Why Chai and Good-Bye’s Are So Important.

My husband and I recently went out to dinner with a nice White-American married couple from my husband’s work place. We ate at a very nice, quiet and modern Indian restaurant. Husband and I are not religious but we are Muslim and I notice we will do somethings out of habit and mostly culture rather then what religion asks of us.

But while we were all getting up to leave a few things confused me. And probably means I have been married to an Indian for too long.

They wanted to get up and leave right after dinner. I was a bit shocked and I almost blurted out “What about the chai?” In Indian culture when dinner is over, it is no where near leaving time. Not at all, you could even say that is when the evening starts, when the boiling hot chai arrives in small cups. I mean they are giving you a very hot (which takes many minutes to cool) and caffeinated drink late at night so that means you are staying awhile to hear all about the latest in salwar kameez fashion and questions about the in-laws. It would be rude to leave right after dinner and I couldn’t help feeling a little confused and hurt when less then 5 minutes after eating the last bit of biryani we were being asked ‘Ready to go?” by the couple sitting across from us.

Then I realized…they wouldn’t know that the custom and that’s its expected of them so I let it go and swallowed my words.

Then came the awkward good bye scene. I have been Muslim and married to an Indian for so long I wasn’t sure what to do. With Muslims you greet (only the women if you are female and males if you are male) and say good bye the same, affectionate way. A nice smile with a greeting of “Asalaam Alaikum”, a hug and a kiss on each cheek. And for woman to man interaction there would be a polite smile and nod of the head with a asalaam alaikum somewhere in the mix.

Don’t get me wrong, I am perfectly comfortable with shaking a man’s hand. That’s not the issue I was facing but rather, I was unsure of my hands and what to do next. I just keep my hands clasped in front of me with me pulling my fingers out of anxiety. If they were Indian this would be so much easier and much more comfortable. I know how to do Indian. I even wished I was wearing a dupatta so I could be doing something with my hands.

The evening ended slightly on a awkward note of us side steeping each other with the couple saying their good-byes while walking away from us to their car.

It reminds me of when my brother-in-law visits. When we first see him at the airport my husband will hug his brother and greet him but in five years I don’t think I have ever touched my BIL. We have never hugged or shaken hands. It wouldn’t be acceptable and socially correct. And whenever I see him I feel no anxiety becasue I know exactly how to greet and treat him. It’s actually a bit of a relief because it’s one less thing to worry about.

Of course, as soon as we got home Husband and I make ourselves some chai.


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