Category Archives: Marriage

How Not to Handle an International Travel Crisis

As a family who travels a lot together, we recently experienced a travel debacle of great magnitude. Call it bad luck, a huge failure, blunder, disaster, crisis, whatever you may. It was horrible.

With two small children we were traveling from the US to India. We had a stopover in London and due to extreme exhaustion, being distracted by small children and having too many bags, our most valuable possessions were stolen. Without sharing too many of the painful details, our bag with passports, visas, money, credit cards, laptop, phone, and many other important documents- including originals was stolen from right beneath our noses! We were in a foreign country and because of the magnitude of the loss, we were stranded in London for 12 days.

From someone who has just been through the crisis of losing all their most important stuff, here is my advice.

#1 Don’t Let Panic Paralyze You- Let it Drive You to Action

There will be a time for you to sit down and mourn the loss of your things, money, travel plans, etc – but it is not right now. Get busy. For us, we never expected to have all of our most important documents stolen, but we quickly jumped into action and prioritized which things needed to be taken care of first. Imagine the worst thing that could happen and take care of that first.

The first 24 hours are the most crucial any time you go through a crisis. Within hours of our stuff being stolen, our list panned out like this:

  • Buying local SIM cards for our phones
  • phone calls to credit card companies to cancel cards
  • going to the police station to make a report
  • trip to the US embassy to apply for emergency passports
  • trying to track down iPhone, computer via FindMyiPhone (although this rarely ever works, we tried it anyway)
  • trip to Indian consulate to inquire about getting replacement travel docs (visas/residency)
  • contacting close friends and family to let them know what was going on.
  • extending AirBNB stays, getting groceries, explaining the crisis to our kids and preparing to stay put since we knew we couldn’t travel
  • contacting work and letting them know of our crisis and about the work responsibilities we would be missing. In our case it was delayed reports that were due, overlapping travel plans with a colleague and meetings that were going to be missed.

#2 Do Not Carry Cash

The era of cash is dead. There is no real reason to carry more than $200 cash, ever.

Make sure you have good credit cards and the phone numbers of your credit card companies readily accessible.  Be sure to spread credit cards throughout several carry ons so you have a backup if one of your bags gets stolen (like ours did!) Have various methods of payment set up on your devices (Apple Pay, PayTM, etc)

#3 Do Not  Play Hot Potato with Bags

Have a plan with your travel partner of who is responsible for which bags.

We always do this but somehow deviated from that plan due to sleeping children and exhaustion. We had an excess of bags and simply couldn’t keep track of all of them. It was taking us multiple trips up and down the stairs to bring them all up to our various places of residence. It was just too exhausting to carry all this stuff around and that certainly contributed to our nightmarish scenario.

#4 Do Not Blame Your Travel Buddy

Bad stuff happens to everyone. Blaming your travel buddy (spouse, business partner, friend, relative, etc) is not going to help anything. Neither is continuing to blame yourself. I can’t tell you how many times during our crisis we said “I wish that I would have…” Just stop. You can’t change anything now.

#5 Do Not Underestimate the Importance of Documents

We all know that making regular backups of our computer and phone is a best practice, yet we rarely do it. If you aren’t good at doing this, buy a service that does it automatically for you like DropBox or iCloud. Make paper copies of everything important and keep copies separate from your originals. Keep copies of important documents in your home where someone trusted can access them in your absence.

Take it from us, documents are the worst thing you can lose. Protect them with your life.

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If you want to hear more of the painful details of our experience and how we survived it with most of our sanity in tact, listen to our podcast –Invisible India on iTunes, Stitcher and SoundCloud.

Follow Invisible India on social media as well:

Instagram –https://www.instagram.com/invisibleindia/

Twitter- https://twitter.com/IndiaInvisible

Facebook- https://www.facebook.com/TheInvisibleIndia/

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Header Photo by Caroline Selfors on Unsplash

 

Why Indians and Americans Make an Epic Combination

Everyone is talking about the recent marriage of Nick Jonas and Priyanka Chopra. While most seem to be focused on the looming age gap between them, few seem to be talking about the cross-cultural element of their relationship.

