Category Archives: Cross Cultural Communication

Making the “Love Languages” Cross Cultural

If you’re ever heard of the “Five Love Languages” concept, you probably know about its popularity and worldwide reach. The love languages books have been translated into 50 languages around the world, but are they all applicable to other cultures?

Quality Time, Words of Affirmation, Physical Touch, Gifts and Acts of Service are the five ways that identified by the author Gary Chapman. The idea is that different people have different pathways in which they receive and give love. Meeting the needs of those in your life according to their way of receiving love is the main thrust of the concept.

For the most part, I think these five “languages” cover a broad spectrum of human need in relationships, but they aren’t entirely translatable cross cultures.

First example, in some Middle Eastern and South Asian cultures, directly giving words of affirmation is very awkward and not well received. Praising that person to a third party else is more highly valued when they hear about what you said about them through the grapevine.

Secondly, public physical affection between spouses or romantic partners is also taboo. Holding hands walking down the street is scandalous. Even physical touch (hugs) between brothers and sisters are not common. These are two love languages which are dominant in the West, but much less prevalent in non-Western cultures.

I’d like to add a couple more “love languages” which I see as being central and unique to non-Western cultures.

Food

I believe this one has the weight to stand on its own. If you’ve ever had relationships with folks from a non-Western culture, you understand how important food is. Food is a shared experience. Sitting to eat together is a bonding experience in every culture, but the fast food mentality of the West has degraded its depth. In cultures like India, the time and effort put into cooking a meal for another person communicates depths of love, duty and respect for the person. Not offering to serve someone drink or food is a direct insult. The acts of serving food and sharing food are mediums of building and maintaining strong relationships.

Respecting family

Respecting the family of one’s significant other, particularly in honor/shame cultures, is an overlooked approach to showing love to one’s spouse in the “Love Languages.” For example, making an effort to get along with a spouse’s family and understanding the interconnectedness of family relationships is an important part of many non-Westerners lives.

In many cultures, the joint family system is hinged on the importance of a new spouse getting along with all the other family members. If the daughter-in-law and mother-in law don’t get along, the husband/wife relationship is in trouble. Likewise, this can be said for building love in non-romantic relationships. A wife showing respect for her husband can build love between her and her mother-in-law. A father teaching a child to respect and honor his grandparents shows love to his parents on a different dimension.

Showing love to one’s spouse who lives in a communal society looks very different from the Western approach. Saying to your spouse “I love you because you are smart” may not have an affect. But showing love by cooking for a spouse’s parents speaks much louder to non-Western minds.

The Love Languages are a great concept and have undoubtedly helped millions of folks from non-Western countries improve their relationships, but pointing out the nature of indirect communication and the importance of family networks is crucial to making it a truly global concept.

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An Isolationist India and Tagore’s Lost Dream

Rabindranath Tagore is considered one of the masterminds of modern Indian civilization. While mostly known for his artistic endeavors in literature, music and education, Tagore was also an active cultural anthropologist. The magnitude and influence of his poetry and music often overshadows the observations he made about culture. Gandhi and Tagore had wildly different perspectives on India’s interaction with the outside world, yet Gandhi’s ideology has been more widely employed. Tagore lived from 1861 to 1941, before the politically charged Indian Independence and Partition era. And even further from the rampant globalization era that we are now in the midst of.

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Gandhi and Tagore in 1940 – Photo Credit – Wikipedia

Tagore believed in an open India, an India open to the world’s ideas and influence. He believed that Indians should never be threatened from an outside worldview, but that it would only make one more aware and appreciative of his/her own context.

He was quoted “Whatever we understand and enjoy in human products instantly becomes ours, wherever they might have their origin.”

Is this a timeless perspective to be adopted? Or simply a reaction to the isolationists of the early 1900s?

Was he aware of white privilege and the tendency to appropriate cultural phenomenons? Or was his audience merely the paranoid/exclusionists Indian, who were afraid of letting other cultures invade and corrupt the ancient Indian past?

In our current age, the pace of global interactions is astronomically different than the simplicity of the early 1900s. Merchants no longer travel from faraway lands, peddling their goods, bringing art and music from afar as they settle down and make Mother India their own. The speed of our travel, connectedness and technology quickens the pace of cultural exchange. There is now a trend to make things ours, without appreciating or acknowledging the source. Cultural digestion trumps cultural appreciation.tagore

 

Tagore also said “Celebration of Indian civilization can go hand in hand with an affirmation of India’s active role in the global world.”

I hope this can still be true today, and I believe it depends on the attitudes of the Indian people and retaining confidence of Indian identity in a global world.

When we are challenged, we are expanded. And that expansion can help us see the beauty about who we are, and the truth about where we come from.

