Do Westerners divorce too easily or do Indians stick around too long? – 17 Mar 16

I yesterday told you of one of our first experiences at Ammaji’s Ayurvedic Restaurant. The four of us, Purnendu, Yashendu, Ramona and I, have committed ourselves completely to our new work and love getting fully involved in everything surrounding it! We are thus often talking to our guests before or after their order, collect feedback, help serving and constantly improve our new venture. One of these conversations which Ramona had with a female customer was rather interesting, as it mirrored a very Indian view on westerners and their relationships!

The lady had come from Delhi together with her adult daughter. It was their first time in Vrindavan and they were happy that they had found our restaurant so that they could relax during lunch after a busy morning of visiting temples. Ramona started a conversation and soon they also asked where she was from and how long she had already been in India. They got to know that we were married and the moment Ramona told this, I was just walking by, so I stopped as well to greet our guests. The older lady got serious and told Ramona: ‘You know, now that you are married here, you should stay. We Indians believe a marriage is forever!’

We replied she should not worry, Ramona would not run away from me!

Obviously, we laughed but the fact that this woman had mentioned this shows a widely popular perception Indians have of relationships and marriages in the west: they believe western people easily break up and even leave their spouses much more frequently and maybe even without thinking much about it.

In a way, it is true: the divorce rate in the west is significantly higher than the one here in India. It is also true, the average Indian will have a lower number of relationships throughout his life than the average westerner.

There are a few different thoughts and facts to this however, too: In India, relationships before marriage are not appreciated which is why people don’t normally make it known when they are in a committed relationship. Or they don’t regard physical contact or emotional attachment as a relationship, as it is not a usual concept in this society. It happens in hidden and when it is over, it is simply as though nothing has ever happened. That’s how in the west, there seems to be much more trial and error – while in India, it also happens, just not officially. Maybe less, but it does happen, too.

When it comes to the divorce rate, it is very clear why exactly there are less divorces in India: not because people are much happier in their arranged marriages with people they had never known. No, there is the same amount of unhappiness and failure to communicate in between spouses – but divorce is such a taboo in society that most people just don’t think it is an option! Women are dependent on their husbands and cannot sustain themselves or their children, families offer little to no support to relatives that want to get a divorce, religion opposes the very idea of ‘turning against your fate’ and especially as a divorced woman, life can be difficult and even insecure at times.

So while many Indians think westerners divorce too easily, I often think Indians make divorce too difficult. Men and women often live in misery due to this. Of course, some people in the west don’t try to work on issues in their relationship in order to solve them – but sometimes Indians just don’t see that nothing helps and it would be better if each went his or her own way!

It’s all about Sex! – India’s distorted View on the West – 2 Sep 15

In the past two days, I told you about things I had seen on the news: the situation of refugees in Europe and how people there welcome and support them. The most of this is not something I got from mainstream Indian news though but online from German or international news. Here in India, we get the main news of the west – and then some additional funny ones on top. I believe these additional stories are partly responsible for the way many Indians see the west and western people.

Let me explain this a bit more in detail. I have told you many times that a lot of Indians have a very funny impression of the west. They believe that life in the west means living in a ‘free sex culture’. This term in itself is funny and whoever uses it has usually a completely different idea of its meaning than any other person using the same word!

In the international section of our newspapers, we get first of all every political information: Obama’s decisions, the UN and its work, Europe’s struggle for saving Greece within the European Union and so on. There is more however: we also get lifestyle information!

Now don’t think that we get to hear a lot about Hollywood – we have Bollywood, so we don’t need more stars, movies or singers! No, we get very specific stories which are definitely going to sell well with the readers: anything, as long as sex is involved!

For example when an Australian woman in Britain got arrested for cruelty with animals. Not just any cruelty! The police actually did a raid in her home, searching for drugs and confiscated her mobile – but instead of getting any drug-related information, they found a video clip of her having sex with her dog!

