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.

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English Life, Indian Wife

I expected to have all of those ‘repatriation’ culture shocks, but coming back to England was like slipping back in time, into the warm slippers of my comfort zone. England is just the same as it always was, have I just woken up from a complex and life changing dream? The changes I feel are within myself, not the world around me. I feel stronger and calmer, more stable. Last time I stood on English soil, I was suffering with anxiety disorder and depression, life was difficult, looking back I am surprised I managed the journey to India in my condition! Returning to England has revealed to me how much I have changed.

India forced me face my fears head on, I was thousands of miles away from my definition of normal. Along with discovering more about my own spirituality, that push, however stressful, has given me strength that those little white pills never could (I’m talking about antidepressants)! I am pretty proud of myself and so grateful to my fabulous husband for being so supportive during my first year in India (I miss him so much!).

England is cold and Christmasy! After having a year-long summer (by English standards), that first blast of icy air when I left Heathrow airport was refreshing, it didn’t take more than a couple of second for ‘refreshing’ to become unbearable, but I did savour that moment while it lasted!

I must have eaten my weight in cheese products and already have several Christmas songs stuck in my head. Whilst I absolutely love celebrating Hindu festivals, they do not hold the magical nostalgia that Christmas has. That extra spark that I am sure my husband feels for Diwali, childhood memories and familiar traditions. It’s such a relief to see my family again and I’m feeling so excited to see some of my dear friends later this week!

So here I am, feeling like an Indian wife living an English life, wearing cosy slippers! 

(The header image, for those who do not know, is of the birth of Jesus Christ and the reason for celebrating Christmas. I am planning on writing several posts about Christmas and Christmas traditions before the big event itself. Picture credit: fellowshipofminds.com)

Our Big Indian Wedding

Our wedding day was not how I expected or imagined it to be. I really wish I had attended several Indian weddings before I plunged into my own. In hindsight, I thought it would be the same as a Western wedding in many ways, but with more rituals and more colours (naïve). I didn’t understand Indian bridal etiquette. Despite my husband’s best efforts, I felt insignificant and uncomfortable on the ‘happiest day of my life’. I just wish I knew what to expect, then I think I would not have found it so hard. I was not prepared.

I am so happy and grateful my family came all the way to India to be at my wedding. They really helped make it special for me! Laughing can always make you feel better, and my sister Kirsty, she really made me laugh. She made me laugh when I was crying and made me laugh when I wanted to cry. She did my hair and make up but most importantly, she made me laugh.

saree sisters white gori foreigners firangi mango red roses

The first part of our marriage ceremony involved everyone throwing rice at us as the priests chanted mantras. My suggestions for the decorations and garlands had been ignored, among other things, and I was feeling as if I was attending someone else’s wedding. I was upset. Kirsty stood right behind me and threw her rice right down my saree blouse, I could feel her doing it and I could hear her laughing about it. I couldn’t stop laughing, After each mantra, more rice was thrown, so after each mantra, I cracked up. You cannot imagine how much rice I had collected in my blouse.

Putting a garland on my husband

We had to sit on the stage for a while after this ritual. I could see the guests talking to each other, they were gesturing to each other as they spoke, with looks of confusion. I could see many people touching their arms, commenting about my lack of bangles. I really wish I knew how much people would judge my lack of bridal adornments. In the West, less is considered more. In India, more is more. Whilst watching the guests critique my appearance, I felt uncomfortable. I looked uncomfortable, my anxiety ran wild.

marathi wedding, cheek pinching from my blonde sister

So many people were taking photographs of us and I was lost in my own thoughts. My sisters noticed and so started making funny faces at me, standing behind the photographer, trying to make me smile. It worked. I smiled and I laughed, they would pop up out of nowhere with a huge smiles, hovering behind anyone taking a photograph.

My sisters at my wedding taking photos indian clothes

My sisters!

After our heads were knocked together about one-hundred times (a Marathi marriage tradition, knocking the heads of the bride and groom together), I had to change into my bridal saree for the wedding ceremony.  I was assured that I would have at least an hour to get ready for the wedding ceremony but in reality, the time had changed again and we only had ten minutes. Kirsty grabbed the bouquet of roses I had been given and stuck them into my hair, the result was amazing! She then gave me her diamond earrings to wear for the ceremony. She took them out of her own ears and gave them to me. 

Paithani saree, rose, Marathi wedding ceremony

The day of the reception, my husband and I had to be involved in another pooja. I cried throughout the entire thing. The end of the wedding meant my family were going to soon leave India. I was anxious and scared of all the guests coming to the reception, 700 people were expected to attend. Indian weddings are so different from Western weddings in so many ways. Usually only family and close friends attend a wedding in England. My husband did not know 75% of the guests. I was tired and frustrated.

garlands | marathi marriage | brahmin marathi |intercultural marriage |white indian wife | love

We arrived to the hotel to see my family and get ready for the reception pretty late. When got there and Kirsty announced that she had taken my younger sister, Sophie, to the mall! I couldn’t believe they just got a taxi and went shopping, it took me weeks to go out in India on my own. The really sweet thing was, they went out and bought me a jewelry set for the reception, Kirsty even let me wear her diamond bracelet. She styled my hair and put on my make up and, as always, continued to make me laugh.

The reception was beautiful. It was a surreal and exhausting experience though. Our faces hurt from smiling after meeting so many people and posing for so many photographs. I felt really beautiful, thanks to the look on my husband’s face and my gorgeous sister and all her sweet and generous efforts. 

lehenga | white wedding | british indian wedding |wedding reception | marathi wedding | Indian | Tuxedo | gorgeous husband

I am really surprised how much the whole “being a bride” thing meant to me, I guess all of those hours daydreaming about my wedding day as a child burst out from my subconscious. I guess we naturally want to put our wedding day on a pedestal and to claim it was ‘perfect’. Life isn’t perfect and things do go wrong, I guess our wedding showed me I need to learn how to deal with them when they do.

Some moments though, are perfect…

applying sindoor english wife indian life