If your spouse is a Muslim, you need to be careful ordering a bacon burger at a restaurant.
Of course, your spouse may be a liberal, progressive person who does not mind that the person sitting next is violating basic religious tenets of your spouse.
You see, cross-cultural behavior is not just making sure you greet someone according to their cultural practices. It is far more and far more complex set of behaviors that should drive towards a synthesis of cultures.
So here are some tips to follow if you are trying to be sensitive and compassionate about the culture and beliefs of your relatives.
1. First, find out how “devout” the relative is. Talk it out. Feel out the other person as to what he or she really believes in. It may surprise you to know that a person who is very tolerant of other religions is not tolerant of folks who violate his or her religious practices. Specially if the violator belongs to the same religion.
I was once accosted by a mob of Islamic fanatics who wanted to know why I was traveling from one town to the other on a day of extreme sadness for Muslims–this was in India. My driver was a muslim and he got the brunt of their wrath because while they wrote me off as a dumb tourist, they really pounced on him for being so insensitive as to travel and do commerce on a day of mourning. My poor driver came close to getting beaten up. I had to climb down, lay flat on the ground and beg – with tears in my eyes – for forgiveness. Even then they threw away his water and made him go through a painful penance ritual.
So if your spouse is intolerant of those who do not practice the religion with the same level of intensity and accuracy as your spouse, watch out. You are better off leading with an apology and forgiveness for having committed a sin–not following the strict edicts of the religion.
2. Second, try to engage the spouse in conversation that broadens his or her knowledge of other religions.
3. Third, do not get into an argument about religion. Religion relies on blind faith. So do rituals. Most people who follow religious rituals cannot give a scientific explanation of how a ritual changes, let alone improves anything.
4. Fourth, read up on the religion or culture your spouse or relative follows. You will be surprised how warmly you will be received once you profess to understand the culture. Ask questions, but not in a disbelieving way.