Cross-Cultural Wedding Insights

P shared these "insights" with her facebook friends a while back but since her account is blocked to the public, we repost them here as it has been to much work to just leave all that funny / romantic / informative stuff in some more or less hidden facebook corner.

 

The Location

13.Aug.2016

It is the first thing people said we should consider. In Munich, if you want to celebrate on a Saturday sometime between May and October you should book the date very well in advance (we started looking in May'15 for Sept'16 and many of the nicest locations were already fully booked). 

As we started planing, he asked me where I would like to celebrate, I said I wanted to be by the water but also with the mountains in the background, yes I wanted it all 😉 (in Bavaria you are either by the water or on the mountain, there are very few choices with both). The next day he presented me with a list of all the venues that have both of these qualities (yes, he is as cute as that). We went to see a few, talked with the management, made some head-plans about the logictics for our guests, but weren't quite happy with our selections until we found this place. It's small and cozy, what it lacks in modern amenities is made up by a management team that is very willing to go the extra miles to make our (more my than his) wishes happen. Due to its smaller size, you can also avoid having two to three weddings taking place on the same day. Trust me, you don't want to be one of the many brides on your wedding day.

The Date

14.Aug.2016

The cultures couldn't have been any more different between Vietnam and Germany when it comes to getting married. 

In Vietnam, the date is carefully chosen based on the bride and groom's birthdate, birthtime, birth signs etc. in pursue of a happy marriage. The date that counts is the date you wed in front of your ancestors, families and loved ones (there're many rituals to follow). Before that there might be an engagement party, which many couples forgo these days. The reception dinner is often a huge affair with hundreds of invited guests (300 is considered "small" in Vietnam, the average is about 5-600, even weddings with 1000 guests are not rare anymore), most are relatives and friends of both parents that the bride and groom are not even acquainted of (If your parents were invited to the wedding of their friends' children then it is expected that these friends are invited to your own wedding). Even your colleagues at work are expected to be invited. Your neighbors are a must. Noone should feel "left out" or it'll hurt your relationship with them, even the ones you don't seem to have. Gifts are very important too, as part of the culture. Guests will gift the bride and groom mostly with money (usually lots of it), from which the whole wedding can be paid for. Civil wedding is only a formal step that does not require/receive much celebrating. You go to the civil administration, sign the paper and that's it. No witness nor any rituals required. 

In Germany on the contrary, the date you get married legally is the date that counts. This is also a formal requirement for a church wedding, which is very important to most. It could be all on the same date (civil wedding in the morning in small circle of families and best friends, church wedding in the afternoon, followed by a dinner celebration in bigger circle), or on two different dates depending on the availability of the dates chosen. Nowadays, many couples choose to keep it simple and only celebrate the civil wedding followed by a small reception with champagne and cake. Even when a couple chooses to celebrate, it would be only a small ceremony with not as many invited guests (we have fifty-something guests registered and that is already considered a "not so small" celebration over here). Gifts are not at all part of the culture. Germans don't have the habit of giving or receiving gifts (they are more of a symbolic gesture than of a valuable one), which I have learnt to appreciate a lot. Many couples wish for money from the guests but this would barely cover the costs of the wedding. Hence, keep it simple, cost-effective and, above all, private.

As he asked about the date, I always knew it should be our anniversary, the date that means the most to us. That date would be our (civil) wedding date.

The Invitation

20.Aug.2016

A traditional Vietnamese invitation includes many information that a German one lacks of: names of parents on both sides, birthdays of the bride and groom, their order in the family (first/second or only child), etc. It's all about the families as you can see. The invitation doesn't have to be sent out very early in advance, one or two months is the norm, but two weeks isn't at all inappropriate. There is also no such thing as RSVP even though you invite almost an entire village. This is why no couple could ever know for sure how many guests will show up until they actually arrive, or they won't. Noone will bother to tell you if they'd bring a date, or how many children would accompany them, it could very well be a spontaneous decision at last minute. And it is all acceptable. This, of course, leads to you having to book way too many tables more than needed and end up taking all the foods home at the end of the night. 

In Germany on the contrary, spontaneity is something people can't afford. Invitation should be sent out at least half a year in advance so that your guests can take vacation leave and plan their trip ahead (Germans have the habit of planning their vacations very early in advance). RSVP is a must, you should let the bride and groom know if you bring your spouse or date, or any of your children. People can of course cancel it at last minute if there is an emergency, but there is no such thing as an unexpected guest. This has many reasons. Firstly, it is usually a seated dinner where a seating chart needs to be prepared carefully (who should sit next to whom). Moreover, it is quite costly for the bride and groom to pay for empty seats. Hence, it is very unpolite not to RSVP. 