I have to admit that I don’t known a lot about the Jonas family, but Priyanka Chopra is a global icon whose domination has spanned decades.  She is a high achiever, a powerful woman, and I imagine that some Indian men may be terrified of her credentials, wealth and prowess, especially in a society that is all about status. Nick Jonas seems to me to be an all around sensitive, nice American boy. He has had professional success, but doesn’t let it go to his head.

Jonas and Chopra have broken barriers in many ways with their relationship. We are going to see even more interracial and inter-religious relationships blossom. And there is a reason for this. Americans and Indians are an epic combination.

So, why are Americans and Indians so often romantically drawn together?

1) Americans and Indians are wired to be achievement oriented.

From childhood, both Americans and Indians are all taught that achieving something is the highest goal you can attain in life. For Indians, that is mostly education and career based, and for Americans it can really be anything – image, music, career, snagging a successful life partner. Both cultures praise the underdog for coming up, and are quick to highlight those who rise to success.

However, the motivations behind these aspirations are different. For Americans, it is individualistic while Indians are generally motivated to achieve to make their parents/elders and community proud.

2) Indians are attracted to the down-to-earth nature of Americans.

Despite the glitz and glam that Hollywood portrays to the world, Americans are very down to earth. Being “nice” and avoiding being seen as snobbish in our DNA.

Some American men are highly secure with a confident and high-earning woman. In India, most men have an inferiority complex to a woman who is powerful, high-earning and driven.

American culture pushes equality between men and women. I commend Nick Jonas for having the confidence to pursue one of the most recognized celebrities in the world. Few Indian men would have the self-assurance to marry someone of such high caliber and status. For Indian males, if your wife is more accomplished than you, you’re a loser. I have to say, that Jonas looks a bit like Chopra’s arm candy and seems comfortable in that role. I commend them for reversing the trend!

3) Americans are attracted to the exciting and mysterious nature of Indian culture and families. 

Indian culture is mysterious to Americans, who see the diversity, colorful personalities and contradictions of Indian life as fascinating. And as Chopra put it herself, some fetishize Indians for being “Exotic.” For more on cultural relationship fetishes, see my article “We are the 15%.

The closeness of a typical Indian family is something refreshing to individualistic Americans. In the US, a person who is close to their family generally is viewed as a weak and vulnerable sort of person who can’t survive without the support of others. Indians like Chopra who are high achievers yet still remain close to their family are fascinating and appeal to the desires that Americans have to be a part of a community.

 

I predict that we will see many more Indian/American couples in the near future. In the meantime, I salute Chopra and Jonas for breaking barriers and pursuing happiness.

 

Photo Credit- Priyanka Chopra’s Instagram

Efficiency VS. Tradition- Two Polarized Notions

Which is better- efficiency or tradition?

Anyone who has spent more than a few days in India will notice that efficiency is not a top priority. As outsiders have studied the subcontinent, this efficiency “problem” has been brushed off as a “developing country problem.” But I believe that the pushing aside of efficiency is more deliberate and has a deeper root in Indian culture.

In Indian culture, efficiency has never been the highest goal. And whenever that is the case, a culture doesn’t operate on methods of making life easy, quick or streamlined. But there are reasons for this.

I’ve outlined two Indian habits that point to the tension between efficiency and tradition: 1) the toil of simple daily survival activities 2) the obsession what other people are doing.

#1 Being Overly Occupied with the Simple Tasks of Life

Here is a small example that shows the complexities and frustrations of day to day life:

This family lives in a small hut on an empty plot. I watch the main woman of the house out my window every day. She is ping ponging around most of the morning, shifting wet laundry to the driest spot on the clothes hanging line. As you can see, every available place to put clothes is covered. She goes in and out of the outhouse washing dishes, washing more rags, all the while, chasing her half naked child so he doesn’t end up in the busy street outside the poorly latched gate.

I see her life and realize that most of her energy is spent on just the basic survival within the daily tasks of food, clothing and keeping the children safe.  Where are the men? Why are they living on this plot of land? My observation is that she is fulfilling her duty as the dutiful daughter in law. She spends her time fulfilling tradition, not disturbing the men to help watch the child, spending her time cooking hand made food, piping hot just at the right time. Traditions of caste keep the men of the family in certain jobs. Societal traditions keep the whole family as caretakers where they will be the watchmen of the land owned by their “malik” or “boss.”

