15 January 2020

The joy of inter-cultural weddings

Thud! The envelopes dropped onto the floor having been unceremoniously shoved through our letterbox by our postman. I walked over and picked up the mail, sifting through the pile of glossy marketing mailings and corporate branded envelops for something that looked vaguely interesting. The excitement of receiving mail is something that I still enjoy, even if that item containing a large check never materialises. Amongst the usual formal business envelopes was a pale, embossed letter. I'd been expecting it ever since my nephew rung us to say, "We're getting married". He and his partner had been together for years, but finally they'd chosen to make their relationship official.

My nephew lives in Sweden but hails from Iraq. His now wife was born in Sweden, but her family comes from Turkey. As someone who married an Iraqi, I'm no stranger to inter-cultural relationships. Like any relationship, they can be difficult at first, but are blessed with love and understanding as each of you understand the importance of your partner’s culture. In my nephew's case there was the added complexity of religion. As a Christian, he was marrying a Muslim. Admittedly neither of them are particularly devout, but the cultural and religious traditions of each family had to be respected throughout the nuptials. What we weren't expecting, was just how mixed the various events would be.

It started with the Hen night, but this was no booze filled evening filled with lewd behaviour. In fact there was no alcohol at all. As a nod to their Islamic traditions, that was consigned to the fridge for the big event itself. Instead we spent the evening talking and dancing with new and old friends. Traditions were played out, including painting the bride's hands with henna, and the Turkish tradition of the bride kissing the forehead and hand of the groom's parents. The bond between siblings and parents can be very strong in Middle Eastern cultures, so it was touching seeing this being enacted far away from their roots.

But it was the arrival of the groom at the bridge’s house ready to whisk the bride away from her family, only to be metaphorically locked out that was the highlight of the evening. I'd seen this before in the Iraqi culture, with the groom having to demonstrate he wasn't going to take "no" for an answer. The same charade was played out here. Only once "let in", his fiancée coyly refused to leave "her home" only to be cajoled to do so by her assembled relatives.

The main event was a typically traditional affair, taking place in a church. As the married couple left the church, it was clear they were ready to party, and boy what a party it was. They'd planned every minute detail of the evening, and it played out perfectly. At the reception there was a constant supply of food, booze, and entertainment to keep the party going until the early hours. The food started with a traditional maze, well this was an Iraqi-Turkish wedding, followed by a more traditional western beef course, before going back to coffee and baklava. 

But it was the entertainment that really made the evening. Things really kicked off as the bride and groom arrived to a Turkish drum and pipe duo, that got everyone up and dancing. After almost half an hour of up tempo craziness, it was time to rest. A couple of hours followed of more modern Iraqi and Turkish music and dancing interspersed by bits of food arriving. But it was what followed the speeches, that I'll remember to my dying days. The compère announced a surprise and on cue a Balkan drum and brass band entered from stage right. Cue yet more dancing mayhem to well known tunes arranged in a unique yet entertaining fashion. It may not have been the end of the evening, that went on informally for several more hours, but it was a perfect end to the "organised" entertainment.

The following day we met the groom's younger brother for lunch. Our bleary eyes and hoarse voices testified to a fun evening. "You've a lot to live up to." I said as he poured us a strong coffee. He smiled shyly. "I'll have to get a girlfriend first", he responded, "but I'm in no hurry." To be fair to him, it may take me awhile to get over this octane fuelled extravaganza.

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