We chose to keep it very simple. We did not send out any "Save the Date" card because we celebrate in small circle and could tell most of our guests about the date already in person. We also opt for a simple post-card-style invitation with no RSVP card. J created a website where we can communicate all the relevant information with our guests, on which they can also RSVP. Only 10% of our guests are from the South, 70% are from all parts of Germany and 20% from other parts of the world so a lot of planning and hotel booking was needed to be done in advance. You cannot plan out everything yes, but sufficiently and timely preparation always helps.

The Religion(s)

27.Aug.2016

As we started planning JP Day, it hit us by surprise that we never really discussed about our beliefs thoroughly, simply because it's never been an important factor in our lives. Although I don't practice any religion, I'd like to say I'm a buddhist at heart. He was baptized in an Evangelical church but has never been a church-goer. And I don't think I've ever seen him pray. So you see, though we have our own beliefs, we're not super religious people. Nevertheless, we asked ourselves many questions because, you know, the occasion had called for it: where and how should our ceremony be taking place? Should it be a religious one? Do we want to get married in a church? etc. 

Well, I'd love to get married in a church (if I'm being honest) just for the walking-down-the-aisle-part. But I always knew it wouldn't feel right. Religion is a all-or-nothing thing, either you buy into it or you don't. Also, I didn't want that part badly enough to put myself through all the troubles (finding a Priest, visiting seminars, probably being baptized etc.) to get it. To my rescue, as always, J figured out a way for us to have a formal ceremony exactly the way we want it and where we want it. It would be simple but still satisfy his religious families/friends, and I would have my aisle without having to convert myself ;-), so everyone would be happy (or so I hope).

The Ring(s)

04.Sept.2016

Germans don't have a tradition of proposing with a ring, it's more like "oh well, we've decided to get married.." (yes, they're not a romantic folk). It's changing and they're adapting now, but many young folks still do not see the romance in surprising their lady with THE ring. This is so sad, isn't it? And wedding band is traditionally very simple and worn on the right hand. 

In Vietnam, the young generation has been so "americanized" in a way that they're always trying to beat each other not only in how big the diamond in the engagement ring is, but also in how they propose (the most romantic spot, thousands of flowers, photographer at hand, him getting down on his knee.... you name it). But this, in turn, is a little too cheesy for my taste. Wedding bands can be worn on whichever hand you like, no strict tradition involved. Also, Vietnamese men do not oppose to wearing diamond rings so many of them do as well.

Well, I'm honestly glad J's not the kind of guy who always follows "the rules". Yes, he did propose and he put a lot of thoughts into it. He had "help" in picking out the right ring that instantly took my breath away. But no, he didn't get down on his knee or say anything too cheesy that made me burst into tears because of all the laughter (we're both quite cynical we make fun of relationship cliches all the time*). He also managed to catch me completely off guard because I totally did not see it coming. Everything was just right, the right dose of romance, location with enough privacy, very suitable timing (3,5 years into our relationship), and of course the very right man. I couldn't have wished for anything better. 

The search for our wedding bands though hasn't been easy. I always thought the Cartier's Love Ring (blank for him sparkle for me) would make a beautiful wedding band. But as I tried it on it just didn't do it to me. Afterward I kind of looked into every single website I knew of including every single local jeweler around but still, no ring looked "right". After a while, I decided to take it into my hand and design our own wedding bands. And here they are: mine has six princess-cut stones to match with my six-prong solitaire engagement ring, his has one single emerald-cut gem (very suitable for men), both set in the same timeless style. Needless to say, he needed lot of convincing into wearing a diamond ring but I think he really likes it now. So all is well that ends well ;-). After all, we hope to wear our bands for many years to come.

* One example is a part of our conversations as something went wrong in the planning of our JP Day..

Me: now I know better for my next wedding (I kinda say things like that all the time..)
Him (instead of being offended, smiling): Will I be invited?

Guess that's when you know you're (imperfectly) perfect for each other ;-).

The Dress

09.Sept.2016

When life gives you many choices, the decision-making becomes even harder. Trachten (traditional German costume), Áo Dài (traditional Vietnamese costume), or the modern-day wedding dress? Or all of them? For the latter, there are even more options: silhouette (ballgown, mermaid, sheath or A-line), neckline (sweetheart, V-neck, off-shoulder or sabrina), the list goes on. And don't even start to look into fabrics or embellishments, you'd become even more confused. Well, needless to say, it took me a verrry long time to find this one, The One. When you find it, you just know. You put it on and everything feels right at once. It was actually the first time I truly looked forward to wearing any dress, ever. Can't wait to wear this beauty to walk down the aisle this time tomorrow.

