Cultural differences

When the family visits

11:04 AM

My family lives in Switzerland, DH’s in Lucknow and since we are in Mumbai that means we only see our respective parents once a year or so.
My mom comes to visit, and we head to Lucknow to visit my in-laws, on rare occasion do they come to stay with us, but it is a less practical arrangement, they have a big house and we live in a 800 sg ft 2BHK at the moment. The both time they came to stay for several weeks we were living in a 600 sq ft apartment, it gets really crammed fast.

But there is one thing I noticed between all the guests we had, and that seem to be a cultural trend many of my fellow Gori friends noticed happened when family visits too.

My Swiss friends and family who came to visit and stayed at my place have a non-invasive attitude, they all slept on the sofa cum bed in our living room in Bangalore, and inevitably the minute they would wake up their first reflex was to fold the blanket and bed sheet and put it into a neat pile on a chair, out of the way and fold the bed back into sofa mode so that everybody can enjoy the living room during the day, they often beat me to the punch in doing so and made sure that no trace of bedtime activity was left visible in that room, which I must say is a very thoughtful thing to do considering that back then the sofa in bed mode took the entire space and it was though to navigate around the unfolded behemoth that the sofa became in sleep time mode.
Now when we had m in-laws, or in-law relatives over, it never failed, the damned thing seemed permanently stuck in bed mode and they all wanted it to remain that way, blankets and pillows laid in disarray on the bed the whole time, and during the day we were all forced to sit on the bed to socialise and eat food there too since we had no dinning table. Call me anal but I seriously think that food, especially Indian gravy laden food has no space whatsoever in bed, and especially not on my quality bed sheets, grease spots never leave completely and it is beyond ridiculous when all it takes is 5 minutes to straighten the room for the day. But the argument about how it is tiring to fold and unfold the sofa everyday arose on occasion, not to mention my in-laws like to lie down in bed the whole day long too. So we spent once 4 weeks tripping over the sofa/bed simply because that’s how my in-laws wanted it to be…in my home!

The bed issue is not the only thing, my family and friends help around the house, make sure their clothes stays in one neat corner, and do wash the dishes when they see the pile of plates missing in the cupboard after my maid left in the morning. My desi family, not so much, the first time my in-law came my MIL would just let me wash the 4 plates we had after each MIL and only told DH that it was unacceptable that our maid didn’t come twice a day to wash them, never mind that maids in Bangalore rarely do the twice a day deal thing, DH tried to point out that with a little cooperation it’s no biggie to wash a couple of plates and a pan, and that when it’s just me and him we really don’t need a maid washing dishes round the clock anyway, this turned out into…let Cyn wash them then, and I spent my day cooking every meal from scratch (because 3 hours old rice put in a Tupperware box in the fridge isn’t fresh anymore) and all the time in between meals washing up things for the next meal. That was the most extreme, but my desi relatives just can’t see re-using one glass of water more than once, and just drink and leave them around the house. My Swiss family and friends just drink the water from the glass and take it around with them, or just go straight to the sink, rinse it and put it in the drain basket so that it is ready for the next person to use, we have about 8 glasses, and two steel tumbler, it never fails when our guest is an older generation Indian they simply start using the teacups to drink after 6 hours in the house because they went through all the water glasses and it never crossed their mind that they could re-use them or wash them.

The third and maybe more  important difference is how personal space and personal belongings are treated. My Swiss friends and family will always knock on a door be it bedroom or bathroom to check if it is ok to come in. I quit counting the time my MIL walked on DH or I being half dressed in our bedroom simply because knocking is not an option, and you better remember to lock the bathroom door at all time when you are in too.
My Swiss guests don’t go into the master bedroom uninvited, and certainly will not open my wardrobe, what is in one’s bathrobe is private business, well no so much with desi guests, there seem to be absolutely no boundaries in desi family culture whatsoever, and they truly believe the that “My house is your house” works down to sticking your nose into somebody else’s face cream pot or checking the underwear drawer in your bedroom, and I have many friends living in joint family arrangement that confess they are simply locking away all the things they want nobody to touch, inspect or borrow.
Ditto in my kitchen, my guests usually ask me where a certain thing is when they need it, or ask me if it is ok to help themselves to bread and jam, or some cookies. My MIL has been known to turn my kitchen upside down, opening all jars and not closing them afterwards, putting back dirty dishes in the shelves and not bothering tell anybody when she finished the content of something.

Irony has it that I too often hear that people in the West have no family values, and no sense of community, but so far it seems that all my foreign guests are the one who seem to understand the concept of tight quarter community living and adjust to it in order to still leave breathable space to all, while my desi family and relatives seem to fail to grasp the concept and seem totally at loss in a situation where there won’t be a servant to make sure the place is kept clean and well stocked with clean glasses.
I want to note however that when we have desi guests belonging to our generation and our friends of ours, they all behave exactly the same as my Swiss guests, they will be non-invasive and help out to keep the space liveable and breathable for all. So my guess is that there is a Generation gap issue at play as well.