Definitely the most important type of news that Britain had to offer on that day!

Or another time, I believe it was after the countrywide graduations, when 5500 teenagers were celebrating at a beach in Scotland. There were a few different groups, they were drunk and got into a fight. When the police arrived, they did not only arrest the fighting drunkards but also several dozen teenagers who were having sex at the side of the road. The newspaper heading says here: "Sex at the beach"

I guess you can see where this is going! There was not much further information and the rest is left to our imagination! We regularly get such news – so I believe it is no wonder if the regular Indian gets a distorted idea of the west! If you never have the possibility to go and live there for a while, if you don’t watch actual English TV and if you don’t actually get to talk with western people, you will most probably have this kind of impression of the west: it’s all about sex!

How constant Guidance can hinder the Development of your Child – 11 Aug 15

While Ramona and I were watching Apra playing, our talk came, as so often when we are with her, to the topic of parenting and how what you are doing now has such a big effect on your child’s future. This time, we thought about the difference in giving your child instructions on what to do and giving your child freedom to do what he or she wants.

I believe you need a balance of both but with a small comparison of our two countries and cultures we noticed that many people often go extreme in either one or the other way!

If you visit families here in India, a lot of times you will notice that there are adults at home but they don’t actively interact with the children. The mother is doing household chores, other family members may be talking and the children are playing on their own. They find their games on their own, their toys on their own and practically fill their time without instructions, fixed games or an adult who plays with them.

Sometimes and especially in uneducated families, this can lead to big dangers! Children explore their surrounding – which is definitely not child-proof – and often get serious injuries. Had an adult been there with them or simply paying more attention, accidents could have been avoided. Even in joint families, where there would be enough adults for one to be looking after the kids, such things happen.

In the west children are, as I have seen in many families, really constantly under supervision and mostly also actively engaged with one adult. While this prevents bad accidents from happening, it also gives adults the possibility to get to know and further develop any talents in the children.

From a very young age, there is structured play time. Adults prepare the toys that children should play with and they play with them, giving constant input and teaching them. Then children go to Kindergarten and school, where it is anyway structured. After school time, there are classes for learning instruments or for doing sports and of course homework needs to be done as well. There are instructions for what should be done and in which sequence. Even on play dates with friends I have seen parents who feel the need to tell their children exactly what to play.

The problem I see with too much of this guidance is that the children get so used to doing what others tell them to, they don’t even know anymore what they want to do themselves! Especially with traditional schooling methods and strict parenting, they are not encouraged to try and find out! They cannot fall and realize it hurts. They never had to decide what to do. And then they don’t know what they really want to do either!

We end up with a whole lot of young adults who don’t actually know what to do with their time. They get out of school and still wait for their parents to tell them where to apply for a job or a teacher to tell them how to go on with their lives. They follow only what they are being told because they feel comfortable with that.

I believe we need to give children free space to develop their own wishes. We should softly guide them to learn but at the same time have to give them enough space to find out what they would like to learn! We should keep them safe without preventing them from making their own experiences.

Impact of Religion and God on People’s Lives – comparing India and Western Countries – 3 Aug 15

I have been writing a lot about atheism in the past week and I definitely still have a lot of ideas and thoughts for this topic which I would like to share with you. At this point however, I have to think of my readers in the west. I know that for many, the discussion whether there is a god or not is actually not really important. And this is something that I would like to explain my Indian friends while simultaneously telling my western friends why it is an explosive topic here in India.

It is really a difference in culture: in the west, I have a lot of friends of whom I am not exactly sure whether they believe in god or not. In India, I will very quickly know this. In the west, I have a lot of friends who see themselves as belonging to a religion, mostly Christianity – but we are nevertheless of the same opinion on so many topics! That’s something that doesn’t really work well in India.

It is a fact that for a whole lot of people in the west, religion and god is not very important. They may grow up in a religious frame, be baptized, then celebrate a Christian ritual in puberty, the confirmation, and then also marry in a church. They may also go to church on Christmas and Easter. Apart from that however, their lives do not include the question of god and religion very much. In their daily life, they may not think of god at all, no matter what their basic attitude is.

