Living with someone from a different culture makes me realize that what I consider normal and obvious is sometimes arbitrary and contradicting. For example: Personal space is prized in the west, as is the right to display affection publicly. So why is odd to me that in India, a country where PDA’s are a no-go, personal space is nearly nonexistent?
I was recently telling a friend about my experience of going to India to meet Varun’s parents two years ago. Among the things that I had to grow accustomed to was the Indian family style of lounging.
In my family, most conversations, arguments and bonding happen over food. Holidays are marked by hours logged around the breakfast, lunch or dinner table eating meals, debating politics and snacking when meals are finished and conversation continues. Sometimes, if we’re really feeling ambitious, we’ll move the conversation to the couch.
Which is why I was surprised to find that most family conversations in Varun’s parents house take place in the bedroom. On the bed.
A day after we landed in India, Varun’s mom, sister, Varun and I packed up to visit his Papa in Varun’s maternal grandfather’s village. It was there that I truly began to get to know his family. As evening settled, I was summoned to the room Varun’s parents were staying in. To me, this seemed odd: in my family, and I think most of North America, parent’s bedrooms are rarely entered by guests and adult children. Hesitantly, I walked in. I was a bit surprised to see Varun, his sister and parents sprawled out together on the bed. I smiled shyly and stood in the doorway. With one inviting gesture, I was welcomed into the new normal: laying side by side with my fiance, his parents and sister for hours at a time.
My mind rushed to make sense of the moment: Varun had told me we shouldn’t hold hands in front of his parents, but here we all were, laying next to one another watching TV. I imagined the look on my parents face if they saw me laying on a bed next to my fiance. Still, what could happen, surrounded by parents and a sibling? (Nothing, fyi).
That first visit, I had to consciously will myself to slip onto the bed beside Varun’s mom or sister and recline, chatting for hours. (Reminding myself that “normal” is relative). But as time has worn on, and more visits have been made, I’ve come to enjoy the intimacy. There are moments when the realization that I’m laying on a bed with my husband and his family makes me marvel in confusion, but like so many other aspects of our life and marriage, I laugh it off and enjoy it.