Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The seating issue

I have never known that car seating arrangement could provoke the issue of cultural differences, until we had a bunch of French visiting Malaysia. My seating arrangement had actually led my in laws think that me and hubby were not in love anymore lol.

In Malaysia, we usually let the elderly sit on the front passenger seat. It is a way to show respect. So, it is very common that you don't get to sit beside your husband or your boyfriend. Since women are relatively small compare to men they usually sit in the back with children.

It is different in France. Well, you see, my in laws are very much in love even though they are in their 50s. They would hold hands wherever they go and they have no problem showing their affection to each other in public. There is an implicit rule that I still couldn't get it: they want to sit together (side by side) inside a car no matter where they go. In the earlier days when hubby drives, I would propose my FIL (for respect and size issue) to sit in front so that the three passengers in the back seat will have enough room. After a while, I got it, he and my MIL prefer to stick together and don't mind the "crowded space issue". Fine with me.

The problem arose when we were in Malaysia. We were a huge group, we always traveled in 2 or 3 cars, where seat assigning became a dedicated issue. I always put my FIL in the front passenger seat for "space maximization" purpose. After a while they made me realized that they don't like to be separated (they were still in the same car!). Fine. Then I learned another rule: couple should be seated in the same car. Fine. More rule kidding in: grandma should sit with her daughter or grandson. As for myself I considered me and hubby as the host, so when he was with his friends (one group) I would be with his family (another group).

Several days had passed and my in laws couldn't hold themselves anymore. They confronted hubby and asked why we were not in love anymore as we had never sat together in the same car! Their "worryness" amplified when they saw that we weren't sleeping in the same house and we were not holding hands... Long story short they wanted hubby to sit in my car (I was the driver) instead of with the other group. I refused and explained that if both of us were to be with them, then the other group will not get as much information and introduction to my country as I wish.

It was interesting to discover this difference. In my family when we travel together, there is less notion of couple but more on everyone as a group member so whatever decision should be based on the benefit of the group instead of personal preference. Well, you do what the people in Rome do. Now In France I would sit in front when hubby drives and do not feel uneasy / guilty even though those at the back have to bump together. :-)


  1. LOL this post really brought back memories.

    In Mexico couples sit together no matter what. The owner of the car ALWAYS drives and his/her partner sits in the front even if it's crowded in the back, there's family, or even if the bf is chauffeuring his gf's friends all over town (;D)

    When I got to France I remember getting REALLY mad at hubby (then bf) one day when we got in his parents' car and his dad suggested I sit in the back with his mom while hubby sat in the front with his dad (who was driving)! Now, I have to say my FIL is a little "clingy" when it comes to his son and usually I can understand this (hubby is a single child) but that day I found that to be so disrespectful, I scowled the entire trip. When we got out of the car I told hubby NO WAY I was sitting in the back with his mom on the way back and that couples should always sit together when in the same vehicle (that was my cultural experience speaking but I still think it's normal... what if -heaven forbid- we should have an accident... I surely don't want to die holding the hand of a stranger instead of that of my partner)...

    Anyway, on the way back his dad was getting ready to open the door for his mom to sit by me in the back seat again when hubby quickly jumped in and said he couldn't stand to be separated from his beloved girl and that he would be riding in the back with me (did I mention I LOVE this man???). Although his dad wasn't very pleased (he kept saying that it was impractical being as hubby measures 1.87m!) I think they got the idea and ever since they've never proposed to make us sit separately in the car again. :)

    Sometimes we have to learn about these cultural differences the hard way. ;D


  2. That is the sweetest post! I love it.

    It is such a wonderful, real life example of how many national, regional, cultural, and personal differences, habits, preferences, and customs exist throughout our fascinating human family.

    The nicest thing about it was how many times you mentioned the word love in the context of your family members and yourselves. It's really touching that everyone was trying to get his or her love needs met, even if it would have been better to be a little bit more culturally sensitive.

    I believe that you did a wonderful job playing hostess to everyone in both of your families in Malaysia.


  3. Different culture will have different habits...


  4. Anonymous12:05 AM

    Same thing while we were on vacation in France a couple of years back. I'm sure it had to do with the fact my husband is 1.83m so it made sense for him to sit in the passenger seat for everyone's comfort. But like fned, I had to make my husband realize I was not happy with the seating arrangement. It was quickly resolved :) So whenever we were in the SUV, my husband and I would occupy the backseat or if he was driving, I'd be in the passenger seat.

    It was a different story with the Ford Ka, where logistics dictate the women sit in the back. My MIL and I are both 1.52 m and I was pregnant at the time so when I think back to how we looked, packed like sardines come to mind.

    Don't ask me why four tall people would even get inside a Ka when they had a bigger option to take. I'm still scratching my head on that one...

  5. Well it seems that I'm the only one not asking to sit together with hubby!


    So nice to hear your explanation. Now I understand it is not only my in laws but others would like to do the same thing. How would you do then if 10 French go to visit Mexico? Do you still stick with your hubby in one car and let others travel on their own?

    La Framéricaine,
    I don't know whether I was a good host but the fact that these friends visited Malaysia has fostered a strong bonds and we become very closed due to this share experience.

    Yeah you can see cultural differences even in tiny situation like this.


    lol, let me know when you find the answer to why you guys take the Ford ka when you have a bigger option. :-)

  6. Hey just bumped into ur blog! Nice one! Hope you enjoy ur life in france! =)