One of the best parts of this day and age is that people from different backgrounds are mixing more than ever before. You might have a close friend from a culture you would never have had contact with if you were born centuries or even decades ago. Should you be lucky enough to obtain a wedding invitation from someone of a different culture than you, it is important to remember that the rules and traditions you are familiar with probably do not apply. While you might think of a royalty-inspired plus size wedding dress and cake, your friend might think of guayaberas and arras. If this scenario applies to you, how should you go about being the best possible guest you can be?
Research before you go
Your friend will most likely guide you through how the wedding will go down prior to the event. Ask them questions: what will the food be like? What should you wear? What traditions do you need to prepare yourself for? Your friend might forget to mention something, though. She is as intimately familiar with her culture’s weddings as you are with your own, so it’s possible that she might take something for granted or not recognize a particular tradition as distinguished.
Make sure that you research your friend’s culture’s weddings before you attend. Look up the common elements, the variations, and make a note of similarities and differences to what you are acquainted with. For example, in the case of Sikh weddings, Preeti Vasudeva from Preeti Exclusive Creations says: “at a Sikh ceremony, when eating the lungar (communal food), accept the roti (bread) as a blessing by placing your hands together, then opening them palms up.” If you neglect to do so, you may cause offense, and at the very least embarrass yourself.
Do not limit your research to surface-level facets, either: what do specific traditions mean? What is the history behind them, and why do people continue them? Learning everything you can help improve your appreciation for what you are about to witness, and maybe give you a new perspective on love and marriage.
Look up what gifts are appropriate
Many cultures give gifts to the marrying couple that will prepare them for the next stage in their lives together. Money, coffee makers, furniture, and other home items are popular in the United States. If you cannot find information regarding what is and what is not appropriate to give your friend from another background, then research her culture at a broader level. Hindu practitioners revere cows, so leather products are taboo.
You might give wine to a Christian friend, but do not do so to anyone who is Muslim (or any alcoholic beverage). If your friend is Turkish, it would be customary to give her and her partner a gold coin (and the size of the coin matters, depending on your relationship).
Keep your comments to yourself
Some wedding traditions vary dramatically. Ask another guest for clarification if you do not know how to participate in something, but if you do not like the way someone’s outfit looks, the way food tastes, or do not understand why something is taking longer than you were prepared for, keep your comments to yourself. For example, other cultures encourage couples to smile on their wedding days, but Congolese couples consider smiling a signifier that they are not serious about their marriage. You might disagree with this idea, but saying something about it is none of your business.
Do not balk at what you do not believe. In Scotland, the couple’s friends kidnap each of them the day before the ceremony and cover them in all sorts of dirty materials, like ash, flour, and molasses. The reason is to ward off evil spirits rather than humiliate, so even if you do not believe in evil spirits, respect other cultures and traditions.
Participate when asked
If you are attending a wedding, why would you sit part of it out? Your friend was kind enough to include you, so show her that you appreciate it. During some Chinese weddings, it is customary for friends and family to follow the couple into their bedroom after the feast to make noise and taunt them in good fun. If you are a close enough friend to participate in this tradition, then, by all means, cause some ruckus until the couple kicks you out!
Attending a different culture’s wedding is both an honor and a fun experience. You have opportunities to offend many people if you are a poor guest, but you also have the chance to make new friends, learn something about the world, and support your friend’s marriage. What advice do you have for attending another culture’s wedding?