Tag Archives: Tradition

Friends Get Married

I’ve hit that age when everyone you know starts getting married. Some even start having (gasp!) babies! In the last year alone I’ve been to weddings in Serbia, the U.S., Germany, and Paraguay (oh, and there was that time I met my BFF’s baby in the Bahamas.) It’s expensive to keep up with so many friends and their love lives, but it’s also so much fun!

Every country has their traditions – some of them seem weird (actually, no, they ARE weird, but let’s not debate semantics here) but they are all equally as crucial for the couple getting married and for the guests in attendance. Here is a list of some of the things I found to be the strangest, or most unique, in the “foreign weddings” I attended this year:

SERBIA

Vladi and Ive

Vladi and Iva

  • The first wedding is in a church (pretty standard) and not all wedding guests are invited to attend – this is usually a small, intimate ceremony that lasts about half an hour – the couple must accept congratulations and smile and pose with every guest who came to the church for the photographer
  • When you walk outside the church, there are local gypsy brass bands that come up to the wedding party and play music – their music becomes more insistent the longer they play, often putting the horn of the instrument directly in your ear and playing at full volume until you give them some cash (at this particular wedding the best man also brought the gypsy band to the party, much to the delight of all the guests) – keep in mind, these guys can pull in thousands of dollars a night for a big wedding
  • When you arrive to the reception, the couple once again stands outside and poses with every. single. guest. (in this case about 350 people) Only after every guest had their photo op does the party begin.
  • Lots and lots of different cakes.
  • Oh, and the photographers have printers on hand and walk around the party distributing photos that guests can buy on the spot (this is not so much weird as awesome!)
Brass Band

Gypsy Brass Band

GERMANY

(This was a mixed wedding: half East German half Northern England, i.e. Geordie)

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Ali and Neil

  • Straight from leaving the church the friends of the bride and groom hold up an old bedsheet which has a giant heart drawn in the middle, and the name of the bride and groom inside of that. The bride and groom are each given a pair of tiny scissors and they must work together to cut the heart shape out. Once complete, the groom then carries the bride through the opening they’ve created in the sheet.374396_10152077898159278_1848781778_n
  • German tradition is that as the first true test of marriage, the newly wedded couple must work together as a team to saw apart a foot in diameter log using an old school, massive saw. The first marital row, if you will, ensues.995734_10152077899664278_1485770867_n
  • This might just be East German, not totally sure, but the bride and groom are each given two giant loaves of bread – they must create a pair of shoes from this bread. The first one to walk across the stage (or room) in their new shoes wins!
  • Each guest is given a balloon filled with helium and a postcard pre-addressed to the bride and groom. Each guest writes a message to the couple and ties the postcard to the balloon. Everyone releases the balloons at the same time (great photo op!) Once the balloon finally lands (wherever that may be) it’s up to any random stranger passing by who finds it to mail it back to the couple. (Strangely, our postcard made it back to Ali and Neil from the Czech Republic!)

PARAGUAY

(This was a mixed wedding half Paraguayan half Colombian – so the traditions may be a bit mixed up – at least in my mind)

Nati and Luis

Nati and Luis

  • There is a traditional Paraguayan dance at the beginning of the reception and every guest must dance for a few minutes with the bride and groom (men with the bride, women with the groom) and smile for a photo op!
  • Ligas – this took me a while to understand! The bride has about 20 garters under her dress (one garter for each single woman at the wedding). One garter is special (i.e. a different color) and the rest are traditional white. The bride sits opposite the single women (one at a time) and they each lift their right leg and touch the souls of the shoes. The groom then takes one garter from the bride’s leg and must slide it across their legs and feet and up the thigh of the single lady. His “last chance to touch another woman” if you will! The woman who gets the colorful garter is the next to marry. Ligas in Paraguay
  • Masks/hats/whistles/glow sticks/silly string, etc – Boxes of costume-like hats and whistles, (see list above) are distributed to guests to liven things up. I have to admit, this makes the party a hell of a lot more fun!
  • Whiskey – easy as that, the drink of choice for the night is whiskey, the nicer the better
  • For the Colombian tradition that stood out most, aside from sharing a bottle of whatever they were passing around, is some dance where a woman lies on the floor (or I suppose it could also be a man?) and all the party guests dance feverishly over her. (See example of Mapale here.)

