Varun and I were beaming as we piled the chai-stained mugs into the sink and began scrubbing away the remains of hours of food and conversation. The dishes were quickly cleaned as we recounted the joys of catching up with old friends. And the joy of how natural it was.
Our friends, you see, are like us. She’s Caucasian, and was born and raised in the US of A. He’s Indian, and was raised in Canada, speaking Hindi. They live in India where he works as a Pastor. And they have the cutest 9 month old I may have ever seen*. Although we only see them when we travel to India, in many ways it felt like we’ve been friends forever. There was something so refreshing about hanging out. I couldn’t quite place my finger on it, but A put it quite succinctly when he noted, “If our Indian friends don’t know our North American side, it’s really hard for them to get to know us. It’s like they don’t know a whole part of us”. BAM. There it is.
I think this is the holding pattern in which most intercultural partners find themselves. We’ve worked hard to understand each other’s culture and background, we’ve integrated traditions, language and values. But what life beyond our home? We either live in my culture or yours, we either speak my language or yours, our friends are either familiar or unfamiliar.
Sometimes, we find ourselves in a room full of North Americans who (understandably) think that because we live here, we’re North American. There’s a whole side of our life, story and family that’s missing. Varun’s language, family, culture and upbringing can painted over in broad brushstrokes. To be fair, the same thing happens when we’re in India. Most people haven’t traveled to North America or spent much time with local families. As a result, they assume that my assimilation, adoption of Indian dress and elementary Hindi skills are normative. They rarely ask what’s shocking or difficult for me.
And friends, this is totally normal.
We are blessed to have the most loving families and awesomest (that’s a word) friends in the world. And they go to serious lengths to make us feel comfortable wherever we are. But there is something super special about being with a couple who has lived the same reality.
For couples in intercultural relationships, the landscape is fluid. We live caught in between two worlds, and are privileged to be neck deep in two cultures. We have loving friends and family who create an amazing mosaic of relationships. And we are beyond thankful to share our difficulties and delights with friends who understand.
*I should say that I consider every kid the cutest kid I’ve ever seen. Especially my friend’s kids.