It’s wedding season! And though it’s paradise for some and hell for others, it can usually be stressful for all…especially if it involves a flight to an international location. In this week’s podcast, we give you tips and suggestions on how to deal with weddings abroad. From the dress to gift etiquette to intense betrothal ceremonies, Kathy, Kyna and Ines show you how to hop the globe with a fancy dress in tow…or an old lady woman costume if you happen to be going to a bachelorette party in the UK. Also, a crazy international wedding story from a listener that involves TV cameras, an instantaneous groom and pseudonyms to protect the interested parties.
Hungry for more? Here are a few more stories from fans about weddings in Italy, Japan, France, and England.
Ask a dozen people and you will hear many different feelings about wedding ceremonies. How long is too long, who the best officiants are, is it really important to go to ceremony (this last one have only heard asked by men. The answer is YES.)
But i think most would agree that the one of the top 3 moments of any ceremony, religious or secular, is the initial procession down the aisle. And actually I think you could argue that the entire wedding ceremony is really about the entrance and exit.
Four years earlier, I had gone to Rome to visit my dear friend Marco. On that trip I had met his new girlfriend Ilaria. Now 4 years later they had decided on quite short notice to tie the knot and I of course HAD to spend lots of money and time to get from Austin, Texas to Rome for the occasion.
Having spent the prior evening watching the bride gleefully practice her walk in her very high, very beautiful, very typical Italian white satin stilettos, her beaming father offering a steady arm, I was eager to see the entire production.
A few days before my arrival from Texas, Marco insistent that he did not want me to have to pay for a hotel, but without an extra room because of visiting family from all over Italy, secured a spot for me to stay in the extra bedroom of his friend Andrea, who I had met on my previous trip.
The night before the wedding Marco gave me the keys and dropped me off at the apartment. Having just arrived that morning, I went immediately to bed (because jet lag) before Andrea came in from carousing with friends. I never saw my host. We had not made any plans for on time departure to the wedding, which was at noon on Saturday.
I awoke at 10 am and figured he was sleeping so went about getting myself ready. At 11am I realized that Andrea was not sleeping in but was actually not in the apartment. And I did not have his phone number, having gotten the keys to the apartment from the groom, Marco, the night before.
I what’sapp-ed (the preferred method of communication for Italians) Marco. “Good morning! Happy Wedding Day! Uh, can you give me Andrea’s number?”
Marco: He’s not there?
Me: Uh, no.
Marco: SHIT SHIT SHIT
Me: Don’t worry. I will take a taxi.
Marco: SHIT SHIT SHIT
At 11:30 am Andrea returned. and shouted “Are you ready?” I emerged from my bedroom in my new dress and painfully high Italian inspired heels, admittedly needing help with the zipper on my dress. Andrea standing in t-shirt and jeans, happily obliged, before stating the obvious “I am not, ready. But they won’t start the wedding on time.”
Me: What if they do start on time?
Andrea: They won’t. They are Italian. So you can wait for me.
Me: OK. Do you have coffee?
Andrea: No, that’s why I went out.
Me: Oh. Bummer. How long will it take you to get ready?
Andrea: Not long. But if you are worried, you can take a taxi. But they won’t start on time.
Me: Maybe I will take a taxi. Can I hail one outside?”
Andrea: No. Let me call. But don’t worry. The wedding won’t start on time.
Ten minutes later the taxi arrives. Because there are so many Churches beginning with Santa Maria in Rome (In Italy for that matter), I must use some of my broken Italian to explain to the driver which Santa Maria I am going to.
We pull up at 12:10 and I hurry into the Church, praying that Andrea’s assessment of his countrymen and friends is correct.
It is not.
My friends are already at the front of the church.I have crossed an ocean for a singular moment…and missed it.
And then 45 minutes later when Andrea arrives and slides in the pew just in time for Communion, I realize why he was willing to risk being late. We still have a while to go. Other friends, clearly not wanting to sit through hours of church time continue to quietly tiptoe in. Also tiptoeing in every few minutes are tourists. If you must get married in a church dating from the 5th century in one of the world’s most visited cities, be at peace that tourists will be coming in and out of your ceremony.
Andrea: So did you get here before they started?
Me: No. At 12:15 they were already at the altar.
Andrea: Really? They started on time? Huh.
After a nearly 2 hour all-Italian ceremony I push Andrea to the side to make sure that I was right on the aisle when the exit begins. Which as I see my friends beaming with delight is the most important moment to witness. It’s actually the end of the wedding ceremony, the first walkout into the world, hand in hand, that is the real beginning.
The first wedding took place in 2003 when I was teaching in rural western Japan. One of my work colleagues was getting married, and as she and I would occasionally chitchat in the staff room, I was invited. I was very excited, as I had never been to a Japanese wedding before. Her fiancé originally came from the city of Nagoya, so the wedding was set to take place there. They had chartered a bus to take all of the guests coming from my region there and back. I was crossing my fingers that it would be a traditional ceremony, but alas and alack, I soon found out that it would be a “Western-style” event. At this point in time, such an event was the new rage in Japan, and one could spot Disney World-like chapels sprouting up on the sides of many a road – even where I lived. For foreigners willing to become ordained ministers online, it became quite a lucrative part-time job to perform the actual wedding ceremony in English. Before the bride entered, the “minister” asked us all to rise, and then said in very simple Japanese, “stand up.” After her father led her to the altar in her white wedding dress, we were politely asked to be seated in English and brusquely told to “sit down” in Japanese. Whenever a prayer was said, the Japanese guests were told in their mother tongue to “close your eyes and bow your head,” and once amen had been uttered, to “open your eyes and look up.” I found it both puzzling and amusing, to be honest.
