IMG 0535a

Cross cultural relationships – a personal story

I broke up with my boyfriend. He is an Indian Brahman who works in Bollywood. As a film director, he is used to ‘playing’ with traditional culture in the movies he makes. Sometimes using it to create emotional suspense in his story, and sometimes questioning it to show different exciting possibilities. We met 4 months ago and made trips on his bike, crossing from fort to fort in Jaipur - the “pink city” - and I was introduced to all kinds of food and fruits from the street I had never tried before. As with other locals, it was not difficult to connect with him. Indians are curious and you immediately feel at ease with them because they treat you like family. It’s in their nature. We had a smooth start of our friendship. “This is the beginning, so it can only get better”, I thought, but there I already went wrong.



I see this happening on every level, every day during my journey in India. Whenever there’s a miscommunication, it is almost always about expectations and interpretation. We can’t change that.  I do find the RET theory of Albert Ellis a useful tool to help deal with it productively. In his ABC model he shows us that situations do not define our feelings. It is our thoughts about the situation that cause our emotion:

A = Something happens

B = We have a belief about the situation

C = We have an emotional reaction.

The model shows that – contrary to our intuition - A does not cause C. It is B that causes C. The most unimaginable emotional response can be imaginable if you understand someone’s beliefs. And it works the other way around, too. The most ‘strange’ behaviour can be understandable if you know the belief on which it is founded.


Queen Draupadi

How important it is to look for the beliefs, in order to understand someone’s actions, is probably best exemplified by the story of Queen Draupadi in the 2,000-year-old Indian epic, the "Mahabharata." The Queen’s husband, Yudhishthira, loses her kingdom in a gambling game. She asks him about unmerited suffering: "When everything was going so well for us, why was our kingdom stolen in a rigged game of dice?" she complains. She exhorts her husband to raise an army and get their possessions back. But he reminds her that he has sworn to his enemies to remain in exile for 13 years as punishment for losing the game. And he wants to keep his word. "What is the point of being good?" she persists. "Isn't it better to be powerful and rich than to be good in an unfair world where those who steal and cheat sleep on sheets of silk and pillows of down, while those who are good have to settle for the hard earth? Why be good?" To this he replies in the only way that he knows: "I act because I must."

By understanding that Yudhisthira acted in this way because his belief was that good acts produce good karma, and these acts eventually change the balance of dharma in the universe, Draupadi understood it and even admired him for that. Because of that she saw the whole situation in a different light. 


The last line from my friend was: ‘It’s all up to you how you take things because I never meant that, OK?’ I finally understood that, in his way, he did show effort and I wished that I had realized this before.