#178 Attending local weddings
Submitted by Island Wanderer
Ex-pat aid workers love attending local weddings. It combines dressing like the locals with the all-important symbolic local traditions that are the hallmark of every memorable posting overseas. What’s more, once the EAW has a good number of local weddings under his or her belt, the EAW has proof of not being “that kind” of ex-pat aid worker.
Sailing stylishly through native nuptials, however, is not as easy as it may seem. An element of local wedding cultural savviness is critical for the EAW to blend in and prepare properly for local weddings.
For the less cultured or newly stationed EAW, the following tips may offer some initial guidance:
1. Be Prepared for Build Up
In most cultures EAWs find themselves, wedding celebrations are not limited to one day. Aside from multi-day wedding ceremonies, many cultures have formal ‘engagement’ ceremonies and – most entertaining of all – wedding fundraising. The fundraising events often run for several weeks and for the price of a few dollars, you too will have the chance to participate in some sort of raffle-cum-blind auction where you will have no idea what is going on but will be thoroughly entertained and may even win a prize imported from China such as a plastic toothbrush holder or a brightly colored non-absorbent kitchen towel.
Find out what time you are really meant to be there. The cliché here would be to say “Come two hours after the official invite, nobody will get there earlier than that!” But guest beware! In Uganda, weddings have become such a roaring trade that some churches become something of a wedding factory on a Saturday. Latecomers – amazingly in the land of laissez-faire timekeeping – are not tolerated and the would-be-happy couple is charged heavily for any delay in the start time. Were the EAW to arrive an hour late as such an event, an entirely different couple’s nuptials would be in process.
3. Ladies – Don’t be Too Sexy
Pretty simple advice. “If you dress too sexy all the women will hate you and all the men will try to dance too closely.”
In many cultures, booze is not part of the package. This has no correlation with the extent to which it is needed on the day. You must therefore follow the local lead of Creativity, otherwise known as Rediscover Your Inner 13-Year-Old. Water bottles refilled with gin or vodka may not sound classy but they may well help you get through a great deal of long speeches and waiting around with a smile that will thrill your local friends. Keep your stash close though, you don’t want some unsuspecting granny swiping it from under your nose and unexpectedly swigging back some hearty black market vodka.
5. Wing Friends
Do not attempt local weddings alone. It is essential to recruit local or other EAW friends to accompany you. Local friends are the ideal here, They are more interesting to hang out with than other EAWs. Also, you can tell the organizer they don’t need to translate for you as your friend will tell you what is being said. Of course, the time can be better used to just catch up on gossip.
6. Give a Cow. For Real.
Make sure you find out what the expectations for gifts are. Some weddings are fantastically well-organized with detailed gift lists for you to take your pick, so take the chance to be creative. EAWs may club together to buy the newly weds, for example, a cow. This clearly provides excellent photo opportunities when blogging for the folks back home. Be prepared to receive some odd gifts in return too. In the Philippines, the weddings can be extremely religious and Westernized — right up until the moment you are given a bamboo stick as a wedding favor.
7. Have a Back-Up Plan
Particularly if you fail to follow the tip above on wing-friends, it is essential to have a back-up plan in place. This may involve having a friend agree to call you at a certain time to announce the sickness of a grandmother/ sister/ cousin-brother / etc that you must attend to immediately. Family sickness will probably be the only matter you will not be persuaded out of easily. That your family is thousands of miles away is an issue that is easily glossed over.
Last, but certainly not least, do go to as many local weddings as you can. Don’t feel too weary at the end of a week of proposal writing and staff grumblings to get your swag on and go. Local weddings benefit from some preparation and foresight but they are irreplaceable fun and in some cultures are one of the few local-style social options open to EAWs.