Does Bollywood Promote Rape?

India has gotten negative press regarding its treatment of women. The Jyoti Pandey case only brought shame and terror and has severed the conscience of the Indian people. The Kathua rape case of an eight year old child horrified the sub-continent.

The tragedy of rape is being examined on many levels of society. So why do we allow the film industry to show sexual exploitation as entertainment?

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Shah as a family man in “Monsoon Wedding”

In “Monsoon Wedding” (2001), Naseerudin Shah plays a protective uncle who stands up to a more powerful male relative who had molested his niece. It was a powerful message in a culture that normally shames the victim.

However, in “Dirty Picture” (2011), Shah plays a creepy older actor who basically sexually exploits the up and coming actress Silk, played by Vidya Balan. The lyrics of the song “Oo La La” are between the older man, and the younger woman’s taunting words “Don’t touch me. I’m a young woman.” The film and the music have no redeeming qualities. The film glorifies the hypersexualized Silk and basically excuses the disgusting behaviors as just “what it takes to get ahead.”

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Shah as creepy predator in “Dirty Picture”

Why the mixed messages?

But Shah isn’t the only one guilty of this hypocrisy. Kareena Kapoor is another guilty party. It is sad to see actresses like Kapoor show her face as a UNICEF ambassador, posing for women’s rights, then perform these kind of “item songs” glorifying prostitution. See my other blog “Does Bollywood Portray Sex Slavery as Cute and Funny?

There is a saying “Garbage in, garbage out.”  What we put into our minds in the form of entertainment, music and conversations, affects our behavior.

If we truly believe that rape is wrong, we would stop watching such garbage and boycott this kind of hypocritical behavior in the Bollywood industry. It will take more than social media posts and protests to stop the rape culture in India.

The IKEA Generation 

My grandma’s vaccum cleaner taught me a valuable lesson. I have never seen anything like this. This thing probably weighed 40 pounds and it came with a 25 year warranty. Being a Millennial, I was baffled when my Grandma told me she bought it in the 1970s. How was this thing still working?KirbyVaccuum

Traditionalists/Silent Gen (1927-1945), Baby Boomers (1946-1964) and even Gen Xers (1965-1980) made purchases that were going to last them a lifetime.

Many generations born before 1980 have a “settle and stay” mentality. They buy a house in their 30s and live in it until they retire. The American dream includes buying a long lasting oak bedroom set and matching furniture throughout the house, being careful to include family heirloom pieces.

The older generation bought to last.

Our generation is a mobile one. I know people who don’t even have a vaccum, but just set their Roomba loose while they are at work.  We buy condos to sell them and make a profit. We buy IKEA stuff knowing that we will replace it in 3 years when our job moves us across the country.  We use Netflix instead of buying the collectors set of “Friends” on DVD. We value digital content over hard copies. We are global nomads, spending money on experiences rather than stuff.

There is no question that generations adapt to the times and workforce culture. Our lifestyles have to adjust. But I wonder if these “IKEA” mentality doesn’t have an affect on our relationships?

Do we idolize our lighter lifestyles? Do we think about investing into relationships that are built to last?

The older generations had the expectation that marriage was for life. They desired less change and less adventure. The Traditionalists were children of the Depression, and reached for stability as their highest value. That stability has slid into less of a need with each progressive generation. Nothing is permanent to us.

The relational wisdom of older generations, especially Traditionalists, still matters.

I want to challenge my fellow Millennials and Centennials to learn these important values of commitment, stability and compromise from the older generations. Not everything is disposable, and lets not forget it.

As we reach around the world, let’s keep the values of permanence in relationships intact.

For more on generations, check out The Six Living Generations in America.

India and the Art of Mindful Lingering

As one walks down any Indian street, you will find one thing which is unmistakably unique to South Asian and Middle Eastern cultures – lingerers.Chai Stall

Men running chai stalls, taxi-drivers, tailors running a store – most of them just waiting around for a customer to come by. Not to mention pedestrians teenage boys crowded around a single mobile phone or aunties sitting on a mat on the stoop of their homes, just shooting the breeze. They’re just kind of all hanging out, not really doing anything. Lingering. Passing the time.

Lingering has been forgotten in the West. Lingering has been replaced with constant stimulation. We can not wait for a single thing. We expect our minds to be constantly occupied, endlessly performing.

America and India are on the opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to our sense of time. In India, time happens to you. In the US, we tell ourselves that we have control of time. We schedule it, put it into our calendars, find every possible way to avoid wasting it, and define our lives by fighting against it.

On one side, there is the temptation to leave no margin in life and being constantly busy. Whereas on the other side, there is the temptation to leave too much margin and be constantly in a state of ease and boredom.

These are two extremes where I believe, it may be best for us to fall somewhere in the middle.

