Raw onions and Instagram reels — How this Italian bahu bonds with her desi saas
“Ask questions, be open to learning new things about each other, and do all of this minus any judgement”
Being in an adult romantic relationship is like hot yoga meets power yoga. Sure, bending over backwards and sometimes stretching yourself thin is worth it for the rush of emotions. The challenges get even more colourful when you’re in an intercultural relationship.
It may feel like doing a headstand while trying to balance on a tight rope, but Italian content creator Giulia Raffaello’s Instagram feed makes it seem more like child’s pose. Raffaello and her now-fiancé Shreyans Jain had a millennial meet-cute five years ago in Germany, where they both live. A swipe on a dating app led to a six-hour long first date, resulting in true love and exploring the world of being in an intercultural relationship.
“People usually ask me how we make our intercultural relationship work — but the similarities in our cultures have made this relationship so much more special,” says Raffaello.
Despite being from different parts of the world, their family values are very similar. “Both of us are very family oriented, prioritising that over most things. Even our relationships with our respective parents are very similar – they are like our friends,” says Raffaello.
The brightest spot of this unique match is Raffaello’s bond with her mother-in-law, Leena. “Shrey met my parents about five months after we started dating, but I didn’t visit India until two years into our relationship. I was introduced to his family virtually, and that helped a lot,” says Raffaello.
Her emails and DMs are flooded with, “How did you convince the parents?”. In an intercultural relationship, having the family on board seems to be the biggest challenge. “We got lucky, and recognise how much of a privilege it is, especially when we get messages from people talking about how they are in positions where they have to choose between their families and the people they love.”
Raffaello describes her relationship with Leena as being “beyond beautiful.” They are like girlfriends – doing everything from excitedly shopping for fabric, to pouring their hearts out to each other over breakfast. The relationship Raffaello shares with her future mother-in-law is one that most daughters crave to have with their own mothers.
View this post on Instagram
When I watch their Instagram reels, I find it endearing, a stark contrast to what we expect the relationship between a mother-in-law and daughter-in-law to be like. These notions have been shaped by a number of factors – their portrayal in pop culture, growing up hearing how saas-bahu conflicts are all too common, and also a sense of normalcy around saying things like “Uski bahu usse tang karti hai” or “Saas ne usse daba ke rakha hai.”
Raffaello believes that their decision to meet each other halfway helps sustain this unconventional bond. “Ask questions, be open to learning new things about each other, and do all of this minus any judgement,” she advises.
Their bond might’ve been birthed from their shared love for Jain, but with time, they’ve developed a relationship that’s just theirs. “Both of us are forever looking for a silver lining, we love dancing, and all-things-healthy. After years of her nagging Shrey about exercising and eating right, when she saw me doing the same, she was so relieved. ‘Finally I’ve found someone who thinks like me,’ she said,” laughs Raffaello.
Leena assumes the role of a mediator whenever Raffaello and Jain have a disagreement. And Raffaello couldn’t be happier — the mediator isn’t entirely unbiased.
Raffaello highlights how Leena made her feel at home instantly by treating her exactly like she treats her own son – “If she knows I’m upset, she’ll constantly check up on me. If I’m sick, she will pamper me, and shower me with love. Because I felt such a bond with her, I started calling Shrey’s parents mom and dad.”
Last year, when the pandemic hit, Raffaello fully understood her love for her fiance’s parents. “I found myself lying in bed sleepless, worrying, not just about my parents, but Shrey’s mom and dad too. Being so far away from them in a bad situation was very difficult.”
For Raffaello and Jain, the overlaps in their cultures help them feel at home in an alien country. Raffaello talks about how food and family are central to both Indian and Italian cultures. Family is integral to all celebrations, and love is expressed by, well… ensuring no one leaves without feeling stuffed like a sausage roll. “Having someone who understood these nuances and grew up in a similar environment made me feel right at home, and did the same for him.”
The Italian bahu doesn’t deny how cultural quirks can spring up out of nowhere – “One time, I watched Shrey chop a tonne of onions, and I was like ‘oh great, dinner is going to be super flavourful’. When we began to eat, he started chomping on them raw!”
But the similarities between their cultures that act like super glue trump these small peculiarities. “Except him eating margherita pizza with ketchup, that’s never going to be okay,” she laughs.