That’s how, when two such people meet, their belief is not a question. They don’t care much whether the other one believes in god or not because they don’t think it is important. In a family, parents can easily accept if their son tells them he doesn’t want to go to church anymore or only wants to marry in court, not in a church. A daughter may, in the same way, just go along to church on Christmas, even if she doesn’t believe in anything the priest says.

In India, it is very different. Here, the question of belief separates families! Belief plays a huge role in daily life and the more traditional and religious people are, the more your whole childhood has been divided into religious festivals, celebrations, ceremonies and rituals. There are days and weeks to fast, there are days to go to temples and there are others when you don’t. You have to remember certain rules as to what you can wear at certain times and which gestures and words you should use so that you don’t hurt religious feelings or make god angry. There is a deep belief that your soul’s wellbeing depends on all of this!

So when a son announces that he does not believe in God, parents get worried, confused and angry. Friends cannot understand it and common activities stop because nobody wants endless discussions and even fights! People end up cut off from their old lifestyle and surroundings, having to search completely new social circles.

That’s how this discussion is so important here. It is about your daily life, not only about two holidays per year. It is about the basics of your attitude. And that’s why I feel I have to talk about it – because people are afraid of it!

I have also turned from a believer to an atheist. I feel that many of my Indian friends have become more distant or our friendship even broke. With my western friends however, I have not made this experience – with most of them, I feel like it doesn’t matter at all! It seems as though the person is more important than the belief!

I have said before that the world would be a better place with more atheists. This is not actually much about the question whether you believe in god or not. And that’s how it is important for people all around the world! But more about that tomorrow.

A few more Tips for Indians preparing to live in the West – 9 Jul 15

After three weeks of writing about relationships of western women and Indian men, I believe this will be my last blog entry in this series. I had no idea when I started, that I would have so much to write about but I had a notion already that it is something that many people would like to read about. I know many people in the situations I have described and I am writing of course partly from my personal experience as well. Today I will finish this topic with my remaining thoughts that didn’t fit in anywhere until now.

One subject that can be an issue sometimes is vegetarianism. If you are a vegetarian, it can be difficult in some countries to go to a restaurant. The situation has massively improved for vegetarians in the past years but depending on the country and also the size of the town that you are in, you may only find that a tomato soup or a green salad are the only vegetarian options on the menu! A request for just some vegetables with rice can be met with incredulous and intolerant responses or offers to pick out the meat for you before.

And while there are Indian restaurants, you will not find one which really gives you the taste of India, the taste of your home! It is not necessarily their fault – it’s a restaurant after all and not your mum’s kitchen. They use imported ingredients which cannot taste as fresh as in India or local ones which will obviously taste different. On top of that, they are definitely too expensive to go there regularly. So my suggestion would be to learn cooking from your mum and then take some spices from India along to your new country – you will get as close as you can!

You will however also get to taste some local food and probably develop a taste for that as well. In some countries, it may surprise you how much bread people eat – daily and for example nothing else for breakfast! I have seen Indians watching with shock how a German breakfast could consist of different kinds of bread with jam, cheese or bread spread! If you get to eat German bread however, you will realize that it is definitely very tasty and might consider including it instead of making your roti yourself!

I hope I could give you a few thoughts and ideas. I wish everybody in an intercultural relationship all the best for whatever way you choose, whichever country you choose and whichever issues you face!

Oh, and one last thing for my Indian fellows in the west: if you are driving your car and get stopped by police, don’t try to bribe them… that will most certainly lead to the biggest trouble of your life!

When Indians learn how to do shopping in the West – 8 Jul 15

The day before yesterday I told that an Indian man who moves to the west to be with his girlfriend or wife, has to get used to western individualism. Yesterday I explained how one also needs to be independent in other ways in the west. I would like to take this image of independence a bit further to explain another difference: the shopping experience!

