Advice on manners and morals (April 24, 2008).

Advice on manners and morals.
April 24 2008 6:53 AM

Guess Who's Coming to Diwali

My traditional Indian parents won't accept my white girlfriend. What can I do?

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Dear Prudence,
I am a 25-year-old Indian-American who has been in this country since I was 5. I started dating a Caucasian classmate four and a half years ago in college. The romance bloomed, and we are still together. She is kind, loving, beautiful, and a great inspiration. I see us together for the rest of our lives. There is only one problem: My parents are very traditional Indians and have told me since I was a young boy that they wanted me to have an arranged marriage, and if I did "bring home an American girl" that they would disown me. After two years, I told them about the relationship, and they were rightfully hurt and upset I'd kept it a secret. They say now that they were "joking" about disowning me and that I should have come to them. But it is close to three years later, and my girlfriend has still never met my parents. I greet holidays with a sense of dread because I feel pulled in two different directions. Even when I bring her up in conversation, they quickly change the subject or just walk away. They say that my relationship is just "a phase" and that I will "come to my senses." I also feel a sense of embitterment from my girlfriend for being completely shunned by her potential in-laws. My parents have told me that they will accept my girlfriend when we become engaged, but by then I fear that their attempt to build bridges will be too little, too late. I know that my parents love me and want the best for me, but is there anything I can do to unharden their hearts?

—Curry and French Fries

Dear Curry,
In 1922, a play debuted on Broadway called Abie's Irish Rose, about a Jewish boy and Catholic girl who marry, much to the distress of both their parents (an issue still being played out today). Your parents are only the latest wave of immigrants wanting to experience the freedom and opportunity of America, while making sure their children don't use this freedom and opportunity to find a spouse outside their religion, race, or ethnicity. Your parents have been sending you wildly mixed messages: They say, You will be disowned if you don't take an Indian wife. Then they tell you, Oh, we were just kidding. They say, You should have told us about your girlfriend! But their behavior says, We're going to keep pretending she doesn't exist. Now they say, We'll get to know her when you get engaged. But if you do, I think you'll find they really mean, Get engaged, and we'll stick our heads in the tandoor.While it's wonderful you have respect and deference for your parents, you are 25 years old and have been with this woman for almost five years—you are even contemplating marrying her. So you must insist to your parents that the next time you come home for the holidays, you are bringing your girlfriend along. Explain that while you don't know exactly what the future will bring vis-à-vis your relationship, you can no longer stand to be torn in opposite directions by the people in your life whom you love the most.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence Video: Way Too Much Information

Prudence,
I have a wonderful job in a small, close-knit office, but I am starting to worry about my co-worker "Kelly." She seems to be obsessed with herbal and Eastern medicine. She is a self-proclaimed expert, having read various Internet articles and prescribed a dozen herbs for herself. If someone is sniffly, Kelly won't hesitate to give them a handful of zinc tablets and her own prescriptive advice. Surprisingly (or maybe not so surprisingly), Kelly is in poor physical health but refuses to listen to her doctors, since they tend to contradict what she has "learned" from the Internet. My biggest concern is that Kelly works with many poorly educated and disabled people, and I have recently heard her recommending various herbal supplements. I am not an M.D., but I do have a medical education, certainly enough to know that excessive herbal medicines can have unexpected (sometimes lethal) effects. I have tried hinting politely, but Kelly is certain herbal medicines are the best cure for anything. Prudence, I'm worried someone will take her advice and end up very sick or worse! I don't want to burn any bridges, but I feel I should say something. Help!

—Take an Aspirin

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Dear Take,
Unless you and Kelly work at a health-food-supply company, I assume this moonlighting of hers is unrelated to the job at hand. Certainly, people are responsible for their own stupid decisions, but I agree there is no reason for you to sit back and watch her potentially harm colleagues. Stop hinting and tell her directly that you are concerned about the possible side effects of her "remedies." You can hand her this article by Jane Brody of the New York Times about the complications physicians are seeing in patients who don't tell them about the buckets of supplements they are taking. Sure, Kelly will probably pay no attention, but you might want to print out copies of the article and leave them in the coffee room. If Kelly continues to practice medicine without a license on company time, you might need to bring this to the attention of a boss or to human resources. Say that as reluctant as you are to discuss your colleague, you are concerned about the dangers Kelly may be causing vulnerable people.

—Prudie

Dear Prudie,
I'm not sure how to go about handling this situation. My ex-husband and I divorced nearly a year ago after an eight-year marriage. We realized once the divorce was final that we had made a big mistake and have decided to reconcile. We are getting remarried. Our family and friends are supportive of us getting back together. Neither one of us is sure how to do this. Do we have another wedding? Do we do it quietly at the justice of the peace? Elope in Vegas? We would like to celebrate this occasion with our family and friends, but we're not quite sure how to do it.

—Bride Again

Dear Bride,
Cary Grant's early career would have gone nowhere without the "comedy of remarriage." But if you make your friends and family sit through another wedding, they will be thinking less of The Philadelphia Story or His Girl Friday than that "comedy of déjà vu" Groundhog Day. Congratulations on your re-up of your nuptials, but this is the kind of occasion where a trip to city hall or a ceremony attended by only those very close to you should suffice. Then a party later (put out the word: "no gifts, please!") to celebrate true love would be lovely.

—Prudie

Dear Prudie
Would it be considered bad manners to eat popcorn in the following way: to take a handful (about five pieces) from the bowl with one hand and eat the popcorn one piece at a time with the other hand? The reason given for doing it this way is to keep the hand used to eat the popcorn out of the bowl. The reason given to think it is rude is that it is considered hoarding. Are there any given ideas for eating this kind of food from a shared community bowl? My family has been fighting over this for 14 years.

—The Popcorns

Dear Popcorns,
What a refreshing change popcorn is from the usual causes of decades-long familial battles: toothpaste-tube squeezing, toilet-seat positioning, dirty-sock strewing. For your family, fighting about how to eat popcorn is as crucial to your popcorn-eating pleasure as butter and salt are for everyone else. I'm not going to take sides and ruin all your fun!

—Prudie

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