Even though there is a large economic disparity between this woman and the middle class, most women can relate to her plight. They feel the weight of dutiful household responsibilities, the chaos of shifting priorities and being at complete mercy of the environmental factors around them. Yet tradition and honor must be carried on.

So lets look at another behavior that hinders efficiency.

#2 Being Overly Occupied with Others’ Activities

(aka “nosy auntie syndrome”)

 

In comparison to Westerners, Indians spend an amazing amount of time thinking about what other people are doing. Social norms require it.

Where I live in Bihar, someone once told me that Indians will ask you 20 questions before they tell you one thing about themselves. The skilled conversationalists already know a lot about you just from what they have seen. Conversation is stemmed from observation.

After years of living in India, I find myself doing the same thing. For example – the other day when a friend pulled up to the gym late, I found myself thinking, “She must have come around the train tracks because of construction on the main road her near her house. I bet she doesn’t have a meeting today because she is arriving a bit late. I wonder how her meeting yesterday was. I bet she is skipping out on the office today because her meeting went poorly.” The thoughts went on.

As an American, I rarely would have these thoughts in a Western context. Spending energy mulling on who is coming, going, what they are doing are seen as totally irrelevant wastes of mind space . Before living in India, I used to be totally occupied with my own thoughts on work, my own projects and my family, the news, etc.

In India, if you aren’t a few steps ahead of people in conversation, they will think you are self-absorbed. 

This is why Westerners sometimes label Indians to be a bit nosy or too into their business. Westerners spend very little time anticipating the actions of other people, unless it is an immediate threat or benefit to them. But in India, it is seen as a sport or hobby and even a requirement to having a connected conversation.

Americans have invented the copyright on productivity by being obsessed with efficiency.  But in this obsession, there is much that is lost. We lose the nuances of relationships. We reinvent ourselves so much that we forget what is important in our most basic needs. We suffer with affluenza. We lose contact with each other. We forget what really matters.

Time Magazine Cover 2006- captures the tension between efficiency and tradition

So, which is better? Efficiency or tradition?

From my observations- The highest priorities in Indian life are maintaining traditions and honoring relationships.

These are the questions I have for today’s generation:

Are efficiency and tradition really as polarized as I think?

If so, what do you think India needs more of?

Does India need to sacrifice tradition for efficiency or can they take place at the same time?

Any habits that we need to dispose of to increase efficiency in society?

Any aspects of efficiency we need to dispose of to maintain tradition?

What do you think? Leave your comments for me and lets discuss.

 

Stable Kids in a World of Unlimited Choices

For many Millennials and Xennials, we feel the need to questions everything our parents did in raising us. Our culture is one of entrepreneurship, disruption and re-invention. This seeps into parenting as well.

Many things need to stay the same, and some things need to change with the times.

Children growing up in the 80s and 90s were surrounded by a changing world with the introduction to one of the world’s most shattering technologies, the internet.

The good parents who foresaw the changes that would change our generation, did their best to protect us from MTV, drugs that the DARE program warned us about and the potential evils of big cities.

Our parents saw we needed security and that is what they dedicated their lives to. The suburban dream was born with big yards and minivans. Our parents worked for the same company for years in order to provide us with what we needed the most, security.

Each generation has our specific parenting challenges and ways we need to parent our kids.

Now, as we millennials and xennials are parents ourselves, we see a whole different set of needs for our kids. Security is still a need, but the way we pursue it has to be slightly different. Given the nomadic nature of careers, security based on location isn’t much worth pursuing.

Security is an illusion. It is more important to teach our children self worth and how to thrive in a tumultuous world.

This hit me when my grandmother was watching me feed my 2 year old son. I gave him a choice between carrots and green beans. She was shocked that I would ask a 2 year old this question. My grandmother made the comment – “In my time, the kids just ate whatever we put on their plate. No choices and no questions asked.”

What she said stuck with me for months.  The “do as I say, or else” worked great in that generation where you had limited choices in life- you picked a career that seemed stable and stuck with your job as long as you could. The radius of decision making was severely limited. You needed to follow the rules in order to succeed.

Our world is no longer one of limited choices. In fact, we have unlimited choices, and that can be incredibly immobilizing.

