challenged. Here, you have an opportunity for personal growth.

Questions

You will get asked the same questions over and over, ad nauseam. Friends, family, waiters, people in the queue for at the airport. People’s curiosity will follow you around like a hungry dog.

“Are you allowed to celebrate Christmas?”, “can you speak Marathi yet?”, and my personal favourite: “how did this happen?”.

Religion

If you are in an interfaith relationship, some of your partner’s beliefs may contradict your own. It may take a lot of soul-searching and honest communication to resolve some of these issues. However, you may find yourself spiritually rejuvenated by your partner’s faith.

Alternatively, you may both follow you own religions separately without any issue. Reaffirming that religions can life together peacefully, even in the same bed!

Social etiquette

Taking my shoes off before you enter someone’s home, touching the feet of elders, eating with my right hand. These are all examples of social etiquette I had to get my head around when I first joined an Indian family.

You may have to learn a couple of things to avoid seeming rude to your partners family, and you might have to teach your partner a couple of things before they meet yours.

Travel

Oh, the people you will meet and the places you will see.

Your intercultural relationship doesn’t have to be an international one for it to expand your travel horizons. Even if you both were born in the same country, if either of you have roots elsewhere, you have more of an excuse to go out and see the world.

Unity

Intercultural relationships help us see that our similarities out number our differences. Beyond the food we eat, clothes we wear, language we speak, habits we grow up with, we all have similar hopes and dreams.

Values

Whilst all cultures value similar things, some may hold certain values higher than others.

For instance, in India it’s traditional for a son to live with his parents and a daughter to go and live with her husband’s parents. In England, children leave home and start their own family in a separate house. Therefore when this English Wife started her Indian Life, it was pretty difficult to get my head around joint family living.

However, our personal values don’t always reflect our cultural identity. You may share the same values as your partner and that may be one of the reasons your intercultural relationship words so well.

Weddings

You can have a fusion wedding, or even two weddings! I know several couples who have had both Hindu and Christian ceremonies, and others who have had beautiful fusion weddings!

Xenophobia

It’s an ugly word but the chances are, if you are in an intercultural relationship, you will experience xenophobia at some point. It may come from an aged family member or a stranger from the street. It hurts and something you, sadly, have to prepare for.

Your Own Culture

You can create your own culture with your favourite parts of each others, the best of both worlds. I don’t think there is any need to continue traditions purely for tradition sake if it isn’t fun, functional or life affirming.

Zoo Animal

You may occasionally feel like a zoo animal because, even in multicultural societies, intercultural relationships are not the norm. People will stare, and may even take photographs.

Remember: by being seen, you are normalising intercultural relationships. You are opening minds to the possibility that people from different cultures can love each other and live together in harmony.

That’s a beautiful message to spread, one the world needs.

***

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24 thoughts on “A-Z of Intercultural Relationships (Pros & Cons)

  1. I *love* ‘How did this happen?’ Like your relationship is an inexplicably tangled set of headphones or an unfortunate mess in the bathroom. And I think I empathise most with the lack of a shared sense of humour. I’ve learned that I need to maintain other relationships for that kind of thing, ditto high culture, literary discussions etc because of the literacy problem, which is okay (I have friends who can’t grasp how I can be in a relationship with someone who can’t discuss books, songs or plays with me – well, that’s what my literate friends are for; can they teach me to make pakora and ride a camel?). But there is a peculiar loneliness in laughing hysterically at a Victoria Wood sketch and not being able to explain what’s so funny.

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  2. Dear Lauren, I’ve been following your blog since 2014 and I’d like to say i enjoy reading your stories. Your fairy tale turning into reality,your taking a leap of faith, the ups and downs, the cultural shocks, adapting and adopting.Of course you are enjoying the new life but my question to you( it’s a rude one, but my intention is +ve). Was it worth it?( We all know the answer but if u could sum it up in, say 5 points?)

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  3. Well, with respect to cricket team,which team will you support between Ind Vs Eng world cup match ,when it will be played in your host nation England in 2019?

