Category Archives: Weddings

Bringing Shoe Stealing to a Whole New Level…

In some sectors of Nepali and Indian culture there is a wedding tradition where the sisters of the bride–and this could be immediate biological sisters, or cousin-sisters, or female friends, etc–steal the shoes of the groom.

The set up for this works well because during the ceremony the bride and groom have to remove their shoes since the mandap becomes a small Hindu temple, and in all Hindu temples one must remove their shoes. I believe it is the same with mosques, so I wouldn’t be surprised if shoe stealing happens at South Asian Muslim weddings as well–readers can weigh in.

The groom’s friends or male cousins/brothers are supposed to guard the shoes, and I’ve even heard about “decoy” shoes to throw the sisters off.

Once the sisters steal the shoes the groom has to pay a bribe to get them back at the end of the ceremony. Depending on the parties involved, negotiations can be pretty tough.

When my sister heard about this, she loved the idea, and stole P’s shoes at our wedding, but I gave her a limit on how much she could reasonably ask for. When she asked for $50, S said, “that’s too little!” and gave her a handful of money from his wallet. I think she made off with $100 and was pretty satisfied.

Over the weekend we went to an Indian/Nepali wedding in the DC area. It was the biggest wedding I had ever been too– about 600 people. The bride was a childhood/neighborhood friend of P and his brother, and she was marrying a Punjabi man. Both the bride and groom had 13 or 14 members in their wedding party–“bridesmaids” and “groomsmen,” so when the “bridesmaids” (sisters) demanded payment for the groom’s shoes, they meant business and had the numbers to back it up.

They started chanting, “$3,000! $3,000!”

The groom countered with, “It’s a recession! That’s too much for a pair of shoes!”

Sisters: “We want $3,000!”

Groom: “I’ll give you two-fifty each…”

Sister: “Two hundred and fifty dollars each?”

Groom: “No! Two dollars and fifty cents!”

Sisters: “Noooooooo! Boooo!”

Groom: “Be reasonable girls!”

Groom’s brother: “No more than $50 per sister, otherwise they are being greedy!”

Sisters (urged on by the bride): “No, we want $3,000!”

…Haggling back and forth for quite a while…

Groom: “Okay, how about I give you all the money in my wallet right now? Trust me, it’s a lot, you will be happy… and I’ll throw an awesome party!”

Sisters: “How much is in your wallet?”

Groom: “$800 and a gift card for $25, you can have that too!”

Sisters: “Noooooo!”

…Haggling some more…

Some of the brothers reluctantly open their wallets and sweeten the pot to make an even $1,000 plus the $25 gift card.

The sisters finally accept.

P’s cousin’s American husband leaned in and whispered to me, “Um, is this for real?”

Sisters enjoy their shoe money...

Apparently!

Advertisements

Going to a Friend’s Wedding

I mentioned previously that we went to a wedding in Pennsylvania last Friday. Our friends DM and CN were married. Like many of the friendships we made at university, we met them through international student connections/international interests, and eventually we all lived in the International House on campus together.

I remember meeting DM pretty early his freshman year. Three years before I had attended an international youth summit in Washington DC and had made a friend who lived in the Netherlands but was Bulgarian by birth/heritage. I kept in touch with this friend for several years, and had learned a bit about both these countries through him. So when I met DM for the first time I was happy to pull out the few words of Bulgarian I knew– Как сте? (Kak si-te? How are you?) and Добре съм (Dobre sãm. I’m fine) which was probably pretty unexpected from an American girl in rural northern New York.

Although we are both American, CN and I had similar intercultural interests—we both studied in France but during different semesters. Her freshmen year roommate was from Kenya, another eventual close friend of ours, and my Swahili language teaching assistant. All of us wound up in the International House for the rest of our college careers. Eventually CN and I both enrolled in the same international education masters program, and we both have jobs working with international students (she’s an ESL teacher) in addition to both being married to former international students.

Their wedding was the first wedding P and I attended after our own. I guess the first one you go to after your own always feels a little weird. You are very happy for your friends, but seeing them go through the motions can’t help but remind you of your own experience and how you were feeling at the time. Everything happened so quickly during our own wedding, that I didn’t really have a time to process it, but as a spectator at theirs I felt like I was processing a lot. I was that annoying person sitting in the audience whispering to the person sitting next to me, “I remember at this point I was feeling/thinking ______. I wonder if he/she is feeling the same.”