Teaching simple decision making tactics are crucial to helping this generation thrive in the midst of a world with too many choices. Our kids can travel the world, live in pretty much any location they want and interact with almost anyone they desire given the ability to connect online. Their jobs could take them to Medellin, Salt Like City or Chiang Mai. They could live in a city, a cottage or a farm. Their dietary choices could give them access to any type or quality of food on planet earth. Their future decisions could take them anywhere.

Stability means something else in this generation. Stability means that a person has the “know how” to choose their limits in a world with unlimited possibilities. Their stability may not be in a home, in a job or even hobbies. The closeness of a few key relationships, the ability to field the bumps of life and a rooted identity are what brings a person security in a global world.

So maybe my grandma was right about the beans and carrots “one choice” approach of her generation, but we need new tactics to teach decision making skills if our kids are going to be able to navigate our new global world.

 

Why Being Mothers Makes Women Better Professionals

Before I had children, I had this fuzzy imaginary picture of what it looked like to be a stay at home mother. You drank green smoothies every morning, made homemade cinnamon rolls and read novels while your kids played peacefully with legos in their room, while the rest of the house remained untouched and pristine. It would be so unlike the messes and chaos of the professional world. It would be peaceful and there would be no stress.

Immersing myself in the reality of being a mother of two small children, the deadlines, extreme need for multi-tasking and fast paced environment have not ceased to be necessary, to my surprise.

Spending time with small children all day activates a different part of the brain than sitting in meetings all day does, but I still feel stretched, intellectually stimulated and pushed to my limits at the end of the day.

Being in a high-functioning professional environment trained me to switch gears quickly and utilize short spurts of time for maximum performance. This is not unlike the skills needed for managing children. Let me give you an example.

Professional environment- It is 8am and you’re at your desk fielding a phone call about an upcoming meeting while putting the finishing touches on a written marketing strategy in google docs. Immediately following the call, but only 10 minutes before you are supposed to report on your marketing strategy to your boss, you are called into the CEO’s office where you are asked to give a quick high level overview of your progress on a different project. Meanwhile your breakfast is getting cold on your desk. You also need to book flights for an upcoming conference, submit last month’s expense report and reply to a few important emails before lunch. You are supposed to meet a vendor for coffee at 11, but your day is out of control and you will likely have to reschedule.

Home environment- After a difficult night with a sick baby, your doorbell rings at 6:00am. You are waiting for FedEx to deliver some important documents, so you hop out of bed and rush to the door. By the time you get there, whoever it was, is already gone. The doorbell woke up your toddler who asks for breakfast and tells you his “tummy hurts.” It is still 2.5 hours until school so you get out a puzzle for him to work on, give him some water and transfer your baby to your husband’s side of the bed, so she feels a body next to her and doesn’t wake up. You make a quick cup of tea for yourself and sketch out your priorities for the day including tracking down these important documents from FedEx, attending an HOA meeting and going to the bank to get a cashiers check for a purchase you need to make. A text comes in, your breakfast guest is running late, which only leaves you 20 minutes with her before you have to drop your son to school. While your son is brushing his teeth, you quickly pack his lunchbox while texting a friend who has a question about her rental apartment, and asks you because you are knowledgeable about real estate in that area. The baby wakes up and it is time to feed her. You grab your phone to scan through your email and send next week’s flight itinerary to your friend that you’ve scheduled a visit with, all with one hand since you are nursing your baby. Your guest arrives for breakfast and this is all before 8am.

Both situations require thinking on your feet, changing gears from low level details to giving high level summaries. The brain is exercised in multiple dimensions. In both scenarios, the priorities are continually shifting.

If women are so skilled in muti-tasking and managing shifting priorities, why does the workplace often see mothers as “less valuable employees?” Why should mothers be nervous about being rehired after taking a few years “off?” Is she not a more multi-dimensional thinker after having children? Is she not even smarter and savvy, having ample practice in balancing shifting priorities?

I find that a woman becoming a mother makes her even stronger and an even more dedicated professional. She has a strong desire to focus and has proved she is dedicated to long term projects. She has the ability to think broadly yet focus on the fine details. She can be firm, yet flexible. She can emphasize yet make tough decisions.

Mothers who reenter the workforce should be seen as more marketable and not less.

East Meets West Parenting

It seems that North American and Indian parenting styles have many opposite features.

