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Unwritten Laws - Belated LBC Post

I am extremely late with my LBC post this week.  My apologies are due to my fellow LBC bloggers.  It seems that Blogger and my kids conspired to prevent me from posting this last Friday evening.  That is a pity, because this is a post I had very much looked forward to writing and sharing.

Twenty years ago, there was an Indian student called Vinay, studying medicine in my native Dublin.  His family were based in England and this is how he came to be studying in Dublin.  Vinay was very impressed with how friendly his Irish fellow students were.  Every Friday evening they would drag him along to the pub, where they bought drinks for him all night.  He was overwhelmed with their friendliness and kindness and decided that Ireland was definitely the place to be.  He succeeded in saving a fair bit of money too, because he didn't have to spend any money on the nights out.  After a few weeks, however, something seemed to change.  The Irish friends weren't quite as friendly as they used to be.  They stopped insisting that he join them in the pub on Friday evenings too.  He wondered what he had done to offend them, but nobody said anything. When he joined them in the pub, he got the distinct impression that he wasn't wanted.  As one by one his friends ordered rounds of drinks, his drink would automatically appear.  Something however, was wrong.  One day, he accidentally overheard a conversation in the classroom concerning him and he was honestly shocked.

"Do you like Vinay?" someone asked.

"Oh, he's alright,"  came the reply.  "But he's a mean son of a bitch.  That swine doesn't know how to put his hand in his pocket."

He asked one of his closer friends, someone who wasn't involved in the pub scene, what 'knowing how to put your hand in you pocket meant.'  Then the light dawned.  The gang were disgusted that Vinay hadn't yet started to take his turn in buying a round of drinks on the nights he went to the pub with them.  The first week or two was fine, because he was new and a foreigner.  But now he was one of the crowd.  No more excuses.

Anjali was a Punjabi girl who joined her brother and his wife in Dublin.  They were hoping to get her a suitable match somewhere in the United Kingdom.  She befriended some Irish people and used to go out with them sometimes.  She was deeply touched by the fact that the Irish friends always insisted on paying her bus or taxi fare.  However, after a couple of weeks the new friends cooled off without explanation.  Next time she went along with them, she was surprised to be bluntly told her share of the fare and was asked to pay it.  Her friends had had a little discussion about Anjali's 'meanness', as she had never once attempted to pay for anything.   It was decided that if the friendship was to continue, she'd have to be asked straight out to pay her share.Everyone would have preferred that she did it without being asked, but as everyone was short of money after being out with her, plain speaking became necessary.

Both Anjali and Vinay were astonished that if they were asked to meet friends in a pub for someone's birthday, they were expected to pay their share for drinks, even if the party took place in a hotel.  In India, when you are invited to a party, the host pays for everything.  They also found it difficult to understand why if they gave someone a gift, they didn't get one in return.  Another Indian custom.

When I came out to India to marry Yash, I had no idea about the Indian custom of 'dahej', other than the fact that I knew it existed.  The English for dahej is dowry.  I knew that asking a bride or her family straight out for dowry was illegal, but other than that, I knew very little.  It took me years to figure things out.

Some of my nephews here told me that prior to my marriage, seventeen years ago, when they were children, there was great excitement among the friends and relatives about the foreign bride coming in to the family.  Apparently, some callers to the house were predicting that our family home would be like a Taj Mahal after the new bride came.  Apparently people were predicting air conditioners and all sorts of luxury gadgets to be installed.  So the new bride came.  And nothing new was installed.  After the wedding, the family was still making do with the usual ceiling fans and coolers.The kids were wondering what happened to the air conditioner and the dishwasher and all the fancy gadgets.  They told me about this recently with much laughter.  I realized that probably relatives and friends of the family must have thought that I'd be bringing a very fancy dahej with me and that I'd want to upgrade the family home to my former living standards.  It apparently puzzled them greatly that I didn't want to do it.  In fairness, I have to say that Yash's family never expected nor demanded anything of me, understanding the situation much better than their friends and relatives obviously did.

No doubt airfares to and from India had eaten into my savings, but it had never dawned on people that I wasn't rich.  Everyone just assumed that foreigners were.  Being from a working class backround, I've always  had enough to live on all my life, but I've never had wealth in the real sense.

