Cultural Expectations of Family

When I reflect on my last trip to Nepal, one of the most interesting days was the one when I taught English to a group of young adult Nepalis who were studying for their IELTS certification (a set of courses that shows prospective colleges that you are fluent in English, though it is not your native language). The English part wasn’t the part I found fascinating though, it was their personal questions. I am reflecting on them since I attended my first Hindu-Nepali wedding last weekend. I’ve been mostly party to Buddhist culture, since Sherpas are Buddhist, and I hang with that group the most. But 80% of Nepal is Hindu, so as you would imagine, I am anticipating the ceremony’s cultural flavors with delight.

But back to the students. After asking me all their questions about the US Immigration interview process, I invited them to ask me anything about my work and personal background. In the US our first question would probably be “Where are you from?” Followed closely by “What do you do?” but in Nepal, family comes before anything else, so they ask me if I am married, kids, who I live with, etc. Actually, the question “What do you do?” is becoming more annoying to me, since it seeks to place you based on your work life before anything else. Why do we ask that? Why not ask a new person, “What do you like to do? What are your favorite hobbies? Who do you hang out with?”

They asked how I came to be the English-speaker who was sitting in front of them that day, and I gave a long answer, going through my schooling (photography/art) and then my history with journalism and writing. I mentioned that I was married shortly in college, then moved into my creative and tech career path. The next question was by far the most interesting though. And one I didn’t anticipate. “Was that marriage a love marriage?” Think about it for a minute. I knew exactly what they were asking, but you’re probably in the dark.

They were asking if my marriage was of my own choosing, or whether it was in an arranged marriage. See, many marriages in Nepal are still arranged. The general philosophy is that love marriages don’t work because they are impractical, and most of them end in divorce. Arranged marriages in Nepal are different from what you are probably imagining. Often the bride and groom know each other well; often their families are friends, so the relations also know each other, and very often they are of the same cultural tribe or ethnicity (there are 175 or more in Nepal). The marriage itself is a practical answer to a problem Americans wrestle with on many levels. In short, it settles a lot of the expectations that we (Westerners) place on ourselves for what to expect in a relationship. If you look at it from that practical point of view. And when I responded that almost all marriages in the US are love marriages (don’t for a moment think there aren’t arranged marriages in the US, though) they broke into discussion among themselves sharing what they knew of this. I pointed out that my current marriage was also a love marriage, and it has been great for almost 20 years. Because I love breaking mindsets and making people think in ways they otherwise wouldn’t.

The wedding this weekend was divine, traditional Hindu in style, with the bride adorned in red and henna. The priest conducted it in Nepali with my friend Danu translating to English for the entirely Western audience. The groom was American and it tickled me how he was comfortably lost throughout the ceremony, following what the priest told him to do, submitting completely to the process of his Hindu wedding day. It was beautiful and unique and yes, it was a love marriage too.