In-Laws from a Different Culture
Dress to excess: Clothing
In general, Americans are not a modest bunch. People from other countries are apt to show much less flesh. Considering what most people look like uncovered, there's a lot to be said for more being more.
If you have any female in-laws from Thailand, for example, they'll likely cover as much of their body as possible. Islamic women are also very modest.
Eat, drink, and be merry: Food
Are your in-laws Jewish or Muslim? If so, nix on the pork and shellfish. Hindus don't eat beef. Seventh Day Adventists don't eat any meat.
Muslims, Hindus, Mormons, and some Protestant sects do not drink alcoholic beverages. To be on the safe side, just serve water (and maybe a Little Debbie or two). Or, you can run the menu by your spouse and in-laws before you serve it.
Diamonds are a girl's best friend: Gifts
Are your in-laws Chinese? If you like them, don't offer gifts of umbrellas, knives, scissors, or clocks. Umbrellas and sharp objects indicate that you wish a separation; clocks hint that life is running out. If you give your Chinese in-laws cash gifts, the amount must be in even numbers and the gift given with both hands. Pretty tricky, no? Check and double-check your in-laws' cultural beliefs before you whip out that AmEx for gift giving.
Battle of the sexes: Male/female relationships
A young woman was captured by a young man and taken to his home, where she was sexually molested. The victim called the police, who charged the man with kidnapping and rape. The young man was shocked: according to his culture, he is married to the girl and thus innocent of any wrongdoing.
Some marriage customs illegal in America are customary in other cultures. Among the Hmong, marriage can take place when a young man takes a girl (often as young as fourteen) to his home and consummates the marriage. In exchange, the groom's family pays a "bride price" to the girl's family. This practice is called zij poj niam, "marriage by capture."
Yo! Adrienne: Forms of address
Most cultures are more formal than the United States. If your in-laws were born in another country, err on the side of formality when addressing them. For example, refer to them by their titles, not their first names, unless they tell you otherwise.
On thin ice: Compliments
Be careful if you compliment your in-laws, because the statements that people interpret as compliments and the socially correct way to respond to compliments varies widely among cultures. For example, an American who is complimented would likely say "Thank you." A Japanese person, in contrast, would probably apologize by saying, "No, it wasn't very good."
More on: Marriage and Divorce
Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Dealing with In-Laws © 1998 by Laurie E. Rozakis, Ph.D. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
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