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Thursday, March 1st, 2012

A Marriage That Breaks all the Rules

incultureparent/ © Jacek Chabraszewski -

“I made the white cabbage Indian style and the red cabbage for the kids the Belgian way,” my husband tells me. Usually around 11 o’clock, my husband calls to relay what he is making for lunch while changing our 18-month-old daughter’s diaper and giving our two-and-a-half-year old a snack between meals.  While I have happily assumed the role of financially providing for the family, my husband seamlessly takes amazing care of our two little ones in addition to finishing his masters in psychology at night.

Our household can be described as nontraditional at best. Each of us is born in a country very different from the other.  My upbringing is a mixture of two vastly disparate cultures, Indian (for the first 16 years) and American (15 years).  My husband, whom I met during my fellowship in Belgium in 2004, is from the Flemish part of Belgium. Our marriage is a European-Indian-American mix. Although three languages are spoken in our home, language misunderstandings don’t bother us a bit. Many elements contribute to the controlled chaos of our day-to-day life.

Food: Two people from foodie cultures make for an exciting matrimony. The two popular spices known to Belgians are salt and pepper (and sometimes sugar, my husband clarifies) while Indian food comprises a variety of spices.  We cook a variety of European and Indian meals each day from stoofvlees to fish biryani. My husband’s open-mindedness has set a perfect precedent in our marriage to the acceptance of each other’s foods.  While he devours the spicy food I cook, I have learned to enjoy the taste and smell of vegetable or meat with just salt and pepper and sometimes sugar.

Mannerisms: Our differences also extend to minor cultural norms such as taking our shoes off before entering the house—a must in Indian culture but not in Belgian. Additionally, on one side of the dinner table you will find my husband eating fish on a bed of potatoes meticulously with a fork and knife as I eat the same with my fingers.

Languages: My native tongue is Marathi and my husband’s native tongue is Flemish. The only way we can converse with each other is English.  While I wasn’t sure how we were going to handle speaking multiple languages in the household once our children were born, we derived a solution that requires us to have loads of patience in the listening department.  With our little ones, you will hear my husband converse in Flemish, as I speak with them in Marathi. In the midst of it all, my husband and I communicate in English. To our amazement, our little ones are able to understand and respond to each of us in our native languages.

Holidays: My husband’s favorite holiday is Christmas. Since our time in Belgium, we have had one big and four small Christmas trees in the house.  The food was days in the making and the meals took hours to consume.  Fortunately, we were able to continue this tradition in the States and hope to do so now in Belgium.  Among all the Indian holidays, we celebrate Diwali (the festival of lights, sometimes lasting around six days depending on the Hindu calendar) with lanterns, rangoli (decorative art with colored powders) and most importantly, the one day dedicated to the husband giving his wife a gift!

While we didn’t know what we were signing up for when we decided to get married, our differences keep our marriage thriving.  Our immense love binds us together as well as our understanding that our life is a culture jungle, balanced by the harmony of each other’s differences.

© 2012 – 2013, Shweta Van Biesen. All rights reserved.

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Shweta has a fusion of Indian and American upbringings while her marriage to a Belgian broke all her family rules. She recently moved to Belgium. Since three languages are spoken in her home daily, a mixture of Indian and European foods cooked and language misunderstandings are a part of life, she fondly calls her family a “culture jungle.” She writes delicious tales of raising a multicultural family, traveling the world and her new life in Belgium on her blog

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1 Comment
  1. CommentsZvezdana   |  Sunday, 11 March 2012 at 11:18 pm

    I love to see other marriages that combine, fuse and flourish inspite of all the differences. It’s hard work but all marriages are I think. Just makes it all the more exciting and interesting.

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