Now when I have in-law family member coming, I hide my stuff I want no one to touch, and try to relent to the fact that for the duration of their stay, my home is no longer going to be mine, but theirs and that if I want peace and harmony to prevail, it’s better to let it be and be grateful I am actually not living in a joint family arrangement where I would have far less control over my life. And before you think it is the evil western lady in me speaking, my Indian husband thinks the same way about joint family, he is glad not to live in one, because he knows that it would not work out for him, it’s not that joint families are bad, it’s just that not all are cut for it.  

10 comments

  1. Aruna Vasa12:00 PM

    You ain't seen nothin' yet! My in-laws live oceans away, so when they visited (for 6 months), there was absolutely no privacy, and like you, I spent all day every day in the kitchen cooking and washing, because they both like a spotless nest and fresh food.  No bed spreading here, though.  It's really taught me to look at things with a fresh eye.  You know that feeling when someone's coming and you run around putting things away?! 

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  2.  Oh yeah I know the feeling! HAving the in-laws over makes me ashamed of having tampons around so I stash them away. I also just hate having to deal with my MIL asking the price of all my stuff and then complain about how much money we spend on "frivolities", so stuff like anti-aging cream, fancy shampoo, continental cuisine seasoning all go in hiding as well, simply because I just don't want any lecture to be given to me or to DH.

    And  wow a 6 months visit from the in-laws! You are a hero!

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  3. Oh,  I'm glad I'm not the only one who gets lectured for 'frivolities' by the in laws- paper towels, tissue to blow my nose in, more than 2 weeks worth of clean underwear, and all my other American 'excesses'.

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  4.  The last time they came for more than a day was right smack after I gave birth to my daughter...MIL inspected the price tags of baby wipes and diapers and baby items, and when she saw the price on the wipes she asked if it was at least worth a month supply...I nodded energetically even though it is a no brainer that a pack of 60 wipes would not last that long, but that seemed to satisfy her :)

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  5. It's not just your husband. Nuclear families are on the rise because many Indians don't want to be stuck in negative, over-bearing parental environment anymore. They're starting to realize it's not always beneficial to stay in the family home.
     

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  6. Yes exactly :)
    I know some joints families that are functional, and I even know functional joint families back home. As long as all parties are happy and respect one another as equal it will work, recognizing it is not an option for oneself isn't mean, isn't selfish, it's actually a form of respect.

    Thare are also many Indians that have jobs in other cities far away whcih makes joint family living impossible too

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  7. Navya1:36 PM

    This topic is very close to my heart :D even though I am an indian and there is no culture difference at play here.

    I kinda live in a joint family system in Bangalore - and being of the present Indian Generation - I totally understand where you are coming from. By kinda - I mean that my inlaws live on the ground floor while we live on the floor upstairs. These are two individual houses. However, ever since the wedding I have been going down for dinner as the inlaws wanted the dinner to be a family event and it has been that way for 3 years now.

    Everytime I depart to my mom's house for the weekend (who lives in Bangalore too) , I know for a fact that my MIL has browsed through my kitchen for pantry supplies, fresh produce, and pots and pans - 2 years ago I made it a rule that she had to return what ever pan / girdle she borrowed - unless I asked for it, she would never return it back. Somehow that got solved - maybe she realized I was possessive about my pots and pans! My own mom asked me not to make a BIG scene regarding this - that is how Indian families work - they have issues but would rather ADJUST than tackle them!

    But I am facing a new problem now and I have been beating my head as to how to solve this :D My father-in-law recently decided that my Scooty (a gearless button operated vehicle) is easier to ride than his bike ( every member of the family has his own bike along with 2 cars at our home) - and now my FIL has decided that whenever I dont need my Scooty or if I am at work, he can take it for a ride for short errands that need to be done. And he never fills the petrol for it. Tell me Cyn, any bright ideas as to how to counter this? I tried ensuring that the petrol tank is always nearly empty - that still does not stop my FIL from using the vehicle till it is almost empty and can only be driven to the nearest petrol bunk ! My husband has decided that this is a petty issue and I should not make a big deal about this and so he is against my raising this topic :) So I get to fill petrol each time I use my vehicle and my FIL gets to empty the tank each time I fill it even though he has his own vehicle to use. That is the present situation at home :D

    I don't think the problem is Generation Gap. I thoroughly believe it is the age-old Indian Practice that in-laws have every right to borrow and own anything that is the DIL's - unfortunately that is not acceptable with today's independent DIL's who are educated and working and wont take nonsense like this ! No wonder there is a rise in nuclear families !!!

    BTW -  if you have a smart solution to my problem do let me know ? I am all ears!

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  8.  Ouch this is indeed a tough situation, first I would try to see if since he doesn't use his motorbike anymore and prefer a gearless vehicle (can't blame him here) maybe he should sell the bike and buy another scooty, a tactfull way to tell him that taking yours whenever he feels like it is not ok, then if he still take yours and refuse to fill the tank, take his if the tank is full.