Everyone who has ever been in India and a western country will know immediately what I mean. While the mall culture with huge shopping centers that contain showrooms of big companies has reached India’s cities as well, in a biggest part of the country, this is not the norm! In India, you buy vegetables on the market, and every other thing in relatively small shops that are more or less specified only on the things you are looking for.

Now you are in the west and discover that in your town, there is no daily market! Only once or twice a week you get to see those market stands and see fresh vegetables there. The rest of the days? Most people go to a supermarket to buy them! A place where you can, depending on its size, get everything else as well! Groceries and hygiene products but also clothes, household utensils, and sometimes even washing machines, and motorbikes!

Now you stand in this big place and don’t even know where to start. You are looking for a pack of dry chickpeas. Not the ones in the can – the ones that you have to cook yourself until they are soft. Where to find them? Do you remember my words about independence? Here it comes again: you are pretty much on your own here. I told you that manpower is expensive in western countries and this is true in this case once again. Unlike in India, where there are usually three salespeople on one customer in a regular shop, you can imagine a ratio of fifty customers on one employee! That’s how everything is set up for you to find your chickpeas on your own!

Read the signs, follow the aisles and look out for packages of dry pulses, lentils and rice. Look, read labels and prices, compare yourself and finally choose. Put it in a shopping cart, push it yourself to the cashier counter, unpack the items yourself onto the belt and pay for them. No bargaining, only previously advertised discounts. In most countries you have to pack it all yourself into your bag after scanning. If you came by car, you will be the one to bring the things back to the car!

Independence!

It is the same for nearly everything you buy. Shops have huge displays of their merchandise for you to choose from, also if it is clothes or shoes. Of course there is staff whom you can ask for another size if you don’t find yours but sometimes you have to search a long time to find a staff member!

Oh yes, and did I mention that this independence goes as far as furniture, kitchen and bathroom equipment? Really, you can buy all that in big furniture houses – IKEA, to name one – and then take it home to assemble it yourself! Enjoy figuring that out if you have never used a hammer or screwdriver because in your country, a carpenter doesn’t charge a fortune!

So if you are once more lost among the aisles, staring at words written in a foreign language, trying to figure out what they could mean or despairing in front of a half-assembled shelf, searching for that screw ‘C’ that should go into hole ‘D’, remember your partner, the one person in this country whom you can always ask for help!

Another small tip for when it all gets too much for you: there are still small shops in the west, too. They are mostly in the center of town and they may be a bit more expensive but they usually have better service and often better quality, too! Spend a bit more money on organic food, enjoy a talk with a salesman who actually has knowledge about what he is selling and know that you are doing something good for your body by choosing these shops. If you can, financially, do that – it will support the local market instead of big corporations!

Enjoy your newly found independence!

Living in the West – it teaches you to be truly independent! – 7 Jul 15

Yesterday I explained my fellow countrymen who are moving to a western country to be with their western girlfriend or wife that it takes time getting used to the western individualism as well as the silence that comes along with it. I told how normal it is for parents to teach their children independence. It is not only a tradition – you have to really be independent when living in the west!

Well, it might be confusing if I just use the word ‘independent’ without clarifying in which way. I don’t actually mean financially – as you may or may not have people who support you. No, it is more about all the things that you, as a man, may not have needed to do in a joint family because there were women who did it for you.

Oh yes, you will very, very probably learn a lot of new things in your first months in the west! Do you know how to cook? No? Well, I think your girlfriend will not be happy to always be the one in the kitchen. She might agree on a deal: you do the dishes! Never did that? It’s easier to learn than cooking! Do you know how to wash your clothes? Good – now learn how to use a washing machine, maybe a dryer, an iron, which fabric softener to use and how to remove tough stains from your best shirt! You may have never used a vacuum cleaner and you are not used to cleaning your toilet yourself?