Lets have a little quiz just for fun. In which culture would you hear the following statements, North American or Indian?

  • “Its the school’s fault that my kid hasn’t learned to speak yet.”
  • “Just let him pee his pants in public, he will learn potty training from shame.”
  • “I can’t go out because my child has exams this month.”
  • “Its ok that he fell off his bike, he will get back up again.”
  • “You are not getting any other kind of food until you eat your vegetables.”
  • “Its bedtime.”

If you guessed the first three to be from Indian parents, and the last three to be from North Americans, you’re right!

To qualify, I’m making broad generalizations and comparing middle class North Americans to middle class Indian people. People who live in the village, who don’t have access to education, or on the other end are very wealthy can not be compared directly to the variety of flavors of Western parenting models available in the US and Canada. I’m attempting to compare one middle class segment to another. 

General Principles which I find to be the most contrasted in Indian vs North American culture

1) Role of the child in the home

The joint family system creates an interesting challenge for parents in India. Grandparents, aunts and uncles living under one roof provide a hedge of protection and love for a child, but can also be confusing if there are not consistent rules and expectations. I’ve seen parents who try to enforce rules, which are then trampled by grandparents who have their own ideas. The child becomes the center of the home because of this power struggle between the elders and adult children.

In many North American families, the child is not the center of the home, the marriage and husband/wife relationship is. After that, comes the children, and other family relationships. There is little question of who is in charge of the child’s development and often times grandparents are cut off by adult children because they try to implement their own ideas or “push the boundaries.” The role of the parent being in charge is clearly defined and culturally accepted.

In middle class India, the child is the center of everything. Your world is dictated by the child. All grandparents, aunts and uncles circulate around the child’s school schedule, food desires and sleeping habits. Even professional offices are child-centered and allow flexibility for parents when a child is mildly sick or in need of extra care.  This is simply not the case in middle class North America. There are other outside forces (careers, parents’ hobbies, husband/wife relationship) which dictate the center of priorities.

2) Role of parent vs role of school in behavior development

Teachers are somehow responsible for everything in India. I have actually heard people blame the teachers when their children get poor marks on an exam. In North America, this is a matter of personal responsibility for the child and parents.

To share a personal story, in my son’s school, there are people employed there to actually hand feed your child. There are people employed to change the pants of the child when there is a toilet accident. In the West, these are all the child’s responsibility to learn on their own and the school remains uninvolved in these matters. In the West, by the age of 2 or so, a child is expected to be able to eat on their own. Potty training is a personal matter and parents are the sole contributors to the process.

There is immense pressure to perform in school in India, yet kids somehow end up not learning as much as they could. Due to this pressure, parents often complete the school assignments for their child to “impress” or “keep up” rather than helping the child to really grasp the concepts. The end goal seems to be to “complete the assignment” rather than “learn the concept.” The goal is to impress the teacher, get good marks, not learn.

In North America, parents give more space for their child to try and fail. I don’t know of any Western parents who would ever complete a child’s homework for them. There is no concept of propping up the child to protect them from failure. You often find parents who don’t “push” their kids in school or who are pretty uninvolved in the learning process of their kids. Parents let their child manage their own workload and take responsibility for their mistakes, even if they fail.

3) When to enforce discipline

Discipline in studies is of utmost importance in Indian culture. But correcting bad behavior seems to be something which is reactive rather than proactive in the early years. The attitude is “when kids are small, they are bound to misbehave.” There are little efforts to proactively teach the child to behave properly. But when they start school at a later age, things somehow shape up and the kids turn out to upstanding citizens of society.

In US and Canadian mainstream culture, the behavior of the child is something that needs a lot of correction and attention in the early years. Discipline in studies isn’t a main focus, but making the child into a “good, well rounded person” is the goal. Discipline and consequences are often enforced in the early years. The goal is the make the child independent in the long term.

 

Westerns would call the Indian style of parenting “coddling” or “pampering” with no discipline whatsoever at home. Indians would call the Western model of instilling independence “uncaring” or “aloof.”

The issues of discipline, roles in the home are central to forming a culture at large. Observing these cultural patterns, can give great insight to the psyche and behaviors of a people.

This post isn’t meant to be a criticism of either culture, just observations from a parent who finds herself confronting these contrasts in her daily life. 

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.