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  4. This Was Great. The only thing I couldn’t relate to was the zoo animal thing coz we live in Australia and here intercultural relationships are more and more conmon plus im not someone who cares what anyone thinks . I don’t think they r treating u as a zoo animal they just maybe don’t understand your union especially sometimes the older women because they have seen generation after generation Indian man marry Indian woman and to them it’s a lot “easier” but for some of us it would be very hard and almost like torture to live without our love whether we r white and he’s Indian or not. Great article!!

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    • I’m so happy you liked it, Rose 😀

      I didn’t mean being treated literally like an animal, just the staring part, people go to zoos to stare (hey, I had to get Z in some how, and S for staring was already taken :P).

      I hope you are all well!

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  5. Hello, Lauren! I really like your A to Z list. I can relate to it perfectly. I’ve been married to a Marathi man, I am Mexican.

    Between us everything is mainly neutral. We’ve been living in England for 6 months now and previously, when we got married I moved to Italy with him so we didn’t face the strange looks a lot. When I’ve been to India, Jesuschrist! All the time. As if I were a monkey or something. Every inch of me has been analysed and I can understand that but… man, I’ve felt so unconfortable at times.

    I’d like to state that my case has been a bit different in the sense of acceptance. My parents in law did approve the marriage and everything but when I’ve been at their place, I’ve experienced such racism that I still don’t know how to deal with it. It’s like a passive-agressive relationship in which they try very hard to indianize me because I’m a disgrace to the family, they say. Because of that, I’ve started to defend passionately this intercultural family that we have in which my family (parents), culture, professional career, dreams, religion (I’m an atheist, but my background’s Catholic) and needs are important in this mix, too. Hope that one day they’d like to know me and accept me with everything I am, but mainly I’d like them to realise that I’m not bad because I am different 😦

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    • Thanks, Cristina!

      I’m sorry you had to go through all of that when you came to India, for them to say that to you is really horrible! An intercultural marriage definitely needs to include both cultures, for everyone’s sake (I’ve written a post about this, Adapt vs. Adjust). I’m certain if they were able to look beyond their first impressions and prejudices, you could build a genuine relationship with them. Of course there is only so much you can do, the rest is on them! I hope they realise this soon!

      I hope you’re enjoying England. Sending love ❤

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  6. Lauren, It seems, from the different stories of intercultural relationships that I read about, that the Indian family only really accepts the Western woman if she “Indianizes” herself, as Cristina puts it, in her comment below. Do you think that your husband’s family would be happy if you chose not to wear Indian clothes, and didn’t embrace Hinduism? And how about if you drank alcohol and smoked cigarettes? In other words, is it really you, the person, they accept, or are you judged, not on your character, but on how well you are willing to play the role of Indian wife?

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    • Hi Nicola,

      Well, my husband’s cousin sisters wear Western style clothes. My mother-in-law and I wear a kurta-leggings-chunni combo (except at functions and festivals) whist her sisters and sister-in-laws all wear a saree at all times. So I think, if I suddenly had a thigh-waist ratio that could handle jeans, my MIL wouldn’t bat an eye lid about that. My grandmother-in-law would probably be upset because she gets upset if I am not wearing a bindi.

      If I drank, smoked and enjoyed clubbing for example, Nagpur would definitely not be a place I could live because it’s so sleepy (the way I like it). Many would call me boring, I guess. My husband and I spend our evenings reading books and discussing philosophy (not that you cannot do that whilst you are smoking and drinking)… It’s really hard to imagine all this alternative reality stuff!!

      What I can say is, I know quite a few Western women who have married Indian men, live in the West, little interest in Hinduism, who have great relationships with their in-laws. I know others who really love Indian culture but their in-laws will not accept them. I would say that it would probably be easier to be accepted into a traditional Indian family if you are seen to be trying to understand their way of life, no doubt about that. Of course it’s impossible to bond immediately, with stereotypes and prejudices playing their part, “indianizing” or not.

