“I yam what I yam, and that’s all that I yam.”

popeyeYes….I just quoted Popeye. But it’s an excellent way to explain the issues we all face in any kind of situation where prejudices pop their nasty little heads, especially when you are in an Intercultural Relationship. Let me explain.

For a very long time that statement seemed both true and wrong to me. When I was younger it was the absolute literal truth. When I got older and could use my brain more efficiently, I thought it was both right and wrong. Now, I know that it’s absolutely wrong.

Now I know that while I “yam what I yam”, I also “yam with some sweet potato mixed in”. You’re sitting there with a puzzled expression, I know, I’m odd. Let me explain further.

Let’s say you read my blog and decide to build a time machine. You go back ten years, find me at the grocery store buying my staple hamburger meat and hamburger helper. You tell me that 10 years from now I would be a vegetarian engaged to a guy from India. I would have looked at you and then become the picture perfect version of ROFLMAO.

My response then would have been to claw my way back up to standing and tell you in no uncertain terms that I LOVED my meat eating ways and to be engaged to someone from another culture and country??? Are you kidding me??? We would have nothing in common! Not the music, not the movies, not even the same kinds of childhood memories (ooooh the wonderful memories of eating crunchies at Long John Silvers for example or dodge ball on the play ground). Then, I would have happily wandered off to blithely forget your weirdness.

Now, I know that back then I was what I was and I wasn’t anything else. But why was I that way? Why would that scenario seem so alien and weird to me? Because I didn’t know any different, that’s why. I was raised eating meat. Why to change that? I was raised dating ‘American’ boys, that’s just the way it was. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t see anything wrong with someone doing something differently than me…I just felt that that was their deal and not mine.

However, life changes a person and it’s up to us to decide how it changes us. Whether it is negatively or positively, it’s still our choice how we let it affect us. When I met my fiancé, I had already visited (and fell in love with) India, had been a vegetarian for almost a year (with some cheating here and there), was learning to cook Indian food because, for me at least, that offered the most nutritious and tasty way to BE a vegetarian in the US and was studying Hinduism. So when I met him, I was more open to a relationship with him because I already recognized that we did have the possibility of having a lot in common. I already had many friends from India with whom I found much in common, music, movies and books. I found that they had the same life experiences (even if they were playing cricket while I was playing dodge ball). I had learned, essentially, that we weren’t all that different after all.

When we finally decided to tell his parents about our relationship and the resulting reaction we got was a negative one, I had to start doing a lot of analysis. I began to learn more about myself, of my own culture, and of his. At first, the independent “American” part of my ‘self’ took over saying “Oh wow, how could this happen? Why on earth is this an issue?”

At first, I just saw it from my point of view, my American point of view, where we are a melting pot of cultures and religions and are open to change, new ideas and experiences and expect everyone to be pretty much the same. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that India is not open to new ideas or experiences and they definitely have their fair share of different cultures and religions…but they also have a side that is fundamentally different from ours. Not worse and not better, just different.

And then I took a breath and started to use my work honed skills at Data Analysis and realized that I was looking at the problem from just one perspective. A QA analyst would have pulled their own version of ROFLMAO if I had presented a Business/Technical Specification ONLY from the Client or Developer’s point of view.

So (and here is just how weird and anal I can be), I wrote a Specification based on my own Intercultural Issue. Walt Disney said “If you can dream it, you can do it”. Well, what was a Specification but my own version of a written out dream? Specs are written with the intention of being a ground work, dynamic in their composition.

And in writing that Spec, I found something so simple and yet so profound that I almost missed it.

Let’s go back to the time machine scenario…where I am rolling around on the floor laughing my ass off at your weird and crazy statements about me giving up meat and dating a guy from India. I simply didn’t know any better at that time. I hadn’t been exposed to anything. Everything else was ok for other people, but “I yam what I yam”. Get my drift?

So, how on God’s green earth could I possibly expect his family to be ok with me when I knew for darn sure that they had never been exposed to this kind of situation, had little to no contact with women from the United States and only knew what they saw of us in Movies and on TV????? I had quite obviously lost my freaking mind.

If I were them, I would have done the “ROFLMAO” pose and then got serious and told my son or daughter that they couldn’t possibly have anything in common with this person from a different culture or country.

I would have told them that because that would have been all I knew.

No matter how open minded I am, no matter how much I would like to sit here all altruistic and tell you that I would have calmly listened to my son or daughter, discussed the pro’s and con’s and then essentially told them it was their life, I also can’t lie. I know that is what I would hope I would do, but I’m human enough and smart enough to know that I’m also fallible enough to make a mistake at some point in that conversation or just give a flat out “No way Jose!!!”.

I suppose what I’m really trying to say here, is that you can’t expect someone to just accept that which they do not know….because they are what they are and that is all that they are….at that point in their life. It’s up to you (and others like you) to help change things. It requires patience and understanding. It requires a sense of humor. It requires a lot of breathing and calming down. Most of the responsibility and burden of proof is going to fall on your shoulders. Is that fair? Who told you that it’s supposed to be fair? Come on man…get real and grow up. Life is sometimes fair and sometimes not, the important thing is that you never loose site of who you are, what it is you want to accomplish, and that to get to your end goal…you’re going to have to see it from the other person’s point of view.

What ever you do though, never forget that sometimes just ROFLMAO is cathartic! =))

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One thought on ““I yam what I yam, and that’s all that I yam.”

  1. Heh – still laughing at you writing specifications to figure out your intercultural issue. I swear, half of the reason Aditya and I get along so well with each other in day-to-day life is that we can use business/technical terminology to explain our needs – he thinks/breathes product management, and I’m all about stochastic processes and managing risk in project development.

    To speak to the, ahem, larger topic at hand, I think your core point that you can’t expect good responses from people when they’re thrown into a situation they have no context for is very true & important. And, of course, Aditya is all about managing expectations, as you know.

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