We can see our value even by the words we invent. In the West anti-aging, productivity and quality time are concepts we all understand. Anyone who has visited South Asia has an understanding of “time pass.”

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Environment and Capacity for Chaos

In India, the noise level and sensory overload is unlike any you will see anywhere else in the world. However, I would argue that the mental clutter, distraction and constant activity of the West is just as harmful and possibly more difficult to shut down. Perhaps both cultures react with the way they spend their time because of the atmosphere surrounding them.

In India you will find people sitting and spacing out while the whirlwind of noises, traffic, animals and constant clutter of activity. In the West, you will find people in silent corporate offices, headphones in, with a mind racing 100mph with tasks, meeting requests and project deadlines. The human mind can only handle so much clutter, yet we also seek it out. We do our best to balance the equilibrium of “busy vs idle.”

 

How do we create the “linger factor” in our lives? 
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  1. Expect the unexpected – because you know deep down that life throws curve balls at you.
  2. Unschedule your schedule – it might feel terrifying, but spontaneity will do you some good.
  3. Diversify your friend group – when you hang out with people of different cultures, maybe they will be constantly late, will stay at your house “too long” or will take 2 hours to eat a meal at a restaurant. Maybe they will stretch you. And maybe you will love it.

 

 

Firangi Bahu- Does This Really Represent Indian/Western Marriages?

Built on drama, jealousy, lies, and mistrust, Firangi Bahu was just like every other saas/bahu drama on Indian television, with one exception, a British bahu instead of a homegrown one. After one dreadful season, Sahara One cancelled it.

firangibahu-indianwesternThe show shows Camili (British born 20 something) who met Pranay (a wealthy Gujurati boy studying in London) and secretly get married after a whirlwind, short-lived stint of infatuation.

Pranay was a  babied son who didn’t know how to balance the challenges of family responsibility with having a love marriage. Camili was a naive but sweet spirited girl who desired to please people around her and fit into the conservative Indian Desai household she found herself a part of.

Like many other serials on Indian television, this show skewed several portions of reality. The show did a good job of breaking down negative stereotypes of Westerners, but unfortunately reinforced negative views of Indian families:

Exaggerated View of Dysfunctional Families

Fortunately, many foreigners who have experiences in India know that the dysfunction of the Desai family is not the reality for most Indian households.  This show had all the stereotypical “worst case scenario” characters –a vindictive older bhabhi who was trying to control and hurt others , a mother-in-law who was desperately trying to maintain power over a changing household, and an unsupportive and childish husband who was easily manipulated by catty female relatives.

This show was not unique, as many of the family serials thrive of jealous relationships, and mere emotional drama to keep ratings high.  Sadly, shows like this make Indian families look horrible to the outside world. I’m calling “bluff” on these negative stereotypes.

Inflated “Love” Story 

Pranay and Camili’s meeting and marriage was based on almost no true relationship, but pure infatuation. The scenes of their “love story” mostly consisted of bumping into each other at the train station followed by eyelash batting and romantic music playing in the background. Not much you can tell about a person by just batting your eyelashes at them.

Most of the successful Western/Indian marriages I’m aware of were based on two people having common interests, mutual friends, common values, and healthy friendships. Most couples get to know each other, spend time together in a variety of situations, and do their best to see the “true colors” of their partner before making a lifelong commitment.

Camili and Pranay got married without his family’s knowledge, which is also rare from what I’ve observed. From any cultural perspective, families are bound to be very upset if a young person does this. In my opinion, the characters started off on the wrong foot to begin with. Things are bound to get rocky when a couple doesn’t have a strong foundation or a shred of family support.

Excuses Abuse of Women:

A recent episode showed Pranay confronting Camili by grabbing her by the face, pinning her arm behind her back, and falsely accusing her of being unfaithful and getting pregnant with someone else’s child. I was a little shocked, although I know Indian television and movies show this kind of behavior all the time, and excuses it as just “the way things are.” I know this kind of abuse does certainly happen, but I especially want to emphasize that this is not the norm of cross cultural relationships.

Camili is a girl who had no father, was raised by an alcoholic mother and has now found a new variety of abusive relationships in her sasuraal.  In the West we call this kind of person someone with a “victim” mentality. Camili seems to be to be a woman in love, but someone who didn’t get the whole picture before diving into a lifelong relationship. She is now married to a pampered adult man who thinks it is ok to abuse and manipulate women in his life.

Pranay is portrayed as a “typical Indian boy” who loves his family and would do anything to protect their honor, even if it means rooting out people who attempt to dishonor their reputation. In the beginning of the show, Pranay was understanding, sensitive Camili’s family problems, and seemed to be an advocate for her finding acceptance with his family. His colors changed as soon as he was back in his native environment. As soon as he was faced with a major conflict, his prejudices and fears about white people all emerge and were acted out against his wife.