I had a request from Yash just before I came out here to bring a camera with me of a particular brand, as a relative had requested it.  I had to spend my own money on it and Yash promised I would be reimbursed. The camera cost 1,000 U.S. dollars, no small sum at that time.  When I reached India and asked Yash to recover my money, the concerned relative suddenly developed amnesia about having asked for the camera.  Which left me stuck with an expensive camera, purchased in Paris, which I was unable to return and didn't want.  I later realized that this relative is someone who could have expected to receive  a hefty slice of the dahej, had it been available.  This camera was probably something he wanted as a gift from a dahej which had no existence in reality..  Oh, well, you live and learn.

I remember my mother discussing my situation with one of my neighbours when she visited me.  When my mother saw that I didn't have an ironing board, she was annoyed.  She told my neighbour that she was worried that her daughter didn't have too many  good facilites. My neighbour replied "but that's your fault, you sent her here with nothing!"

Yash never required dowry from me and that was the measure of his love for me.  But it certainly raised eyebrows that I had got myself such a highly qualified bridegroom so 'cheaply.'  In the mentality of many of the people I have met, it is the parents duty to 'buy' a bridegroom for their daughter and set her up with all the comforts they can afford.  When I told some people here  that in the west, we don't do it that way, they couldn't believe it.  Surely everyone in the world has to do this for their daughters?  Incidentally, my mother has helped me a great deal over the years with moral and emotional support and she brings a lot of nice things like clothes and shoes for my children when she visits.  Not because she is obliged to but because she wants to.

There are unwritten laws in every culture, north, south, east and west.  The more aware we are of them, the better we can cope with cultural difference.

This is my weekly post for the Loose Blogger Consortium. We are a group of bloggers from different parts of the world with diverse views and styles of writing, and we post simultaneously (well, we try to) on a weekly basis on a given topic.  Our members  are, in no particular order,    AkankshaDelirious, Padmini, AshokConrad, gaelikaa, Grannymar, and Rummuser. This topic 'Unwritten Laws' was chosen by me, gaelikaa.


  1. Nice mixture of Indians overseas and a foreigner in India getting tangled in local unwritten laws. Good new look to the blog too.

  2. Hi Maria, A nice clean face to the blog, but I didn't know you were an 'Orange Woman' ;) nicely timed for 12th July!!

    Some different unwritten laws there.

    Thanks for sorting the comment system.

  3. I really enjoyed reading this! I love reading about your life in India - absolutely fascinating :-)

  4. @Rummuser - glad you approve!

    @Grannymar - so glad I took your advice! The orange look is mere coincidence actually!

    @Teresa - welcome, it's so nice to see you over here!

  5. I'd forgotten how much I love reading about your life experiences and cultural differences. Will endeavour to visit regularly. xx

  6. Thank you Sue! Lovely to see you over here too!

  7. I absolutely loved your take on the topic! Its sugar and spice and everything nice! =)

  8. I always find it fascinating to read your blog. These unwritten laws certainly make life interesting, yet more than a little difficult for someone who has not grown up with them. You handle it all so well.

  9. Well done, as usual. You manage to present the most difficult of situations with a matter of fact attitude. Crisp and direct.
    I am glad to know your mom visits.

  10. I am fascinated by the way you tell a story.

    Dowry is something we take for granted and a mother continues to honour her daughter's family every year till she dies and then her brothers take on the onus.

    It is just a way of telling the daughter's family that we continue to care for our girl--so watch out. Of course the limits to which the dowry demands go is well recorded!

  11. Well done, Maria!

    Those pesky unwritten laws can create havoc.

    When I was teaching ESL, a lot of them came to light. We had many wonderful discussions about the hows and the whys, which led me to be a little more "wise" in understanding "how".

  12. Fascinating and illuminating.
    Misunderstandings can lead to much heartache. Good for your welcoming Indian family. I wonder how/if the behaviour of the two in Ireland changed after they eventually caught themselves on - in other words, did they catch themselves on?

  13. Terrific post, Maria. Goes to show how cultural differences can cause misunderstandings.



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