The reception was in the hall connected to the chapel, and upon locating my assigned seat, I also found on this seat a large department store bag full of the customary gifts the bride and groom give each of their wedding guests in Japan. Although very curious about its contents, I quietly put my bag under my chair, as this was what all the other guests were doing. Later, when I was safely back in my apartment, though, I found beautifully arranged fruits, traditional sweets, and a catalogue from which I was to call a number and order one item that I liked. (I picked a table lamp made of traditional Japanese paper.) To be honest, I can’t remember much about the reception, other than there being a delicious meal, a laser, light, and slide show, and the bride and groom going from table to table to thank the guests for coming and getting pictures taken together. Also, as is the custom, the bride changed gowns a few times over the course of the evening.
At my colleague’s wedding, before even entering the chapel, we had to hand in our gifts for the happy couple. In Japan, because the bride and groom give the guests gifts, the guests give them money – an elaborate envelope filled with crisp new bills, to be more precise. When I had asked one of my closer Japanese friends what was an acceptable amount to give, she said that many people gave ¥30,000, approximately US$300 at the time. I felt this to be a fair bit of money to give somebody I really didn’t know very well, especially as I suspected I was being invited mainly so that there would be a “gaijin” guest. As such, I decided to give only $200. What my friend had unfortunately failed to mention, though, was that it was a taboo to give a gift with an even-number of bills, as it symbolized that the couple would divorce. I remember feeling quite pleased that I had been able to successfully get the new bills from my bank all by myself in Japanese. If only the bank teller had taken the time to tell me that I really shouldn’t have taken two new ¥10,000 yen notes so as to avoid cursing my colleague and her new husband’s union. I was rather horrified when I learned about this tradition several months later. Oops.
Two of my former flatmates married each other on the outskirts of Paris in the summer of 2012. A French wedding is a civil ceremony, always conducted by the mayor at city hall. Most city halls have a formal room with the specific purpose of holding such ceremonies, and my friends’ wedding was in such a place. Similar to a wedding in the U.S, the bride walked down the aisle to music, escorted by her father. She and the groom made their vows, they signed a document, their two witnesses signed the document, and voilà! They’re legally wed.
After the civil ceremony is finished, the couple can have a religious ceremony if they so choose. This was a bit problematic for my friends, as the bride was Catholic and the groom Jewish. The problem wasn’t in their religious differences, but in their ability to find clergy willing to perform a mixed-faith blessing. They were eventually able to find an elderly priest (he resembled my mental image of Moses) who specialized in this, but they could not find a rabbi able to help them. As I understand it, the Jewish community in France is not allowed to have such a ceremony. After a long search, they were eventually able to find an English rabbi who would come and perform the ceremony in his accented French. So after their civil ceremony was finished and photos were taken, we all walked along the small cobbled streets to the venue for the religious blessing. It was in a basement, which provided welcomed relief from the intense summer heat. The ceremony itself was really great. It was quite interesting to hear the way the priest and rabbi spoke of marriage, especially as one of them was celibate and the other a married man. The priest didn’t say anything out of the ordinary, but the rabbi was hilarious with lots of personal anecdotes. When it was finished, their friend, my boyfriend, and I performed a song the happy couple had selected. Much to my chagrin, it was a “soulful” version of “When The Saints Go Marching In.”
Following the blessing, we all drove to a nearby chateau, where we were welcomed with hors d’oeuvres and champagne soup. We eventually were led inside the chateau where a several-coursed meal, speeches, and toasts awaited us. There was then a DJ, dancing, and as is customary in France, a champagne fountain. This is where several champagne flutes are stacked in a pyramid and the bride and groom pour champagne into the top flute until it overflows, eventually filling all the other flutes. Many a toast was drunk in their honor, and the party lasted into the wee hours. Close friends and family spent the night in the chateau, and the next morning, we all had a lovely brunch. It was truly a wonderful celebration.
That same summer, my boyfriend and I went to northern England for the wedding of two friends. They had a limited budget but really found ways to make the wedding personalized and fun. The entire event took place at the same venue, a former church that now served as a community center. The ceremony was officiated by their friend, who I think had been ordained online, and was similar to a typical Christian ceremony in the States. When it was finished, we all filed outside to greet the wedding party. There, we found tables set with glasses and glasses of gin and tonic or Pimm’s, the traditional English gin-based drink of summer. After several rounds of toasts to the bride and groom and photos with everybody, we eventually made our way inside, where tables had been set for the meal. Large baskets filled with local produce and baked goods were given to each table, and we stuffed ourselves with local hams, pork pies, sausage rolls, and salads. Unlike most English weddings, which have a cash bar, our friends had bought bottles, bottles, and more bottles of beer, wine, and liquor, which were poured with increasing regularity as the festivities went on.