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As I continue to grow my international network of friends, I will continue to observe the oddities of culture, which are never more openly displayed than in time-honored traditions such as weddings!

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Tradition prevails in Kyoto

Our next stop on our grand tour of Asia was Kyoto, the heart and soul of Japan. Kyoto is what you think of when you imagine traditional Japan, with gorgeous landscapes, shrines everywhere you look, and Geisha rushing down the streets to get to their next party. It is worlds away from the chaotic and metropolitan Tokyo, with small buildings lining the narrower streets and less people per square foot than even the quietest Tokyo neighborhoods.

When visiting this historical city, we opted to stay at a traditional Ryokan style inn that are known for their exceptional hospitality, and cuisine. Essentially you are staying in a room with very minimal furniture. When you walk in, there are tatami mats lining the floor, a small table, and two “chairs” without any legs in the middle of the room. We were lucky to have a small alcove off to the side to put our suitcases (as I had read many of these inns do not.) When you are ready for bed, you move the table and chairs off to the side, unroll the mattresses from the closet (where you put them away in the day,) cover them with a sheet and pillow, and then unroll the comforters provided to you. Voila – bed time!

Some of the Ryokans are fancier than others, with private traditional wooden baths, or a common bathing room with one of the traditional Onsens (usually baths filled from natural hot spring water,) but these can run you anywhere from 250-500 per person per night. We opted for a “budget” Ryokan, which was far from it, but was likely a bit more rugged than the more expensive counterparts.

Speaking of, the region surrounding Kyoto is famous for their Hot Springs and Onsens. Everyone will tell you to take the time to visit these healing baths, and after days of walking around non-stop, you will definitely appreciate the advice! We managed to find a traditional Onsen in the city which was meant for the local community to go for their weekly bath. It was such a strange experience as a Westerner to be in this bathhouse with 15 or so other women cleaning and grooming themselves in front of the mirror and then relaxing in one of the 9 baths on offer, ranging from traditional wooden, super hot with jets, electrical (this one was a bit more frightening to me as I could feel the electricity running through my body,) two outdoor options – one hot, one freezing, and a couple of others that I couldn’t quite tell the difference between, but there were some different scents or materials used for each of the options.

The cleaning procedure, as I learned after studying everyone else, is to choose a mirror and a spigot (don’t forget your soap or a bucket to clean yourself, as I had!) then you sit on the bucket and start to cover yourself with water (yes you are only a few inches off the ground as a bucket would imply.) Run your hair under the water, lather it up, do the same with the soap on your body, and rinse yourself clean. Or if you choose, as was acceptable for both men and women, feel free to shave or groom yourself in any other way most westerners would be ashamed to do in public! Once the bath is over, leave your cleaning supplies by your spigot and feel free to enter the baths as you please, for as long as you want.

After our bathing experience (men and women are kept separately, by the way,) we headed off to the city for an incredible dinner chosen by the chef of a small restaurant we happened upon. This might sound a bit fancier than it was in reality, given that every menu in Japan is in Japanese characters with little to no explanation of what you are ordering. We found we generally had to order randomly by pointing to scribbles on a page and just waited to see what would arrive to our waiting lips. Sometimes we were lucky enough to find a waiter or hostess with minimal English who could understand the basics, such as chicken or noodles, but very frequently we were not. Also important to note, the “thumbs up” is understood everywhere.

The Japanese are very proud of their culinary traditions, many of the options varying from region to region, so you can usually rest assured you will be eating the freshest, tastiest preparations of the season. And if you eat fish, (which I don’t,) you are in for an even better surprise as you will find the freshest fish in the world throughout Japan. Regardless of this, you are in for a treat almost anywhere you go.

Generally speaking, Kyoto is the traditional and cultural hub of Japan. There are some 400 shrines in Kyoto and the surrounding regions, and every shrine is surrounded by beautiful nature and manicured gardens, including a gorgeous Bamboo forest we took the time to explore one day.

Every local you tell that you are exploring this region of their country is excited for you to get a glimpse of the “real” Japan. And from sampling the local foods, to biking around the markets on the weekend, to dodging rain in a quiet cafe nearby, I’d say we most certainly did see what real Japan is like.