Letting Go (or) How to “Chill” the Control Freak…

I was having a conversation in the comment section of a Gori Girl post with another (I’m assuming male Indian) reader who was asking how non-South Asian “significant others” are able to adapt to various common South Asian cultural quirks. The conversation started like this:

I am very curious to know about relationship dynamics in your [Gori Girl] Indian American Household, with regards to the cultural differences in customs in India and America. More specifically, in India, people invite each other over and unexpectedly drop in and hang out and do things together. In the US its more planned, and “khatirdari” is less common in this DIY land. How does it work in your family? How do you handle all the social obligations of an Indian wife?

I responded:

I hope you don’t mind me jumping in, this happens all the time at my house. Not as much as it used to because a lot of our friends are more established now in the community and don’t feel the need to drop by as often, but when we first moved I used to have people at my house 6 out of 7 days a week. It could get really exhausting. Most visits aren’t really planned, and I know there have been times when someone has rung our doorbell and I really didn’t want to answer, but they could tell we were home because the lights were on or something. I remember once or twice I stalled as long as possible before offering tea to a guest (almost to the point of being rude) because I knew if they had tea they would stay longer rather than just dropping in, saying hi and leaving, but eventually I had to offer (that’s what the guest was looking for) or I’d look like a jerk.

I don’t mind the visits in general, and 85-90% of the time it’s totally fine and even welcome, but every now and then I wish we lived in the middle of the woods where it would be hard to find our doorbell ;)

Likewise, I take full advantage of this, and feel no shame in dropping in on others who would do it to us. Even people in different states if I am driving by! I’ll call and give a 5 min heads up and say, “hey, are you home? I’ll come and have some tea!” Usually it’s really fun, and if I knew someone was driving through and didn’t stop by I’d probably be a little sad.

I’d like to add that, I’ve become so used to this habit of “dropping in” or “going out of your way for a friend” which is common amongst our South Asian friends, that I can’t help but feel a little bad when this isn’t reciprocated in my own (extended) family. You can’t really just “drop in” unannounced, and you can’t really ask for a favor that is “going out of the way” (at least with most people). I can’t help but now feel this attitude is a bit “cold” even if unintentional.

Anyway, the reader responded with:

Please do jump in. Again, Indians usually find it insulting if their boundaries have NOT been violated obscenely in the name of togetherness and community. (:D)… It’s good to know that you enjoy Indian visitation habits and have started adapting to them as well… Are you able to relate to the quintessential South Asian “Chaltha Hai” attitude (Let’s wing it/everything goes!)?

So I wanted to take a few minutes to talk about this.

For those of you who might have known me when I was younger (middle school/high school) you might remember that I was a bit anal retentive. Yes, I’ll be the first to admit it. I was definitely one of those students that had to have my hand in absolutely everything (this committee, that committee, this team, that club, all the honors classes… even math, which I totally suck at, and whose classes have scarred me for life!), with a schedule packed solid 99% of the time. As part of this I was the queen of organization, and completely anal about my stuff… everything had a place, had a system… even lending out books or movies I owned… I’d keep a list with dates, like a librarian or something.

When I moved on to college I tried to keep this up. I regimented a lot of things: I had a day when I did the laundry, a day when I cleaned my room, I scheduled my on-campus jobs at times when I knew I needed an excuse to be motivated and productive, like the first morning shift in the library so I’d be forced to get up early. But it was also in college that I had to start relinquishing some of the control in my life. It wasn’t a bad thing… it was more of a “chilling out” process and it happened for two reasons.

One: I studied abroad.

Two: I became very active with the international students, and realized, not everything and everyone in the world can be regimented. (sounds like a history lesson from the British empire…)

I got a brief taste of “relinquishing control” in France, but it wasn’t until I was in Kenya and India that “white girl with control issues” really slapped me in the face. For anyone who has ever heard of “African time” or “Indian time” you know exactly what I am talking about… stuff happens at a different pace. You can’t always accomplish everything you set your mind to in the time frame you set for yourself. I realized quickly that by “letting go” of my control I could enjoy myself more and be less frustrated and cynical. I watched other students for whom this realization came too late, or never came at all, and I saw them struggle. It was a painful process coming face to face with uncontrollable obstacles all the time and having to bang your head against the wall about it. This became even more pronounced when I later worked in South Africa with American students but South African staff. There were two different ways of thinking about and doing things, and being stuck in between and interpreting the other’s side for each was a bit maddening, but definitely a learning experience. (I’m of the opinion that you could pack up and send anyone overseas to a fundamentally different place and they would come back a changed person…)

plain cheap ubiquitous bic pens

Secondly, P later told me a story from one of the first few times we sat studying together. He asked to borrow a pen, so I gave him an extra pen. When we were done I nonchalantly asked for my pen back. He later told me he was really surprised by this. It wasn’t a special pen, it was probably one of those “dime-a-dozen” plain bic pens. It wouldn’t have been a big deal if he kept it and used it, but I asked for it back. It seemed kind of rude, as if I didn’t have twenty other pens exactly the same back in my room. I don’t remember the interaction specifically, but I’m sure I thought, “hey, he asked to borrow it not to have it, it’s mine, I have x number of pens in my desk, so I’d like it back. If everyone took my pen when they borrowed it, I’d have none!” That interaction initially made P think I was either kind of selfish or a control freak. (He also really likes pens. He has about a million of them.)

Yet as the years went on, I became less of a “control freak” and more laid back. I realized that “stuff” wasn’t all that important, but that people and relationships were. Helping someone out or lending someone something wasn’t that big of a deal—so what if I lost a few pens or a novel or two. And the world would not end if the laundry wasn’t done on laundry day, and dust bunnies collected under my bed.