    Or I would tell him politely but in an assertive way that while you don't mind his using your scooty, you do mind being the one to go at the petrol bunk all the time. You could even use the relatively petty excuse of being a woman and not feeling totally safe at the petrol bunk, because it is afterall a male dominated world, maybe that would soften him enough to remember filling the tank for you?

    And boy I would find it annoying to have my MIL raid my private kitchen when I am not here and not return the pots and pans. I got super annoyed when she came here for 2 weeks after my daughter was born and turned my whole kitchen upside down. It was so bad I should have taken pictures really. I am extremley peculiar about my kitchen and organisation and how clean it should be kept, the definition of a spot for everything and everything in its spot doesn't even begin to cover how OCD I can be about that room. I just remember 2 days before I was in labour I had that sudden nesting instinct that had me clean everything in the kitchen, and organize all my jars according to size in all cabinets, had all my plates and pans neatly stacked and everthing, I come back from Hospital 3 days after giving birth (my in-laws arrived when I was in labour in hospital) and I see a totally trashed kitchen, all pans scattered everywhere, all cabinets turned upside down, all the jars opened, even the one she didn't need to use, flour all over the kitchen counter, and my vital and precious tea bag storage container where i put an assortment of all the different teas I enjoy was burried deep under a pile of crap...tea is of utmost sanctity to me, I am a tea person, big time, my morning cup is vital, but to get it the next morning after coming home I had to first locate a clean tea mug, then dig through the mess on my kitchen counter to find said container, and no matter how I tried to  put it again in a clear spot hoping to have better access to it, it would be covered in clutter again several hours later...I swear on more than one occasion I thought she was doing this on purpose to annoy me, and sadly knowing her I guess there was probably a sadistic approach to doing so. heck she does keep her own kitchen super clean and decluttered in her home, granted she has a full time maid, but she still make sure nothing is out of place, so why exactly was it ok to trash my kitchen, I prefer not thinking about it :(

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  9. Navya2:51 PM

     LOL. The sad part about my story is that FIL owns a gearless vehicle on his own ( a Honda Activa) - I have tried having conversations with DH about whether he wants to use my Scooty full-time- if so I am willing to swap vehicles as I can drive the other one too - but no : what my FIL really wants is to use either and DH says we cannot enforce rules to him stating please use only one vehicle. DH's reasoning being I could use his vehicle too. Now, whenever I want to use my vehicle - FIL never intervenes or uses mine. So apart from the lack of petrol, I do not have any reason to take his. And that would be cheap and getting down to dirty politics - me stating the petrol tank is empty so I am going to use your vehicle! And it would be me the DIL indirectly blaming FIL leading to unnecessary confrontations. I even tried the Pregnancy Card (not the excuse of being a woman ..) - told DH that in my condition ( I am only 5 months pregnant and healthy enough to drive around ) , I couldn't keep taking my bike to the petrol bunk and FIL should show some courtesy. It fell on deaf ears because DH knows I am perfectly capable of going to the petrol bunk :D
    So any ideas again ???

    I totally understand when you state that your MIL keeps her kitchen clean but ransacked yours. My MIL used to conveniently forget where she had put my pots and pans that she had borrowed in my absence. She knows where each of her stuff is in the kitchen but she did not have the courtesy to keep my utensils separate so I could take them back - when I would go asking for it, she would state : "it is there somewhere in my kitchen and I dont know where" -  believe me - it really would be somewhere in her kitchen mixed up with her own utensils - as a newlywed DIL - I would find it awkward to browse through her kitchen lifting pots / pans and plates to take my own back.... Now, I could not ask for the perishable produce and pantry items - but to replace each pan borrowed is stupidity and a waste of money - where's the guarantee that the new pan / pot wont get borrowed again? So, this is what I would do. If a dosa-tawa was borrowed. I would purposefully make dosa batter and state that I needed my dosa girdle back the next day as I was making dosa. If my sandwich maker / coffee maker ( tell me, why you would borrow a coffee maker when you have your own that works just fine!) - I would immediately on returning from my mom's place state that I needed to make some coffee decoction or ensure I make sandwiches for evening and get it back.

    She slowly got the hint that if something was borrowed - I was possessive enough to ask for it back - over the course of 3 years - she keeps my utensils ( she still borrows them of course) separate and whenever I go to her kitchen  I know my utensils are on a designated rack and I can bring them back to my place. No more feverishly counting utensils to check what's missing :D

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  10.  I'm out of ideas, short of asking him drectly to put the petrol back in the tank there seem to be no diplomatic ways to solve this issue :(

    It's good that your MIL is now at least keeping your stuff on a separate rack for you to collect later, but still it is puzzling how she needs to borrow your coffee maker when she has one, but yeah no point to argue with the in-laws logic...sigh!

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