Cultural differences

Reflecting on identity

12:17 PM

The topic of identity in a intercultural relationship has been doing the round in the past few months on the blogs I frequently read in the gori-desi community.

And I thought maybe I should put my experience down on my blog too after commenting so much on the other blogs.
In short the main point that kept coming is where does a western woman married to an Indian guy stands in the equation, what identity do you have or are expected to have, there's also been the debate on whether western women dressing ethnic aren’t trying too hard.
Well here is my story, I’ve been living in India for 7.5 years, married for nearly 5 out of these. When I first moved to India, I was determined to fit in, while DH (who was just my live in BF at the time) was trying to come to term on what to do as far as his family was concerned (they learned about us through a cousin who decided to play tattletale on him after getting engaged).
In order to fit in, I would wear only conservative salwaar kameezes when outside, and try my darnest hard to cook proper Indian food at home, every meal, all the time. The few times I wore jeans around I felt very self conscious and probably noticed people staring at me more…and I now know that they were staring regardless of what I wore.
Over the years things changed, we got married and in the beginning I was trying hard to give the right impression to my MIL who was and still is my biggest critic (and not necessarily in the good way but that is another story). From trying too hard to still not get to fit in and be approved I went back to be…MYSELF and guess what? That’s what I do best, and that is what works for us.
Nowadays I don’t wear a full salwaar suit often, I keep the traditional look around my in-laws, but in everyday life I tend to prefer or a casual trousers t-shirt look, or wear a short kurta with pants or capris. As far as cooking goes, I cook a little bit of both continental and Indian and yes sometimes fusion cuisine, I’m not as purist as I was trying to make the most perfect traditional dal or trying to impress with my chapati skills. DH actually prefers when I cook continental style chicken, loves my Swiss style cakes, and got completely hooked to Authentic Swiss Muesli for breakfast.

What I’m trying to say is that trying to dress my way into “desiness”, was by far the most stupid thing I ever did in my life, because in the end not only was I still looking like a foreigner, I also ended up loosing myself, instead of solving the problem of identity most people have in their 20’s, I ended just adding a couple of layers to the problem.

Now I don’t know who changed more, me or others around, but in the 7.5 years I’ve been in India I noticed a lot of changes, mostly in how women dress, it seems that back in 2003 when I arrived there were more women dressing very traditionally in Bangalore, but looking on it, I wonder if it was not also partly due to the fact I had a very set idea on what was proper that made me notice the type of ladies I wanted to look the most similar to rather than the real fact, and most likely a little bit of both me and the world around me was back then more traditional.
I think I first really started realising that there is is a different dress code in different places in India when we were living in Chennai and we used to go out to pubs a lot on weekends. Truly try wearing a very loose fitting shapeless salwaar kameeze complete with dupatta in a hip pub and you’ll see what I mean…you end up looking like a no fun auntie at least 10 years older than your real age. There wasn’t many fancy malls back then, so in day to day activities I didn’t quite feel odd in my usual ethnic wear.
Then we shifted back to Bangalore, more pubs, more hanging out in restaurants with friends, and more malls visits, that’s when I started noticing that…gasp…the uber-traditional look clearly wasn’t cutting it and beside at home I like lounging in my t-shirts, jeans or casual pants, always did, but for a long time was petrified of getting caught going to the local grocery shop in these and would change outfits just to go buy milk and eggs…very silly, especially in Bangalore were we lived in a building where there was a lot of of young IT employees going to the local store in their track pants and t-shirts…be it men or women.
And I was working in a call center back then, at work I would stick to my conservative ethnic look, and a few of my colleagues even asked “Don’t you ever wear anything more casual”, and I guess this stroke a note. The answer was…that yes I enjoyed casual wear, but at home and on weekends when pub hoping. Not so much at work, though maybe I was right keeping work and play dress code different, the point is I was still wearing my collection of salwaar kurti day after day, while some of my ladies colleague did alternate between ethnic, indo-western and western wear, the difference between them and I was dressing to look the part while they were dressing according to their mood and taste. I was thinking that in order to fit in sacrificing my tastes, comfort level and mood was what was needed…boy I could not have been any more wrong than that!

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think ethnic wear is bad, in fact I still wear salwaar suits from time to time, I keep the most traditional ones for traditional places though. And just these past few weeks I did a little unbiased observation of the feminine world around me, and guess what? You will find as many ladies wearing ethnic as you will find women wearing western casual wear. Over the years women have preferred churidars over salwaar when it comes to ethnic pants bottom especially in the young middle and upper middle class, the latest trend being elastic legging type churidar that perfectly fits all. Dupattas are less frequently worn in metros unless you go in a local traditional market. Women now prefer their ethnic wear to do something for their figure and work for their lifestyle it seems.
And oh I wanted to add what a lot of my lady friends are saying about clothes “Ethnic wear looks great, but a very traditional cotton outfit needs a lot of maintenance. Our lifestyle have changed, so should the clothes we wear, and how we make them work for us”

In the end I guess that while true things have changed a lot in India, I also did, and I don’t really care as much about fitting a standard as I used to, because guess what? I’m Swiss, I grew up in Switzerland, and that’s part of who I am, and is equally important as who I am becoming or plan to become anyway. And in any society, or culture you find a bunch of people that will try to make you feel bad about who you are and decide you must change, but there is a much bigger proportion that or doesn’t particularly have an opinion or completely agree with you and how you live, and you can’t be a crowd pleaser, there is no such thing as pleasing 100% of the population. Or even trying to please one person who doesn’t want to be pleased as I found out the hard way with my MIL, I can still dress Indian, cook Indian, touch her feet, speak as much Hindi as I possibly can with her, touch her feet, respect all of her custom, in the end she always end up praising one bit but immediately afterward pointing one flaw, pretty much like saying “Of course she cooks and dress well, but she still isn’t Indian so she isn’t perfect”. As if there was such a thing as perfection in this world anyway.


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