What are you wearing?

February 4, 2009

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A little while ago one of my girlfriends told me about a wedding she was invited to through her boyfriend’s coworker: a 400 person lavish Persian wedding at the Ritz Carlton. I asked her what she was wearing and she said, “oh, just probably my little black dress”. I gave her a bit of an idea of what to expect at this wedding in terms of appearance: something floor length, beaded, and very, very formal would be more appropriate or she would feel like she was wearing a sun dress to an evening wedding! After she went to the wedding she thanked me for the tip–she had worn something much more formal and felt very comfortable. She was blown away by the beauty of the wedding and said that she had never seen anything like it. The fruit and coffee buffet! The opulent flowers! the dancing and music! The threw herself into the moment and enjoyed the culture–she threw flowers in the air to shower the couple and attempted to dance like the Persian women. She had a ball.

One of the things I love about what I do is the access I am allowed to other cultures that I would otherwise not be privy to. I loved this article below from the New York Times found here:

Different Rules for Different Cultures: Be Prepared

AT some Thai weddings, the guests are expected to pour water into the cupped hands of the bride and bridegroom. Before breaking into that well-practiced hip-hop move, guests at Muslim weddings should be aware that while there may be dancing, modesty is the rule. And at traditional Persian weddings, guests may grow alarmed when the bride twice doesn’t answer when asked if she will marry the bridegroom. (He doesn’t get the yes until he presents a gift, often of coins or jewelry.)

When a ceremony involves unfamiliar customs and rituals and is conducted in a foreign language, even guests who pride themselves on their cultural sophistication can feel like bewildered tourists.

And try as they might, guests zig when they should zag. Justin Chen thinks it is critical to do one’s homework.

Mr. Chen, 28, of Los Angeles arrived in his best suit for a Hindu wedding on a Friday afternoon in August 2006 and discovered — too late — that the dress code was informal.

The reception was on Saturday and he showed up in a casual outfit, only to learn that most of the Indian guests had dressed more elegantly.

“I couldn’t win,” said Mr. Chen, who added that he had learned a valuable lesson. “As we become a more diverse population, guests should feel curious enough to learn about the wedding customs before attending. Most people don’t like going into situations blindly and this shouldn’t be an exception.”

These situations may become more common. Richard Markel, the director of the Association for Wedding Professionals International, a trade group in Sacramento, said he had witnessed a sharp rise in traditional, ethnic weddings in the last few years. “I see the cultural aspects growing in the U.S.,” he said.

During bridal shows in November, he met a handful of Asian brides looking for lion dancers for their ceremonies. And because of high demand for more information, Mr. Markel said he planned to add a “culture tour” for the spring bridal expos that he co-produces.

Even when the couple provides information about tenor and tone, and tries to bridge any cultural chasm, some guests still fall right into it.

Leanna Adams, 29, of Decatur, Ga., near Atlanta, was involved in a wedding faux pas when she went to a Pakistani wedding in Charlotte, N.C., in 2006. It was a Muslim affair, and therefore without alcohol, but she smuggled in mini bottles of liquor, and found pouring drinks “fun to do” under the table. She did that fairly discreetly, but then got up to dance.

“I tried to emulate what the women were doing by gyrating back and forth,” she said. “But when I was dancing across from the groom, his eyes bulged and he danced away from me, and I knew I’d done something wrong. Apparently my interpretation was too bawdy.”

Susanne Goldstone, 29, an Orthodox Jew and a bride-to-be, is not taking any chances with her sunset wedding, planned for late this month in Huntington Beach, Calif.

Ms. Goldstone, who lives in New York, wants to ensure that her guests — some of whom have no working knowledge of a Jewish wedding outside of, say, “Fiddler on the Roof” — know exactly what to expect on the big day. For instance, her invitation says “modest attire requested.”

“It’s just that extra reminder,” she said. “Sometimes it doesn’t click for guests because for most people black tie tends to imply slinky, strapless dresses.”

“It’s a dual motivation,” she added. “I want to make all the guests feel comfortable and I also want to avoid any embarrassment for either side.”

Yet sometimes a little cultural shock therapy can be beneficial. Courtney Considine, 27, was the maid of honor, not a guest, at a friend’s Assyrian wedding in Turlock, Calif. She soon discovered that she was expected to master complicated cultural dances in a few hours.

“But over the course of the wedding,” she said, “I learned how to dance, greet, eat and drink like an Assyrian. Everything I know about Assyrian culture, I learned in a 16-hour crash course on three-inch spike heels.”

She added that “while it was scary at times, I did walk away with a new appreciation for my friend’s culture and I’d definitely do it again.”

Heena Chavda of Edmonton, Alberta, who is of Indian descent, has been on both sides of the cultural looking glass. “A foreign wedding for me is a Catholic or Christian wedding,” she said. “You see it on TV, but when you go it’s a completely different experience.”

Ms. Chavda, 29, said that because of her background “all of my Christian friends have asked me to wear my Indian clothing in an effort to add some color to their affair.” She said that when she was in the bridal party of a Hindu ceremony, the bride asked her to help compile an instructional video for the guests. It was very well-received, said Ms. Chavda, though she and the others in the bridal party couldn’t resist a practical joke. “We completely played on all of the Indian stereotypes and had a little fun with the whole thing,” she said.

No matter how upside-down people may feel at a wedding, they can usually recover their bearings upon leaving the reception hall. But not if they’re in a foreign country.

When Emily Sutton and her husband, who live in Washington, were asked to participate in a ceremony in Korat, Thailand, last summer, they learned that that involved preparing ceremonial bowls of rice for the Buddhist monks, presenting banana trees to the bride and bridegroom and pouring water into the couple’s hands.

It also involved being prepared to begin all that at 6 a.m. — when the long rituals started — but they arrived in Thailand still unsure what they were supposed to do, and Ms. Sutton, 30, scrambled to find some sort of instructions. “After much pressing,” she said, “the clueless Americans finally got a handwritten flowchart to help us along with the wedding activities.”

Guests at the wedding last month of Daniel O’Connell, 31, and Karneisha Levi, 29, of Astoria, Queens, were treated to a cultural stew. It was Ms. Levi’s idea to surprise guests with an African-American tradition known as jumping the broom, which the couple did directly after the ceremony. Mr. O’Connell, whose family is of Irish descent, is proud that they did.

When it was over, he allowed, his relatives were initially flummoxed. “It definitely sparked some questions from my side,” he noted. “I can tell you that very few people on my side understood the significance of it.”

Nevertheless, the tradition, which is said to signify the sweeping away of the old and jumping into the new, proved to be “a great way for guests who didn’t know about the tradition to learn about it,” Mr. O’Connell said.

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I'm Jessica and I'm so happy you're here. This blog a journal about our lives, travels, fashion, and style. Stay a while and say hello!

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