The Wedding

28.Sept.2016 - exclusive for JP Day

As mentioned in "the Date", a Vietnamese wedding consists of a few rituals that are not present in the German "Hochzeit". On the carefully chosen date at the carefully chosen time, the groom's family will come to the bride's parent home to "ask for permission" to take the bride with them. Seven* of his unmarried male friends/relatives will carry each a different kind of present, stored in decorated round-boxes covered in red cloths, which are then received by seven unmarried friends/relatives of the bride (you can have married friends as best men or bridemaids but the "gift-carriers" should still be unmarried**). The 7 boxes are called "qua" (fortunes) and the act of carrying/giving them to the bride's family is called "bung qua" (bringing the fortunes).

Receiving the Fortunes

These gifts are traditionally betel fruit, fruits, cakes, fabrics, a roast pig and (lots of) jewelries for the bride including the wedding rings. Among these 7 "fortunes", jewelries are the main gift to the bride, the rest is rather symbolic, meant to give the young couple a lucky start into the happy and properous marriage.

The Gifts

According to the traditions, the bride's family will keep half of everything from the 6 remaining boxes and return the rest to the groom's family***, including the boxes, when they leave. This symbolic act is called "tra qua" (returning the fortunes).

Returning the Fortunes

The whole parade takes place in a specific order: who leads the groom house (usually the groom's grandfather/father/or any male head of the family), who says the first word, who introduces whom to the bride's family, which present is represented first, etc. Then the main ceremony will take place  in front of the family ancestor altar with the bride and groom burning insense sticks asking for their ancestors' blessings. They will then bow to their parents for their acceptance, and finally bow to each other to "seal the deal" ;-). Afterwards, they will receive guidance and advices from the bride parents as a gesture to give their daughter away. The groom's mother will open the jewelry box and help the bride wear them (yes, she has to wear them ALL no matter how many). Then the bride and groom will exchange the wedding rings and in the end, the whole party will enjoy a tea ceremony together before moving on to the groom's house where similar rituals take place in front of his ancestor altar. The traditional wedding ceremony is complete at this stage with a lunch party between the 2 newlywed-families together****.

At the wedding dinner party, the couple could be as creative as they want cause family missions are already accomplished. There's usually a wedding planner who helps put on the whole show and a MC for the whole evening. There will be lots and lots of flowers, 7-tier wedding cakes, champagnes, and lot of interacting with guests. This actually is the most exhausting part for the couple because they are supposed to go from table to table to greet every single guest present and have a drink with them. As also mentioned in "The Date", wedding gifts are almost always money put in the same invitation evelope received from you, so most guests keep theirs to give to the couple in person at this moment. Considered the number of guests invited (500 at average), you'll be so drunk and exhausted at the end of the night. Similar to the German wedding, guests are also welcome to introduce games and interact with other guests at the party. But most of them (distant relatives, friends of parents) will leave after dinner and the rest (close friends and families) will end up singing karaoke on stage. Yes, people love karaoke in Vietnam, even those who can't sing ;-). The whole party won't last as long as the German one, at most only till midnight. 

For the couple, the day will start very early, sometimes as early as 3 or 4am. During the day, they will be told what to do or say and dragged from places to places with very little break. At dinner, they will barely have time to sit down and eat. So you see, wedding in Vietnam is celebrated more for the families and because of the families than for the couple themselves. But also because of this, people receive great help from everyone and anyone. It is culturally a very important affair and people are very eager to get involved. You will feel like you are the center of the universe and everyone will congratulate you for months on end. All in all, it is truly a blessing (and the gifts are pretty good as well 😉 ).

Luckily, we have had the freedom to "design" our JP Day how we wanted it, exactly the way we wanted it, for ourselves. Now we're very excited to see how our Vietnamese wedding would look like ;-). At the moment, the date is not yet set but we'll let you know early enough. So, stay tuned. 

*The (lucky) number of gifts should be odd: 5,7,9 etc.

** There's a belief that a girl should not be a gift-carrier for more than 3 weddings, otherwise it'll bring her the unfortune of staying unmarried. However, as time goes by, the last ones in the group to get married may have difficulties finding any friends/relatives that fit the "profile". Thus, you'll find weddings with married gift-carriers every now and then.

*** About the roast pig: they keep the body and return the head and four legs to the groom's family, but we're honestly not sure about the leg thing.. 

**** Due to lack of space, only family members and very close friends are invited to the traditional ceremony in the morning.

Photos courtesy of my bff/matron of honor and her beau from their own wedding and those time they acted as gift-carriers.

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