I’m still a bit of a control freak about certain things. I love to organize, I like schedules, I am a “list person” (you should see all the sticky notes stuck to my computer monitor at work!) but I’m also more adaptable now then I was before. Someone ringing the doorbell randomly doesn’t throw me off for the rest of the night… so good thing we made three cups of rice instead of 2! Or finding out at lunch time that we will have a dinner party tonight for 8 people… no problem… I’ll just pop by the grocery store after work.

It’s nice to have things in moderation, a fine balance between organized and free spirited. Does that count for “chaltha hai” attitude? I think so, at least a little bit ;)

I’d pop in the video for the Bollywood song “Just Chill” but I don’t like the dance scene, or Salman Khan… but this just proves that there seems to be a  Bollywood song for every occasion!

Instead I’ll let you listen to Bobby McFerrin’s “Don’t Worry Be Happy” because that’s how I roll :)

10 responses to “Letting Go (or) How to “Chill” the Control Freak…

  1. Hey there.
    Awesome post as usual.
    Sometimes, guys with their gfs being really uptight on things, get troubled by it, because the gf usually constantly tests and questions the guy for completeness, and that makes the guy feel emasculated.

    Just wanted to make you aware of something that women do naturally, and men have trouble with.


  2. You might want to enable mobile version on ur setting so that u don’t disenfranchise those who read from their mobile device. It’s a simple setting u can turn on.

  3. Pakistanis are majorly into the taqalluf thing. In Anglo-American culture people can take out a packet of gum and pop a piece in their mouths and not offer anyone some and it would, in most contexts, be perfectly acceptable. So we seem kanjoos and inconsiderate to some people from cultures which value displays of generosity and hospitality towards guests. That does create tensions when you are white and you have guests from a taqalluf culture (my husband has issues with my ways, too sometimes). They probably think we wouldn’t offer them a glass of water even if they were on fire, but our way is like this: if I really really like you, I will feel comfy with you in my kitchen getting yourself some water. Anyway, over the years my habits have changed and I have definately become more hospitable, but I am not up to par with a ‘properly raised’ elegant and polished Pakistani hostess. And, like you mention, I also sometimes look at guests through the lense of: how much trouble is this gonna be for me to have these particular people over.

  4. I’ve always heard this distinction between Americans and other cultures, but I’ve never really thought it was true. I’m starting to think it is, though, and my family was just different. My mom was Spanish, perhaps that’s the root of it. I come from a large family, the youngest of 9. Growing up, our house was busy and loud–and fun! We always had lots of visitors around. Usually a couple of my siblings had friends over and my aunts and uncles and neighbors were always dropping by. Our coffee pot was never turned off until we went to sleep!

    Strangely, I’m much more social than my Nepali husband. I literally have to drag him to dinner at my sister’s house and our guests are usually my friends rather than his.

    • I agree… I have always enjoyed a big gathering. Holidays in my family were always really big… my dad was one of 5 and my mom was one of 7 so no matter whose family we went to for Thanksgiving or Christmas it was quite the gathering.

      But in general growing up, we didn’t have a constant stream of people (in our daily lives), like we can have at P and my place, and I’ve noticed, as my parents and their siblings get older, people are more set in their ways, and holidays are a bit less chaotic and busy. Now that my dad’s parents have passed away, I’ve noticed that the individual family units are more apt to break away and do their “own” holiday thing (particularly the older siblings) while the younger siblings that still have school aged children stick together more.

      In fact, a few years ago I wanted to bring a few international friends to Thanksgiving at my mom’s family’s place, and was really surprise to hear “no”– my grandmother just thought there were too many people already. I never would have expected that before, especially with my mom’s family who always seemed more “outgoing” and “free spirited.”

      Nowadays, I really like having a big group around. It makes life interesting, there is always something to do and see and talk about. It’s a common complaint from a lot of my students that the city we live in is “boring” with “nothing to do,” but I find that there always seems to be a dinner or a gathering in the neighborhood to keep us busy.

      Its funny because, I think I’m a lot more talkative and outgoing than P (well… certainly louder), but I think he is really the one who relishes in being surrounded by people.

      Would I have been this active without P? Maybe, but probably not. I think it is a lifestyle change that is fun most of the time, but every now and then I need a breather from.

      I could see why having a Spanish mother with 9 kids could lead to a more outgoing family situation! Where are you in the pack? older, younger or somewhere in between?

  5. sugarmamabakingco

    LOVE it! I have also learned to let go as I get older…but I think it is a result of my mom’s lax attitude growing up…and I wonder if it isn’t cyclical: chill parents end up with anal kids who then learn to relax…only to have anal kids again…:)

  6. I’m the youngest of my siblings. It’s strange, though, even though I’m the youngest, I seem to be the organizer for family functions. It’s funny you mentioned having guests for Thanksgiving…I’m bringing 3 friends to my sister’s (in addition to my husband, of course!). I actually didn’t even ask her if she minded…I just knew she wouldn’t and told her I was bringing some friends. (I get some leeway, I suppose, because I actually cook the entire meal even though we have it at my sister’s. What’s she going to do? Say no?) Our holidays have always included “strays” – friends of mine or my siblings who don’t have family close by. One year I brought 5 people home with me from college because they were going to stay in the dorm over the break!

  7. Pingback: Intercultural Hospitality in Our Mixed Home | Gori Girl

  8. I’m having a bit of an American Nepali night! Anyhow, truth be told my family has a revolving door – I never know who will turn up when I go home to visit but my husband finds that quite disconcerting. I like it and it happens far too rarely in Dubai – although perhaps that is because guests are likely to only be offered water, tea and biscuits when they arrive to visit!

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