Culture Clash


Sunday, July 8, 2001

Cultural views about
marriage differ

RON PORTER had traveled to Patna, India, to recruit software engineers for his computer manufacturing firm in Miami. Ron had carefully studied the application materials and work samples of more than 20 engineers. One morning, he was interviewing Janak Sinha, who had received his engineering degree from the Indian Institute of Technology.

Janak told Ron that he would be getting married next Saturday, and Ron mentioned that his daughter recently became engaged. Janak asked, "Did your daughter and her husband choose each other." Ron answered, "Sure, they met during their junior year at their college. Where did you meet your fiancée?" Janak responded, "I haven't met her yet. We see each other for the first time the day of our wedding." This response was so unexpected Ron couldn't think of a thing to say.

In India, some people choose their own mates and some enter into arranged marriages. Since most Americans choose their marital partners, they find arranged marriages difficult to understand. In India, marriages represent the joining of two families. A man asks his parents, or his father may respond to an inquiry from another family. Parents of the man consider the eligible women in a community and identify possible matches given the qualities of the women and their families' reputations. The parents also consider the long term challenges of a marriage, based on their own experiences, and ask who will be a good partner. The son trusts his parents. "They know me better than anyone and are concerned about my long term happiness. They will choose a good wife for me."

The parents of eligible women go through a similar process when thinking about eligible men who will be good husbands. Since the parents and other member of the extended family participate in the selection of marital partners, they have an investment in the success of the marriage. When the inevitable difficulties of marriage arise, the husband and wife have a concerned support group whose members will offer various kinds of help.

This incident and analysis developed from conversations with D.P.S. Bhawuk, College of Business Administration, University of Hawaii. He feels "arranged and choose-own" marriages differ in the emphasis on selection versus development. In the United States, people put a great deal of time and effort into selecting a marital partner. In India, there is more emphasis on the development of a long-term relationship after the marriage.

The purpose of this column is to increase understanding of human behavior as it has an impact on the workplace. Special attention will be given to miscommunications caused by cultural differences. Each column will start with a short example of such confusion. Possible explanations will be offered to encourage thought about these issues.

Richard Brislin is a professor in the College of Business Administration,
University of Hawaii. He can be reached through the
College Relations Office:

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