Especially the last one is the most difficult part for a lot of Indians – but it needs to be done! When you are living alone with your western wife or girlfriend, she won’t agree on doing all the chores herself, especially as you are most probably both also contributing to the household income! This means you need to share the work that comes with a flat or house as well!

If you now think ‘No problem, I will pay someone to help us!’, I would like to just remind you that you are not going to be living in India anymore. In India, there are a whole lot of people who are looking for any work at just a low salary – because there are many of these and the cost of a basic living is not very high. In the west, manpower is rare and thus expensive! A cleaning lady also wants to be able to live in this expensive country – and you will have to pay her from your salary, from which you also have to buy vegetables, clothes and other things which you will probably consider as outrageously expensive compared to Indian prices!

I tell you, unless you have a lot of money, you will decide to learn cooking in cleaning yourself. And don’t worry – it’s easier than you think! 🙂

There are a few more topics that will be new or different to you and I will write more about these in the next days.

Indian Men, please read, if you are about to move to the West with your western Partner – 6 Jul 15

After having written about the challenges that a western woman may face if she comes to live with her Indian partner in India, I would like to turn the tables around today and probably in the next days as well. What if the Indian man moves to the west instead? There are more things than only the adjustment within your relationship! And one very big one is the change from the joint family living in India to the individuality that is very normal in nearly all western countries I have been to.

For one, you are most probably not going to live together with your partner’s parents and other family members. If you have never heard of this before, it may sound a bit strange to you but in the west, it is normal that a child moves out of the home at the age of 18 or 20. It is not because they have problems in their home or don’t get along – it is simply how things are done. And while in India, young adults may also go to another city for their education, they normally return home afterwards, if they somehow can, so that they can live with their joint family.

In the west, children are trained from the very beginning to be independent. It is individualism, a thinking of ‘mine’ and ‘yours’ which may seem very strange and impersonal to you at times. Most of all, it may feel very lonely.

As a man who has grown up among siblings, aunts, uncles and grandparents, it can feel strange to come home to an empty flat. No laughter of children, noise of chatting family members or pots and pans in the kitchen. Maybe the noise of one single person, your partner, in the house – how much can that be? Anyway, there is much less noise in most parts of the western world than there is nearly always in India – but you notice it most in your own home. You have to get used to the fact that it is only the two of you – or work on a baby real quick!

Additionally however, you have to realize that this also means that family people are just not as close to each other. They are normally not as overwhelmingly emotional as Indians are! In Indian tradition, the son-in-law is welcomed in his wife’s home just like a prince. If you expect this kind of welcome in your in-laws’ home, you may be terribly disappointed – simply because they are not that emotional and don’t make such a celebration out of relations as it often happens in India!

Obviously, there is also love in between family members in the west and there are big differences in between individual families when closeness is concerned. Again, it depends on all the different people involved.

Should you feel lonely however, remember why you came to this foreign country – to be with the love of your life! So get up, think of something nice and concentrate on your relationship! Or on wondering about the other changes of your life that come with the change of country and culture you are living in! I will write more about them tomorrow.

Indian Men: does it freak you out if your western Wife hugs her male Friends? – 25 Jun 15

I yesterday explained to Indian men in relationship with western women that their partners are most likely much more independent than an Indian wife would be. If you are in such a relationship, you must thus take care that you don’t restrict your western wife out of your fear or cultural views on what ‘a woman should not do’. The same holds true for another aspect of her life, which could lead to big conflicts: her friendships with men.

A straight-forward question: will you be jealous of your wife’s male friends? If so, you better start working on stopping this right now!

It doesn’t matter whether you are going to live in her country or in India, your wife most probably has several male friends from a time that you were not even in her thoughts yet. She will talk to them, meet them, spend time with them and most probably get closer to them than you are comfortable with. When she will meet men, especially when you are in the west, she will treat them equally to women whom she just met – and I know you will at first feel funny about this, too.

