When I announced to my parents that I would like for them to meet Kedar, the first reaction of my father was to warn me about having a different religion and the impact this would have on our lives and the importance to have a stable set of value and belief to pass to our future children.
While I truly value the advice given by father I have come to experience that the most trivial cultural problems caused the most frustration at the beginning of our marriage.
Here are a few selected pain points and how we chose to deal with it.
Games and fun family activities:
I come from a close family and my best family memories are playing games with my grandparents, cousins, siblings, uncles and aunts. It is very important for me to have the same type of quality time with my Franco Indian family and our international friends, but it can be quite challenging when part of the players cannot speak with the other half or if all do not share the same cultural background.
The same way I cannot expect my 95-year-old grandmother to know who Beyoncé is, I have no idea who most of the Indian cricket stars and German politicians are.
Even cards and my favorite board game Chinese checkers have different rules around the world!
One quick fix to this is to explain the game in different languages first (e.g. card or board games). Game examples: Bilingual Role Play games, Card games with translation, Pantomiming or Drawing objects, situation and people is also always a good option if some participants cannot speak together without a translator.
You do not need to talk together to enjoy playing together, one just need to set up a frame.
Sharing a meal together
In France sharing food and drinks is one of the key elements of life and not just social life. Every French take at least 1 hour of lunch break to enjoy a full meal (starter + main course + dessert) with a friend or colleague. Eating alone or in front of your computer is seen as suspicious and can only be excuse by an urgent deadline to meet. Similarly, family seat together at least once a day to share one common meal and use this moment as a pillar of life together. We call this Convivialité which means something like the joyful art of being and eating together.
This simple family ritual can become a real challenge if you have to accommodate different food preference and religious restriction to your meal plan.
In my case my mother in law follow a Hindu-vegetarian diet with regular religious fasting and no alcohol. In the French tradition, you honor your guest by serving them meat and wine and most like my father feels like they have not eaten anything if there was no meat.
The use of spices and especially Chili in Indian cuisine can be off-putting to most foreigner, especially since most of the curry are grinded smoothly making it often impossible to identify the basic ingredient of the gravy. The same is also true of my beloved French stinky and non-pasteurized cheese. To that I should also add that a good Indian hostess always eats after she has fed her guest and served delicious hot roti (bread) straight from the stove, making any type of conversation impossible during a meal.
Instead of focusing on the differences, my family chose to emphasize on all the dishes that cross cultures and provide everyone with the simple joy of enjoying good food in good company. Roti are a big hit in my French family and my mother in law taught my nephews how to roll them. They did not need to talk much but just observe and follow her example. I bake tons of French pastry with my mother in law.
Some dishes are also present with different names and sometimes ingredients in both culture and you can always cook meat separately and add it only for serving:
- Savory crêpes and their Indian cousin the masala Dosa made with rice and lentils flower instead of wheat.
- Paella and his Indian alter ego Masala Bhat
- Risotto called Pulao in India
- Nougatine or Chikti in India
In the process also learned to make a few Indian recipes and really enjoyed playing around with spices and exotic herbs I had never heard of before (e.g. Fenugrec). No matter what we eat we try to eat it together even if that means that the Roti are less hot. At the end of the day being open to new things and focusing on the sharing experience is truly what matters.
Indian Spices and French pastry makes the best marriage!