At your own wedding, the guests are there because they know you,  so there are so many people to talk to.  I remember people constantly approaching us, asking us for pictures, wanting to chat, wanting to dance, it felt a bit overwhelming sometimes, and certainly added to the feeling that time was passing so quickly. At someone else’s wedding you think about how you don’t know a lot of people, and how you want to be that person approaching the bride and groom to talk, to steal them to take pictures, to dance with them on the dance floor, but you try to be understanding because you know how it feels to be inundated.

It is certainly more relaxing to be at someone else’s wedding. To have a drink or two during the cocktail hour, to sit back and enjoy your meal, and dance your heart out on the dance floor without worries or distraction. It also hits you that your wedding time is really over. You are not the “bride” anymore, but a “wife” which has its own mystique and excitement.

They did one of those anniversary dances during the reception where all the married couples dance to a song and the MC calls out dates, and the longest married couple is the last remaining at the end of the song. P and I were the first ones off the dance floor when the guy called out, “Anyone married a month or less?” It will be a month next Tues/Wed. Holy cow… a whole month already, where did that month go? Can’t time just stand still for a little while?

Fat chance with international orientation coming up in the next two weeks with our largest international class ever. My summer is pretty much over now.

I better finish my last two wedding posts before I forget to jot down my “white wedding” thoughts.

Wedding Crashers, Nepali Style

For a similar post check out “Invited to the Wedding.”

You know you are in an intercultural-South-Asian relationship when you have run out of invitation cards, and the RSVP date has passed, but you are still inviting people to your wedding.

You also know you are in this type of relationship when you hear other people talking in town about your wedding, who might “come anyway” even though they weren’t technically invited (“Maybe I was invited, but they didn’t have a chance to give me the invite?”), because extra guests aren’t usually that big of an issue back in Nepal.

This has happened to us a few times. In particular it is difficult with Nepalis we know in town through P’s university who might not be our close friends, but who are still part of the local Nepali community, so we kind of feel an obligation to invite them. We used to have this issue with our annual Christmas party too—P and I have had many a debate over why or why not this or that person should be invited. My argument was always, “If you don’t see them or have dinner with them at least every now and then, you don’t have to invite someone just because they are Nepali, especially if they don’t invite you to their things.” But alas, the issue persists, why did I expect our wedding to be different?

Case-in-point, at our Christmas party this year I was talking to one such person (a Nepali who we are friendly with but not really “friends friends” in the close sense) and while making conversation I asked, “So do you have any plans for the summer?” The guy responded, “Other than your wedding, not too much.” Er—he wasn’t at the time on our list, but found his way there!

Something similar happened over the weekend. Two friends of ours (non-Nepali) were eating at an Indian restaurant in town where a Nepali acquaintance from P’s university is working as a server. He had met this friend briefly at a dinner we hosted several months ago, and recognized her when she sat down at the restaurant. While taking her order he struck up a conversation about our wedding—he knew all the details—date, time, place, etc. We hadn’t invited him because he fell into the category of “acquaintance” rather than friend, and we hadn’t seen him since that dinner, but someone must have said something to him. Anyway, since he knew all the details our two friends assumed he must have been invited too. So when he asked them, “Are you going?” they responded yes and asked him, “Are you?”

Nepali acquaintance: “I haven’t been invited yet. I’m sure I will be, but if not I might just go anyway. I’m sure they won’t mind.” (Me: “Whaaaaat?”)

After dinner our friend gave us the heads up. Perhaps this is another person we might have to add to the list at the last minute?

It’s tough to draw the line. With close friends it’s a non-issue, they are obviously invited, but with various acquaintances it’s tough. We live in the same Nepali-community-abroad, so we don’t want to hurt other’s feelings, especially when the culture in Nepal is to invite as many people as you know, but P and I can’t keep adding to the list indefinitely. We have had many a discussion at the dinner table that goes something like,

P: “I feel really bad. We didn’t invite X, we’ve been to her house for momos several times, and even though I haven’t spoken to her in a year, I think she has done bhai tikka for me before as well. She might be sad that she didn’t get an invite.”

Me: “But Y lives near her. We aren’t as close to Y. So he might be sad if he hears that X was invited but not him.”

D: “Yeah—and if you invite Y you have to invite his girlfriend too. And he is always with Z as well, and might bring him along.”