      A genuine relationship is build over time and meaningful communication.

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      • Do you plan on living with your in-laws long term now? Will you write a blog about your decision to move back in with them?

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      • I thought your MIL did dictate your cultural style choices in that she insisted you wear a dupatta even in the house, but I think maybe I’m mixing you up with another expat blogger. I know there’s a huge variety of experiences from one set of in-laws to another – can’t think of a single Indian partner who minds what their western partner wears though.

        (Ha, speaking of the dupatta I remember the first time I visited India, in 2004, I was with a group of people spending a lot of time in remote villages in Himachal Pradesh, and we were asked to wear salwar suits while we were there. A friend explained the point of the dupatta was to ‘cover your modesty’ and I was all ‘my what, sorry?’ until I worked out that modesty basically meant, well, breasts. Nowadays I feel that as long as half the local men are hitching their string vests up over capacious bellies every morning, they can put up with the undisguised outline of my body. 😉 )

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      • Yes, she did when I first arrived in India, and I was known to wear a dupatta/chunni with a western outfit or two. Since then things have changed and as I mentioned in the previous comment, “a genuine relationship is built over time and meaningful communication.”, and back then she really nervous about what people were saying about the new bahu in town (she expressed this to me herself later). I think she feared others would judge me. Since then, we have built a genuine relationship and I know that now she wouldn’t mind.

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      • That’s good to know – I’m glad the two of you have managed to forge a good relationship. I think it’s hard to comprehend how much this question of ‘what will the neighbours think’ drives that kind of rule-setting at the beginning if your own mindset is more along the lines of ‘who gives two hoots what the neighbours think?’, and I’ve seen it have a negative impact – from both sides – on more than one cross-cultural relationship (mine included, on a very fundamental level), but it’s a brave soul who’ll put aside those concerns entirely … it’s hard to buck long-standing trends, and other people’s negative opinions can cause real distress and isolation.

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      • Exactly! I am very much, “who gives two hoots” type of person, whereas that seems to be rare in these parts, and it took be some time to realise that… that’s why communication and discussion! 😀

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    • Nicola,it depends upon the individuals and individual families. Unlike,Muslims,Hindus don’t insist upon conversions.Of course,there are exceptions.In fact, it’s believed that Hindus are born not made.It’s the same with Zoroastrians who settled in India after they escaped persecution in Iran from Muslim ruler.An example of the Z.s is Zubin Mehta of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra.The longer Indians live in the western world ,the more open they become,again with some exceptions.Regards,

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  7. Yep totally agree with all of these! If I could add one I would add a B for Bravery. To face all of these challenges you have to have a strong head and heart. We don’t always start out fully equipped for this journey so a large amount of courage is needed when taking these leaps into the unknown. At times it can be overwhelming and really scary – mentally, physically, financially, socially. We are lucky that you and others like yourself are willing to share your success stories and remind us that if you are fearless the reward you will get is that the positives will outweigh the negatives and it will all be worth it in the end!

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  8. Lauren would like to read more on your experience with marathi food, what western world know abut indian food is basically punjabi food and to some extend south indian. curious to know your fav tv program and ur first experince watching indian movie in cinema hall and did u able to resist yourself dancing on song zing zing zingat..?

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  9. Hi Lauren,
    Great blog! I throughly enjoyed reading your story. It is very hopeful, thank you for sharing. May I ask how your now husband’s family was accepting of your relationship? When did he tell them and when did you meet them?
    I’m in a similar situation and it is very hard! I’m American and he is Indian but from the U.K. He had to leave the states due to work/visa, he is now living back with his parents in the UK, So we are currently in a long distance relationship. I don’t have any doubts just find it odd he has yet to tell his parents about us. He came and met my big, amazing yet crazy family over Christmas… I tend to over think things although recently he explained how his parents are getting old and ill and he must be there for them. He is completely loyal and loving although I understand his role and culture so I’m confused.
    Your history, wisdom and opinion is grately appreciated 🙂 xx

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