This past semester I took a course on Cross-cultural counselling. Part of the coursework was a weekly journal reflecting on anything I’ve learned, thought about, or found challenging from the course material. I decided to post parts of these reflections in a weekly series called “Many Villages”.
In class we watched a Grey’s Anatomy video clip about a cross-cultural interaction within a helping profession. As I saw the young patient interact with her immigrant parents, I was surprised at how agitated I became. Conversations I’ve had, family patterns that perplex me, and cultural norms that leave me baffled flooded my brain. I was amazed at how quickly I went from a casual onlooker of a TV show to an anxious young bride.
Let me be clear: I love the Indian culture in my life. I enjoy cooking Indian food, I like learning Hindi and I adore Indian music and dancing. I love the depth and texture our multicultural home has. But if I’m honest, there are certain aspects of Indian family culture which are hard for me to grasp. Were I a casual onlooker reading a book about Indian family life, I would shrug and laugh off these differences. But to me, to our family, these differences run deep, cutting crevices where I would rather they not.
In the video, something about the way that the girl deferred to her parents, despite knowing it could cost her her mobility, made me uncomfortable. What right do her parents have to expect that?
Even as I type that, I know there are western paradigms tattooed all over those words. And this is what frightens me: knowing there are paradigms I fail to see, cannot embrace, don’t seem to value.
It reminds me of those Magic Eye 3D books we used to look at as kids. To the naked eye, the pages looked like sloppy pixels. But if you crossed your eyes and moved the book away slowly, a dinosaur or the Eiffel Tower would pop out of the pixels and appear obvious.
The problem is, I can see the images of family and respect, but I can’t sustain them. When the situations become real and my emotions or relationships get involved, my eyes uncross and all I see are pixels again. I feel as if there is a world of understanding that I cannot seem to enter because I understand a world where things work a different way.
What bothers me the most is that I cannot seem to loosen my Western thoughts and enter an Indian psyche. I can see it, observe it and describe it. But I cannot slide into it and wear it like an old tee-shirt. I find it awkward, bulky, and obviously ill-fitting on my western frame.
Naturally, I’m a curious person and a peacemaker. I like to facilitate understanding and I love acting as a cultural liaison. As a sister and a daughter-in-law, a wife and a soon-t0-be-mother, I want to grow in my ability to accept cultural paradigms that are different from mine. I want to learn to respect and love my Indian family in a way that makes sense to them…and to me.
And you know what? I love my husband. And I love his family. I count down the days ’til we can visit his homeland and immerse ourselves in the culture that runs in his veins. And so, it’s my joyful, and sometimes cumbersome, task as a wife to grow in understanding and love of Indian paradigms.
What about you? What cultural differences do you find upsetting or strange or even a little bit scary? What has helped you in growing in cultural understanding? What has helped you in shifting paradigms?