P: “I don’t really mind not inviting Y, and I certainly don’t want him to bring Z along, we barely know him.”

D: “But X and Y see each other every day. If you invite X you will probably have to invite Y… in the end that might mean 4 extra people!”

In addition, we are also not sure if some of our Nepali guests might bring along extra people as well. It’s not such a big taboo in Nepal to do this, heck I was brought along to a neighbor’s wedding the last time we were in Nepal, and I certainly wasn’t listed on the invitation card. With the buffet we have set up for the Nepali wedding it won’t be such a problem, but with the sit down dinner at the American wedding, if extra people show up they won’t have any food.

D was joking at dinner last night, “Well at least the Nepali wedding is first—like a rehearsal to see who might show up for the American wedding. If someone brings along extra guests you can talk to them about not bringing them the second day. Maybe you can get someone to be the ‘guest enforcer.’”

In my “type A”-list-making-American-personalitiy-ism I have been trying hard to keep tabs on who is and isn’t coming, so that I know how many favors to order, programs to print, and table set ups, etc, but I might just have to realize that I won’t know with 100% certainty who will be at each event until they happen. Hopefully the numbers from my list and the numbers who show up are not that far off.

White Weddings are “Exotic” too!

I talk a good game about how the Nepali wedding will be so “interesting and different” for my family, but I’m being unfair when I fail to mention that the American wedding will be “interesting and different” for P’s family and some of our South Asian friends as well.

For someone who has the cultural “norm” baseline of white weddings—from movies, and tv, from family expectations and events, it’s kind of easy to forget that this isn’t the “cultural norm” for all. Whereas weddings can be fun and exciting in general, going to one that is different can feel even more exciting because it’s a bit exotic (“the other”), and it is funny to think that something that is normal for you is exotic for someone else.

This hits home when I realize that maybe P’s family doesn’t ask too many questions about the white wedding because they are not sure what to ask, where to start, how it will be different from weddings they are familiar with, or what the event will look like (ours will be their very first one). Or when a few of my South Asian friends who wear pants as daily clothing, but salwaar kameez or sari when they dress up for parties or events, find it kind of fun and exotic to wear a party dress to the white wedding.

I was even kind of surprised when my Nepali friend R was helping me look for a white wedding dress, that she wanted to try at least one on herself. She explained how she always thought it would be fun to have a white wedding dress and do “the whole white wedding party” thing. She admitted that sometimes while walking by bridal boutiques, she would think, as she checked out the dresses in the windows, about how it would be fun to rent or borrow one and do a photo shoot for the experience of wearing it. Why should I be the only one who thinks dressing up in the wedding cloths of another culture is fun and beautiful? R was gorgeous in that dress!

Anyway, I’m looking forward to the intercultural exchange and educational moments of both the weddings—my relatives dressing up in clothing and participating in rituals and eating food they are unfamiliar with and vice versa. I’m excited for both sides of my (new) family to learn more about the other and I think this will be a great way to open up a dialogue about the awesomeness of being different.

I hope R doesn't mind... but she looked too great in that white wedding dress to have pictures of it sit idly in my picasa account!

American Immigration, or Why We Aren’t Getting Married in Nepal

And while on tangents, here is a second one…

I’ve had the question on the blog before: Are you getting married in Nepal? And yesterday’s post should make it clear that we are not. But there is a reason for that too.

So as I’ve mentioned in the past, my day job (when I’m not secretly blogging during my lunch break or lulls in student appointments) is an international student advisor at a university in New England. I really love my job. I love working with and talking to people from around the world on a daily basis, I love helping them when they have problems or questions, and it is a lot of fun to be constantly learning new things about culture. It’s not so fun working with immigration regulations… although having a good knowledge of these tricky regs helps me to better serve my students when they come with questions. But… that means I really know what I should do immigration wise, and what I shouldn’t do, and that if I break the rules, I don’t have “ignorance is bliss” to fall back on if we are caught, and professionally I can’t affording getting in trouble with this topic.

I’ve read on some blog forums about people going to India and getting married, then coming back in to the US, and getting married at a later date. Occasionally these couples are graduate students. P is also a graduate student on an F-1 visa. Going to South Asia on an F-1, marrying an American spouse, then coming back in through US immigration and not declaring the change of status, and then later changing it once getting married in the US is technically an immigration violation.