Most women I know who have willingly married their desi partner would not put up with this kind of abuse, neglect and blatant mistrust from their spouse.

firangi bahu relationships

Balance this Show with Real-Life Family Situations

I don’t believe this show portrays reality of most Indian/Western marriages. Camili is now stuck in an abusive family with a husband who treats her poorly. Of the desi/non-desi couples I know, these kind of dysfunctional situations are not the norm.

A family (from any cultural background) who mistreats their daughter-in-law with this kind of extreme abuse is unacceptable, and certainly not the norm in Indian families. I’d like to see a show which portrays real issues that cross-cultural Indian/Western couples face.

But functional, happy marries don’t make for good TV shows.

I’d also like to disclaim and say that the word “firangi” is not an accurate word to describe many of the non-desi wives of Indian or Pakistani men I have met. Firangi has a connotation of being a complete outsider and someone not to be trusted. The word “Videshi”, or just simply “Australian”, “American”, “Peruvian”, or “British bahu” are more appropriate. Its kind of like calling a Chinese or Korean person “Oriental.” It is degrading, antiquated, and inappropriate language.

5 Documentaries That Should Exist About India

Netflix has dominated the market for popularizing obscure documentaries, particularly about exotic corners of the world that the American public never even knew existed. This is my take on five documentaries that I think would be interesting and successful about India. Or maybe I’m just putting this out there because I’m curious.

The Innovative Bucket Fixers of India

One of the most unbelievably specialized jobs I’ve ever come across, the plastic bucket fixers heating-rod-supportof India embody “Jugaad.” These guys are scrappy in all the right ways. Only making a few rupees per transaction, they make a living by walking around neighborhoods and fixing plastic buckets, an item that every household has at least one of. If you’ve never been a person who has lived with the reality of the bucket bath, there are many things that could go wrong with your bucket: 1) it could burn from the electric water warming rods, 2) the handle could break, 3) it could crack – ok maybe only three things could go wrong with your bucket. I am shocked these guys even make enough to feed themselves. How do they survive? What if you miss your chance to have your bucket fixed when the bucket guy walks by? These are questions for which the world needs solid answers.

The Lifecycle of an Elephant

The Indian Elephant captures the imagination of everyone who even thinks of the exotic jungles of the subcontinent. Used for entertainment, transportation, religious purposes, weddings, and tourism, these lively beasts are one of the most fascinating animals on the planet. I want to see a documentary on all the roles elephants play in Indian society. I want to understand their intelligence, versatility, and what happens when they are abused in captivity. Think Blackfish for elephants.

Debunking Sati Sati-Ka-Yogagni-Mein-Aatmdah

The mythological story of Sati throwing herself on Lord Shiva’s funeral pyre has had more than just a place in Hindu mythological books. Reports of widows allowing themselves to be burnt alive hundreds of years ago has long plagued the minds of Westerners. For those who have more than elementary school book knowledge, we know that India is more than caste, cows and child marriage. Does sati still happen? Yes. Is it common? No.

Mussoorie, Worlds Colliding

Mussoorie has to be one of the eeriest microcosms on the planet. A hill station with stunning scenery, fresh weather and access to the plains of India, it is one of the highly coveted vacation spots for Indians and visitors alike. However, the sociological makeup of Mussoorie is one that leaves me scratching my head. As a highly accessible mountain area, many people end up there from all over the world from partying American college students doing internships at local hospitals to wandering goat herders from Garhwali villages. The Landour Language School and places lake Rokeby Manor throw you for a loop with their international guests, mingling amongst wandering Sadhus and pilgrims seeking solace in the cool foothills. The colonial history of Mussoorie hangs thick in the air along with the dense clouds that sweep your feet as you hike the mountain roads. The world needs to understand how all these people mix, mingle, and call Mussoorie their home.

An Indian Taxi Driver’s Survival in Urban America

Like any traveler, I’ve talked to a fair amount of Indian taxi drivers in various cities across the United States. On any given evening, a passenger will stories of young men who drive taxi in the evening while they study engineering at American universities during the day. One would see the crushed dreams of old men who came to the U.S. with intentions of practicing medicine in their youth, but couldn’t pass the USMLE, and ended up driving a taxi their whole lives to put their kids through college. The cabby hangouts in urban America are epicenters of conversation, food experimentation, networking, and even community development. What do these drivers see on a nightly basis? How do they interpret America nightlife when they come from some of the most conservative cultures in the world? Someone needs to take a camera, and capture these guys’ lives.

 

When you see these documentaries come out, just remember, you heard the ideas here first. 🙂