Understanding Bengali culture: Intro

At the end of this year J and I will be traveling to Bangladesh and India with our families to meet my extended family and sight-see. We have our plane tickets, our vaccinations and are working on our visas.

But one huge task remains, preparing J and his family for the abstract and intangible customs of Bengal. Many times the words “culture” and “customs” are lumped together but have distinct meanings. Culture is a broad word . . . it covers the clothes, arts, music, traditions, food, social conduct etc. of a particular group. Customs are accepted ways of behaving in a particular social group to obtain goals in that culture. Sometimes that might mean adopting, or at least understanding the society’s attitudes.

For example, Rabindra sangeet and eleesh maach fall under the umbrella of Bengali culture. “Hidden Rules” like taking one’s shoes off upon entering a home or touching the feet to receive the blessing of an elderly relative is a custom.

In the upcoming weeks I’ll post about things that I hope will help bideshis and ABCDs understand the paradoxical and sometimes difficult world of Bengali culture. Since we have no Emily Post, my goal is to document the rules, unspoken values, and general behaviors of Bengal and offer light-hearted advice to those who wish to learn more about this culture. I’d like to see myself as a native anthropologist, or someone studying their own society.

Lastly, keep your eyes open for a surprise guest contributor coming soon! Thanks so much for reading.