An F-1 student visa is “non-immigrant intent” meaning IF your intension to immigrate to the US changes (such as marrying an American and planning to stay here—unless you make it crystal clear that you both don’t intend to stay, but will return to South Asia and not apply for permanent residency) and you leave the country and re-enter, you have violated your F-1 status. (Similarly the most common visa rejection reason is Section 214(b) of the US Immigration and Nationality Act– that you do not have enough ties to your home country, or that you have not overcome a presumption that you are using the visa to immigrate or work illegally in the United States.)

Violation of F-1 status is an offense that could potentially have your SEVIS record at your university terminated and have you sent back to your home country. If you are taking this regulation exactly by the book with a strict interpretation—even being engaged and traveling internationally and coming back in could be a violation of your status. Certainly the last thing you should do is waive an engagement or wedding ring in an immigration official’s face at the port of entry (even though you will be in two separate immigration lines anyway—the American national in the US passport/green card line, the foreign spouse in the non-US passport line).

The other potential problem is coming back into the US and marrying here and initiating the paperwork for a Change of Status from F-1 to Permanent Residency (Green Card). If the time is short (between your foreign spouse’s entry and the US wedding/paperwork) the US gov’t can potentially give you trouble when processing your Change of Status info because they can question your spouses, “intention to immigrate” when they last entered the country close to your wedding date. Do they always give trouble, probably not, but the potential is there.

If a foreign national plans to marry an American then technically (if we are going “by the book” here) they should come into the US on a K-1 (fiancé) visa. However then your partner could potentially be stuck outside the country for months waiting for the paperwork to clear before they could enter and marry. It is a perpetual frustration… US immigration rules make things so challenging, that it encourages people to break the rules.

On the flip side… you get married in the US first, then plan to go to Nepal… after you marry here you would have to initiate that same Change of Status paperwork and at least get “Advanced Parole” (travel papers) before you leave the US. That could be one month to several months (or more depending on the country, spouse name, etc) to receive that paperwork. So either way, you can’t do a wedding in the US and abroad within a few days of each other legally.

From what I hear, in the past you could get married at a court house and walk across the street to a US gov’t immigration center and get your Green Card the same day. But long gone are those days.

Anyway, besides the silly desire to want anniversary dates close to one another for memory and consistency purposes, my main worry was that if we did the wedding in the US first, and too much time passed before we were able to make it to Nepal, then people might feel… well… the wedding is over now, so much time has passed, let’s just leave the Nepali part. We can have a party to introduce you to relatives, but no point in doing the rituals.

I didn’t want the Nepali ceremony to go by the way-side because immigration and timing just couldn’t add up. Plus I was certain that few, if any, of my relatives would come to Nepal. My sisters, probably, but my parents, particularly my dad, definitely not. I thought it would be good to expose them to P’s culture while I had the chance.

So… this is why both weddings are in the US. P and I hope to travel to Nepal before the end of 2011—either during Dashain or December depending on immigration paperwork and time off from work, and perhaps we will have a gathering of family in Nepal as a wedding party, but at least the main events will have been taken care of by then, and no immigration rules would have been flagrantly broken in the making of our marriage.

Alright, I’ll take a break from wedding posts for a little while to give you all a breather :)

“Marrying Out”

National Geographic this month has a short article on “Marrying Out” as part of their continuing series on population. It briefly highlights that marriage demographics are changing in the US (using Barak Obama as an example– when his mother married in the early ’60s only 1 in 1,000 marriages were between someone of African descent and a Caucasian, however now it is 1 in 60).

[Nat Geo article pdf]

The article visually represents different spouse pairings, and explains that black women are least likely to intermarry while Asian men are second least likely. (hmmmm!)

The information is based on a report by the Pew Research Center by the same name with the tag line, “One-in-Seven New US Marriages is Interracial or Interethnic.” I haven’t had the chance to read the report yet, but I thought I would share.

It’s kind of reassuring. I started this blog because sometimes I felt like I was the only one who had cross-cultural issues. Sometimes when I talk to my family, they make me feel like the only one in the world who wants a bi-cultural household, or wants to organize two weddings to highlight different cultural traditions, or wants to learn another language– but you know, we are not alone. And it feels good.

Notes on the “Red Wedding”

Okay, I couldn’t hold back… hope you don’t mind me double posting today…

And to keep with the musical theme–

The lyrics are actually not that positive about American women, but it has a catchy tune.