It is no wonder! You come from a country where men and women don’t even shake hands when they meet! A culture in which still today a lot of schools are either for boys or for girls! Here, men cannot even normally talk with women, how could they think of actually making female friends? Mothers and fathers warn their daughters not to spend their free time with any boy who is not their brother or they will get a bad reputation and then not be able to find a man who would marry them, as all boys’ parents will doubt that she is a virgin!

I know, among college students, things are changing in India, too, but that again is only a small percentage of people in this huge country and most people in India still see any touch of a man and a woman as something sexual!

That is exactly what you have to get out of your mind: in the west, a hug in between men and women when they meet is nothing sexual! They can kiss each other on the cheek and they just want to say hello, nothing else! So if your western wife gets happy to see an old friend when he comes to visit in India and hugs him close and long, don’t freak out. If your wife goes out to work and you know she will sit at the same desk and work in a team with her male colleague, who also happens to be a friend by now, don’t mistrust her!

You need to learn to trust her as well! If you live in the west, your wife will go to the beach in a bikini and wear her usual skirts and tops in which she would be considered ‘indecent’ in India but which are totally normal to wear in the west. She will enjoy days and evenings with friends – female and male – and you will not always be there to see exactly what happens in between all of them. You have to get rid of your jealousy because you cannot ask her to get rid of her friends – that would most probably be the end of your relationship!

There are more such topics and potential difficulties which you can more easily navigate if you have talked about them before. I am already looking forward to describing them next week!

Why a western Woman’s Independence sometimes scares her Indian Partner – 24 Jun 15

I yesterday wrote that western women and Indian men in a relationship need to consider the woman’s situation after marriage – will she stay at home or go to work? While many such and similar questions also depend on where in the world you decide to get settled, there is a general difference between an Indian woman and a western woman and an Indian man and a western man which you will definitely discover once you live together, no matter where. I thought I might already give you a few ideas about western women’s independence and why it may surprise Indian men.

My male friends getting involved with a western woman: you are in for a surprise! Simply by the way how things work in the west, your western lady will come equipped with several skills that you may not even know much of yourself! Due to the fact that girls are far more equally raised to boys in the west, girls get to do all the same stuff. Society does not restrict women as much as it happens in India. It is often safe for women to go nearly everywhere at any time alone where a man could go. And based on the fact that the cost of human resources is much higher in many western countries, people learn how to do a lot of things themselves instead of paying something to get them done.

In the consequence, you have to get used to the fact that a western woman will, in general, be far more independent than your average Indian wife would be. She won’t shy away from carrying suitcases, painting the house and climbing trees. She pays electricity bills, drives a car and travels on her own around the world.

Instead of trying to restrict her, respect and appreciate her skills! Learn from her how to soften these gender roles and try something new which you considered a ‘female task’ until now! See how much you benefit from this, as you share responsibilities rather than having to shoulder it all!

You however, my female friends, will need to be patient and understand where it comes from when your Indian partner feels uncomfortable about some of your bolder actions. Even if you are just climbing a ladder to change a light bulb – he is not used to women doing such tasks! Indian women often prefer being the nurturing and caring mother or the tender and delicate princess that needs her husband.

Show your man that you are very well able to use your hands and legs. Insist on keeping your freedom where you need it – and let him sometimes carry your suitcase, too! Enjoy that your Indian partner will do more for you in this regard and be more helpful than a western man might be. I am sure you can, at least from time to time, appreciate the image of the strong man that does manly tasks. He may just need this at times.

Finally, of course, if you are living in India, listen to your husband if he tells you not to go alone to certain areas in town. As soon however as this gets too much and feels like a restriction to you which bothers you, you need to talk – his urge to keep you safe might have taken over and maybe crossed the limit of what is necessary!

These are all of course not only things to talk about but also to practice, which can only be done when you are together. But you will, at least, have an idea already and lots of chance to discuss!

There are a lot more topics to consider – and I will write more about them in the next days!