I’m from a multicultural background. I’m ethnically Asian, grew up in a Western country, and moved to the US for school + work, where I’ve been living for the past 10+ years. I love reading blogs about cultural differences (A Cup of Jo‘s motherhood series comes to mind), so in this post, I thought I’d share some of my experiences. In particular, my experience having a wedding in the Middle East.
My partner is from a Middle Eastern country and came to the US for school, which is when we met. We dated for 5 years before getting married. We had an American wedding, which both of our families attended, and we also had a second wedding a few months later in the Middle East, which most of his family attended. The second wedding was largely ceremonial, as we were legally married in the US, and was basically a chance to include more relatives from my partner’s side of the family who couldn’t travel to the US for the first wedding.
The wedding itself was pretty Westernized. I suppose that’s probably true in many countries around the world – although some traditional elements can be incorporated, like dances, many weddings follow the Western format of white dress + black tux + big meal. It’s kinda sad that these cultural traditions are being lost! In our wedding, the agenda was: we walked in, did a solo dance, and sat down on a raised platform to our meal. From there, the guests either came to us, or we went around to all of the guest tables, greeting the guests.
The way that people give gifts is different from American weddings. Instead of having a registry or cash, people give gold coins. The size of the coin is roughly proportional to the closeness of the relationship 🙂 When we went around to all the guest tables, the guests either pinned the coins onto my dress or dropped it into a little bag especially for that purpose. So it was literally a bag o’ gold 😀
There’s an interesting custom where people can bar the bride/groom from passage and ask for small tips. For example, after the wedding, as we were driving back to the hotel, the car ahead of us stopped, and two men came out and demanded tips. Our driver was expecting this and handed them an envelope. Or at the hair salon, the ladies blocked the door and wouldn’t let me leave! I was totally clueless, of course, and thought they were telling me the car wasn’t there yet. Luckily, my partner’s sisters helped handle this for me. This custom sounds a bit strange to my Western ears, but when in Rome, do as they do…
My in-laws’ family were beyond hospitable. They showed us around town and organized an overnight trip to a nearby tourism area. They made us feel like part of the family, with home-cooked meals and casual hang-outs at home. My mother-in-law took me out shopping for a whole day, since I guess it’s tradition to spoil your daughter-in-law! I had to keep refusing purchasing various items, which I hope didn’t offend her, since I’m not that into (a) gold (b) rugs or (c) antiques. I did pick up some nice small rugs which we’re using right now at home, and some delicious snacks that my American relatives gobbled up right away.
The guests during the wedding were also very kind to me. I was worried that they might think it strange to marry someone outside of their culture, but some of the guests went out of their way to pass on blessings for happiness (translated through my partner), and also complimented my attempts at traditional dance…
I don’t speak the language of my partner’s country, except for a few basic phrases. Was this a good or a bad thing? Although it made it difficult to talk to my in-laws, it also made it easier in formal settings, since I didn’t feel any social expectations except to smile and look happy. I did practice the words for “welcome” and “thank you”, which I had basically perfected after visiting 20 guest tables 🙂
Ah, the touchiest subject. My family is not religious, and my partner’s family is relaxed religious. However, with all the events you hear on the news, there is quite a bit of stigma against religion. Because of this, my family didn’t want to have any religious symbols in the wedding, even if they had no legal meaning. It was tricky to communicate these wishes without offending anyone’s beliefs. In the end, we had a clergy member perform a blessing during the wedding, and I just hoped my family covered their ears and didn’t hear. (If they did hear, they never mentioned it!)
There was a funny incident when the call to prayer went off at 5am in the morning. It was super loud because the speaker was next to the hotel. My family was not expecting this, and thought it was a police siren. It went on and on for at least 10 minutes. I woke up my partner, who sleepily mumbled, “it’s saying that it’s better to pray than to sleep”.
Unfortunately, the country we visited is one where there have been random attacks on civilians. The city that we visited was one of the most conservative in the country. Although the area we visited was safe, and we stayed in a big Western chain hotel, it did take some time to reassure my family that the travel plans were safe.
Overall, I think it went really well. Although I was worried about some elements (like language, religion, and fitting in with the culture), it all went over reasonably smoothly. It helped my family get to know my partner’s family more, and feel more comfortable with their culture. Although the trip wasn’t exactly relaxing, since it felt like the spotlight was on me the whole time, in reality the spotlight was mostly on my partner. So I could basically sit back and be a passenger on this ride, since most things were organized for us. And I’m beyond grateful to my in-laws for handling all of that! This was not the case for our American wedding, which I’ll talk about another time.
Have you ever been to a multi-cultural wedding? Does your culture have different traditions than the place where you currently live?