Again please, I poll you dear readers, for feedback. Have I added too little, too much? I’m I missing anything glaring? Does it sound okay or weird? Suggestions??

Notes on a “Red Wedding:”

Nepal is a small but diverse country– with a population of just 30 million, there are nearly 40 ethnic languages spoken within its borders–thus it is not surprising that there are many different wedding traditions which can vary by caste and ethnic group. 80% of the population is Hindu, so many common wedding traditions include Hindu rituals.

In Nepal, wedding ceremonies include several rituals and receptions which can sometimes last up to a week. However, these rituals are now often condensed into a shorter ceremony when conducted outside of Nepal.

Before the ceremony

Wearing Red– the bride wears a red sari, traditionally chosen by the groom’s family (hence “red” wedding). The bride’s look for such a wedding is to appear ornate and highly decorated. Jewelry can be very heavy and is often costume, and intricate henna designs, tikkas, and make-up add to the decoration. Clothing and even shoes are often highly intricate and decorated with jewels/embroidery and contrasting colors (most often red, green and yellow/gold). Conversely white wedding brides attempt to have a more minimal, subtle, simplified look.

For the ceremony the groom wears a daura suruwal and Nepali topi hat which is very typical of traditional Nepali male clothing. Whereas saris are more pan-South Asian, daura suruals and the its distinctive dhaka fabric are solely Nepali.

Back in Nepal the groom’s family comes in a procession to the bride’s family in a parade called the “janthi” which often includes music and dancing. Family members of the janthi often wear matching clothes (saris, etc). This isn’t as common with Nepali weddings in the US for logistical reasons.

Ceremony

The ceremony is conducted by a Hindu priest. Often the prayers in the ceremony are in the Sanskrit language (Sanskrit is to Hindi and Nepali what Latin is to French and Spanish). During the course of the ceremony the priest will often break from prayer to ask details about the bride and groom such as their ancestors’ names to include in the ritual blessings.

In addition to the bride and groom, sitting on the altar with the priest are both sets of parents. Each set sits next to their child and contributes to the ceremony by performing tasks as indicated by the priest– this includes touching rice, flowers, water, oil and fruits to their foreheads and various ritual objects on the altar.

The pivotal part of the ceremony comes when the bride and groom exchange flower garlands and the groom gives a wedding pote (beaded necklace) to the bride. A long thin white cloth is then extended from the bride’s forehead to the altar and the groom sprinkles orange sindor powder from the bottom of the cloth up to the part in the bride’s hair. The third time that the sindor is sprinkled from the bottom of the cloth to the bride’s head is the moment the bride and groom officially become married.

After this section of the ceremony the priest lights a fire and the bride and groom make agreements to each other as husband and wife, often throwing rice into the fire as part of the ritual. Depending on the tradition, the bride and groom are sometimes tied together and they circle around the fire 7 times, since in Hindu culture a marriage isn’t just for one lifetime, but for seven.

In Nepali culture feet are often taboo– it is considered rude to point your feet at someone, and offensive to touch someone with your feet. However, when showing great respect, especially to an elder, it is customary to bow and touch their feet. During the ceremony the bride may touch the feet of the groom, and the bride and groom might touch the feet of their parents and vice versa.

Reception

During Nepali receptions the bride and groom often sit on chairs at the front of the room, sometimes with family members, and wedding guests come up to greet and congratulate them. This is often when gifts are given, in person, to the bride and groom. Common gifts include flowers or money in denominations of +1 (21, 51, 101, etc) since the +1 is considered auspicious.

Food is served buffet style at the reception. If the reception is taking place at a Hindu temple alcohol and meat are not allowed.

During the ceremony the altar is considered a temple area, so all the participants on the altar have to take off their shoes. One tradition is for the bride’s sisters to steal the groom’s shoes and demand money for their return. He can’t get them back during the reception until he has satisfied the sisters with an appropriate monetary reward.

Also traditionally the bride might play a few games with her mother-in-law as a way to welcome the new bride to the family. These games might include sifting through a large bowl of uncooked rice to see who can find a coin, nut or fruit first. These games would often be played when the mother-in-law welcomes her new daughter-in-law to the family home for the first time. Sometimes these games are played at the ceremony/reception if the family doesn’t live together in the same house.

Lastly, small wedding favors are usually distributed to the guests. These are often small packages of dried nuts, fruits, spices and chocolate.