From childhood I had a specific idea of how my wedding day would look like. Of course, at that time I had no way of knowing that the groom would be Indian and that his own wedding day projection would have little in common with mine.
As Kedar and I started discussing marriage we quickly realized that one of us would either have to lean in and give up is own wedding tradition or we would have to go run a wedding marathon with our families. As we both like a tough challenge and none of us was ready to start the marriage by disappointing its parents and deprive them of a fantasy which they probably had on the day we were born, we opted for two religious wedding ceremonies in France and in India preceded by a civil ceremony in France which would be legally binding in every country we might live in.
We got engaged in January 2017, got legally married in France in April 2017, had a Hindu wedding ceremony in July 2017 and finally finished our marathon last week with a French catholic wedding ceremony. Because planning weddings for two years is not fun enough, we also moved together in Germany and then moved to the USA together in that period. There were moments where all of it seemed difficult if not impossible to achieve.
Weddings are all about choices and decisions which the bride and groom and their respective families need to agree on. It goes from trivial details such as selecting a dress to agreeing on a time and date for the ceremony and last but not least agreeing on the overall budget.
For an intercultural couple like us, the hurdles are plenty and being fully aware of the cultural differences and similarities is key for success.
Here are a few of my lessons learned on that topic.
The concept of marriage is universal
- The success of the ceremony is all in the bride and her family#s hand, even if in western culture the husband and his family financially contribute to the event prorated to the number of their guest.
- In a wedding no matter if you marry someone from the same region with the same culture and social status, family traditions, individual characters and values differs. The bride and groom have to juggle with the two families, learn each other traditions and lean in to their parents at time for things that seems trivial to them but are essential to their elders.
- Who is invited at your own wedding is not entirely the bride and groom’s choice and that’s okay. Friends will try to bring a plus one, parents will want to share the moment with their friends and some family members have to be their even if maybe last time you saw them you were wearing diaper.
- All close friends and relative would go over and beyond to make this day a success.
- Parents have been preparing for this day the moment you were born, they had their own fantasy of how your wedding would be even before you knew what a wedding was.
- Weddings are not just about to individuals making a life commitment to each other but also creating an alliance between two families. In marriage which are not arranged people tend to forget about the last point but latest while planning a wedding you see how making sure that both families are comfortable with each other is important for the success of your marriage.
Still there are a lot of differences and one need to discuss every detail ahead of the ceremony and do not assume how things will be.
- Inviting and hosting guest: In France we do not send RSVP card with every invitation and guest are expected to respond personally to the invitation in a given time frame, specifying if necessary your food restrictions. Invitations are by name only and plus one are not included in the invitation. If you write the name of a family on the envelope, this means that only the people living permanently in that households are invited, not their guest or parents coming to visit. If you invite Mr and Mrs only, it means that the children are not invited and you need to find a baby sitter. As this is a seated dinner, the cost per guest is known and number of guest is limited to the budget or venue location. In India you personally hand over invitation to a household, they can bring house guest with them but are not expected to respond. So if you handover invitations to 500 people you should plan food for 500 to 1000 people. Indian wedding are very kid friendly when only small babies and children of closed relative are brought to French weddings.
- Pictures and wedding album: In India the bride and groom sit on a throne for hours to take their picture with every single guest at their wedding. By default the Indian wedding album will include a lot of colorful background, elaborate frames, special effects and seemingly senseless quotes about love (e.g. “Love is like a rubber band”). In France only the ceremony, the bride and grooms, members of the close family and of the wedding party will be on the album. The French wedding albums are minimalist with only white or light background and nothing else, Photoshop is used sparingly or at least discreetly.
- Choosing a date: In India, the date and exact time of the wedding is set by an astrologer in accordance with the couple horoscopes. If you are like me and does not know the exact time of your birth because it was recorded after your mother reached the maternity home and they cannot find your hometown exact coordinates they will do it based an estimate. Once this is all set a big wedding can be arranged in India in less than a month if the astrology is favorable. Depending on the region in India the festivity will last up to 5 days even if the wedding itself can be done in only half a day. In France people usually plan their wedding at least one year in advance based mostly on their and their close family time constraint along with the availability of the chosen venue. Some popular wedding location are planned up to 3 years in advance. The wedding itself goes on for only one day and eventually.
- Right and obligation of the spouses: In France since 1792 all citizens must undergo a civil ceremony to get married before going for a religious wedding ceremony. The priest, rabbi or imam will only agree to perform the religious wedding rite if provided with a marriage license. Everyone have to submit the same documents to get married and is given the choice of three options to manage their assets in the marriage. The same obligations pertain to all: men, women without consideration of their religious faith. In India it is only mandatory to register the marriage to the authority for a few years, each religion marry under a different set of right and obligation. The registration process is pretty simple, one only need to show wedding pictures, bring witnesses of the ceremony and give a self-attestation that one was not previously married.
- Dresscode: In France the bride wears one white dress, discreet jewelry mostly a pearl necklace and earrings, no other lady is allowed to wear a white dress or to outshine the bride. Some people even forbid their guest to wear black as this is a joyful event. In India the bride and grooms will change up to 10 times between the many rituals of the wedding. With each different outfit they wear different type of golden jewelry from nose rings to huge necklaces, earrings and bangles all of it completed by silver anklets. The bride has half of her legs and arms covered in henna and people believe that the darker the henna the happier will be the marriage. The families gift each other jewelry, saris and silver items ahead and during the wedding and all the ladies attending the wedding will wear their best saris in all possible color but black and white which are not seen as auspicious. Indian men outside of the wedding party dress surprisingly casually to attend a wedding.
- Ceremonies and reception: In India only the close family members actually look and participate in the religious rituals, guest mostly eat the delicious food on offer at the buffet while the rituals are ongoing and only come to shower the bride and groom with rice as the last ritual is being performed and the curtain separating them is taken down. In France, guests are asked to seat patiently during the civil or church ceremony, listen and sing along before heading to the reception. After a short cocktail with a buffet and some celebratory champagne a handful of guest between 50 and 300 will have a seated diner where families and member of the wedding party will make fun speeches, songs, games, telling fun and sometimes gently embarrassing stories with videos or pictures of the bride and groom.
There are thousands of blogs on how to plan a wedding and also from people in intercultural marriages. If you are discussing marriage with your partner, I can only advise you to read through those to know what you are setting yourself to and avoid the cultural traps.
- inform yourself only on marriage laws and registration process and carefully choose under which law you want to get married. This is key to see how your asset will be managed, how easily you can relocate in a different country and in fine how divorce and succession will be handled.
- Attend another wedding before yours, listen and look carefully to the ceremony and ask questions.
- Discuss with your partner if you feel that you are forced into doing something you are forced into something you are not comfortable doing. People will want you to accept their traditions and before rejecting or accepting it immediately it is important to know why it is so important to them and how critical it is to your partner. Some stuff are just about the family image and if it is not relevant to you, it has an impact on your family member living there.