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Dear Western Bride of a South Asian Groom, Part I

Posted by on April 1, 2013

A dear friend asked me recently for advice as she prepares to wed her South Asian Man. What advice could I give? I am a semi-competent wife, failing to love and listen and learn quite often. I am biased, confused and process things in categories that make sense to me (but maybe not to others). The following are some things that I have learned/am learning on this wonderful journey called Intercultural Marriage.

[Note: Many of these things are applicable in “same-culture” marriages. Every family has its own culture so every marriage is cross-cultural!]

Dear Western Bride of a South Asian Groom,

Congratulations! You have won the heart of a South Asian man, wooed by his bottomless dark eyes, bronzed skin and lilted accent. In preparation for your big day (or several big days, as the case may be), here are a few tips to help you survive and enjoy your mixed wedding.

Let me begin by saying that having been married for nearly 4 years, I consider myself an amateur. These things are as much an exhortation to you as a rebuke to me. No matter how many mistakes you make or people you offend, I will always be 4 years ahead of you in botching up. So don’t worry, you are in good (?) company.

This is random, in no particular order, mildly offensive and not exhaustive. It is also particular to what I have learned based on Varun’s family’s region, religion, language and culture within Indian culture. India is wildly diverse, so this may not be true for your situation or family.


1. Listen more than you speak around your new family.

2. Never disagree openly with your in-laws. In fact, I think you probably shouldn’t ever verbally disagree with them, but I’m still failing growing in that one.

3. When in doubt, do the more respectful thing. “Uncle Raj” or “Raj”? Uncle Raj. Touch feet or shake hands? Touch feet.

4. Your mother-in-law is your new best friend. If she gets up to make chai, follow and help. If she jumps up to serve water, follow and help. If she is talking to an Aunty, stand next to her and look be interested. If she is going shopping, offer to go and keep her company. As a bahu, you are to love on your Mother-in-law.

5. Be more respectful of your fiancé. When his parents and family are around, you’re not simply a Canadian girl in an egalitarian marriage with a husband who happens to be Indian. You have chosen to join an Indian family. In other words, you need to respect him as an Indian wife would.

6. Don’t talk about death. Ever. (See, I’m a rule-breaker)

7. Give your fiancé the space to be Canadian. And Indian. And Indian-Canadian. Let him be confused, and let him take on two different personalities. Don’t put him in a position where he has to choose between you and being Indian. If you find that in India or with his family he has an altered personality, don’t panic. This happens.

8. Be flexible with his parents. Odds are, they are trying to keep up with the rapid changes in their lives. Likely, the wedding you are planning is different than what they spent years envisioning. Let them have that extra toast or the unusual-to-you ceremony at your rehearsal dinner. They may be stressed, generous or demanding…who knows. But, they love him, and by extension, you. And they are now your family.

[Varun would like to add that any concerns you have about his family should be communicated through him to them. Very, very wise.]

9. Speaking of your family. At least in Hindu Indian minds, you have joined their family by marrying in. Join your husband’s family in every way they offer: clothes, jewelry, jokes, cards, birthdays or secret recipes.

10. Smile. You are gorgeous and charming, and a smile can smooth many wrinkles and cultural snafus.

11. Do not ever accept alcohol when anyone elder to you is present. No matter if they say, “C’mon, it’s not formal with us”. It is formal! Nice Indian girls do not drink in front of elders.

12. Give yourself acres and acres of freedom to mess up. With any luck, you’ll have plenty of material to guest blog for me.

13. Pray. A lot.

14. Try it. Whatever it is: try it. Try putting khol under your eyes if they suggest it, try salted lassi (don’t say I didn’t warn you on that one), try wearing sindoor in the part of your hair or cooking dosa.

15. Seek to love. Spend time with God during the stressful pre-wedding days and the crazy family visits. Love on your husband as he seeks to be a mediator for you, to bridge his culture, and to embrace relatives and a country that are slowly becoming foreign to him. Love your new family in any way that makes sense to them.

We are praying for you. And we are here for you, anytime. If you want to call long distance from India or text the night before your wedding, don’t be shy. No matter how selfish or mean you feel, I’m sure I’ve been there. No matter how “interesting” his family seems…Well. We won’t go there. BUT! I love you and I’m excited for you and I may not a flawless example but I can be a fun one!

DSC_0262 dancing III_2

7 Responses to Dear Western Bride of a South Asian Groom, Part I

  1. Lana

    Very helpful information!! Loving your blogs

  2. Sarah

    This is great!! I would also add that if you find something small / insignificant really interesting (like rik-shaws or the way the broom vendor shouts “jhardoo!” early in the morning) express it – adoring your in-laws country is like adoring them 🙂

  3. NPARI

    Lovely post! I am an Indian and am really surprised as to how much you have learnt about being an Indian Bride! 🙂 Good luck to your friend 🙂

  4. MC

    This is beautiful. I loved reading every word. Very insightful:)

  5. American Punjaban PI

    This is really great advice. I’ve been failing in the same sense you have for a little over 2 years now myself. 😀

  6. Heather

    This is a great list. I’m a white American married woman to a Gujarati for almost seven years. My husband’s family and their rather large circle of friends emigrated in the 60’s/70’s and raised their children here as Americans. I’ve taken my cues from the ‘nice Indian girls’ I see at events and they have no problems drinking in front of their in-laws. Also: disagreements abound! It’s part of what makes the events so lively. I definitely followed along with things in the beginning of our relationship and did a LOT of nodding and smiling (and trying to remember all of the aunties and uncles names – still haven’t nailed that seven years later). While I never followed my MIL to serve water or make chai (frankly, I’d just be in the way), I do offer to do the many, many dishes at every party she throws and I know how much she appreciates it. Do I want her secret recipes? Yes! Do I want her to decide what I should wear at certain events? No! I think there’s a healthy balance between assuming another culture’s customs and holding fast to some of your own. While I hope I’ve never disrespected my in-laws, I know they like that I have opinions about things. And I know that they admire my very egalitarian marriage.

    Just wanted to offer another perspective!

    • Amelia

      Hey Heather,

      Thanks for dropping by! I love hearing your experience and what has worked for you and your family. It sounds like you have found a really great balance.

      I think part of what makes my list maybe more “conservative”, is that my in-laws live in India. I think that makes family roles a bit more traditional than in families who have lived in the States for years.

      Glad to know there is room for disagreement within the family 😉

Thoughts? I love hearing from you!